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2022: Jan-March

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Vladimir would be proud...

UK Government introduces its Online Censorship Bill which significantly diminishes British free speech whilst terrorising British businesses with a mountain of expense and red tape


Link Here17th March 2022
Full story: Online Safety Bill...UK Government legislates to censor social media
The UK government's new online censorship laws have been brought before parliament. The Government wrote in its press release:

The Online Safety Bill marks a milestone in the fight for a new digital age which is safer for users and holds tech giants to account. It will protect children from harmful content such as pornography and limit people's exposure to illegal content, while protecting freedom of speech.

It will require social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions.

The regulator Ofcom will have the power to fine companies failing to comply with the laws up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover, force them to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites.

Today the government is announcing that executives whose companies fail to cooperate with Ofcom's information requests could now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the Bill becoming law, instead of two years as it was previously drafted.

A raft of other new offences have also been added to the Bill to make in-scope companies' senior managers criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom, and for obstructing the regulator when it enters company offices.

In the UK, tech industries are blazing a trail in investment and innovation. The Bill is balanced and proportionate with exemptions for low-risk tech and non-tech businesses with an online presence. It aims to increase people's trust in technology, which will in turn support our ambition for the UK to be the best place for tech firms to grow.

The Bill will strengthen people's rights to express themselves freely online and ensure social media companies are not removing legal free speech. For the first time, users will have the right to appeal if they feel their post has been taken down unfairly.

It will also put requirements on social media firms to protect journalism and democratic political debate on their platforms. News content will be completely exempt from any regulation under the Bill.

And, in a further boost to freedom of expression online, another major improvement announced today will mean social media platforms will only be required to tackle 'legal but harmful' content, such as exposure to self-harm, harassment and eating disorders, set by the government and approved by Parliament.

Previously they would have had to consider whether additional content on their sites met the definition of legal but harmful material. This change removes any incentives or pressure for platforms to over-remove legal content or controversial comments and will clear up the grey area around what constitutes legal but harmful.

Ministers will also continue to consider how to ensure platforms do not remove content from recognised media outlets.

Bill introduction and changes over the last year

The Bill will be introduced in the Commons today. This is the first step in its passage through Parliament to become law and beginning a new era of accountability online. It follows a period in which the government has significantly strengthened the Bill since it was first published in draft in May 2021. Changes since the draft Bill include:

  • Bringing paid-for scam adverts on social media and search engines into scope in a major move to combat online fraud .

  • Making sure all websites which publish or host pornography , including commercial sites, put robust checks in place to ensure users are 18 years old or over.

  • Adding new measures to clamp down on anonymous trolls to give people more control over who can contact them and what they see online.

  • Making companies proactively tackle the most harmful illegal content and criminal activity quicker.

  • Criminalising cyberflashing through the Bill.

Criminal liability for senior managers

The Bill gives Ofcom powers to demand information and data from tech companies, including on the role of their algorithms in selecting and displaying content, so it can assess how they are shielding users from harm.

Ofcom will be able to enter companies' premises to access data and equipment, request interviews with company employees and require companies to undergo an external assessment of how they're keeping users safe.

The Bill was originally drafted with a power for senior managers of large online platforms to be held criminally liable for failing to ensure their company complies with Ofcom's information requests in an accurate and timely manner.

In the draft Bill, this power was deferred and so could not be used by Ofcom for at least two years after it became law. The Bill introduced today reduces the period to two months to strengthen penalties for wrongdoing from the outset.

Additional information-related offences have been added to the Bill to toughen the deterrent against companies and their senior managers providing false or incomplete information. They will apply to every company in scope of the Online Safety Bill. They are:

  • offences for companies in scope and/or employees who suppress, destroy or alter information requested by Ofcom;

  • offences for failing to comply with, obstructing or delaying Ofcom when exercising its powers of entry, audit and inspection, or providing false information;

  • offences for employees who fail to attend or provide false information at an interview.

Falling foul of these offences could lead to up to two years in imprisonment or a fine.

Ofcom must treat the information gathered from companies sensitively. For example, it will not be able to share or publish data without consent unless tightly defined exemptions apply, and it will have a responsibility to ensure its powers are used proportionately.

Changes to requirements on 'legal but harmful' content

Under the draft Bill, 'Category 1' companies - the largest online platforms with the widest reach including the most popular social media platforms - must address content harmful to adults that falls below the threshold of a criminal offence.

Category 1 companies will have a duty to carry risk assessments on the types of legal harms against adults which could arise on their services. They will have to set out clearly in terms of service how they will deal with such content and enforce these terms consistently. If companies intend to remove, limit or allow particular types of content they will have to say so.

The agreed categories of legal but harmful content will be set out in secondary legislation and subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. Social media platforms will only be required to act on the priority legal harms set out in that secondary legislation, meaning decisions on what types of content are harmful are not delegated to private companies or at the whim of internet executives.

It will also remove the threat of social media firms being overzealous and removing legal content because it upsets or offends someone even if it is not prohibited by their terms and conditions. This will end situations such as the incident last year when TalkRadio was forced offline by YouTube for an "unspecified" violation and it was not clear on how it breached its terms and conditions.

The move will help uphold freedom of expression and ensure people remain able to have challenging and controversial discussions online.

The DCMS Secretary of State has the power to add more categories of priority legal but harmful content via secondary legislation should they emerge in the future. Companies will be required to report emerging harms to Ofcom.

Proactive technology

Platforms may need to use tools for content moderation, user profiling and behaviour identification to protect their users.

Additional provisions have been added to the Bill to allow Ofcom to set expectations for the use of these proactive technologies in codes of practice and force companies to use better and more effective tools, should this be necessary.

Companies will need to demonstrate they are using the right tools to address harms, they are transparent, and any technologies they develop meet standards of accuracy and effectiveness required by the regulator. Ofcom will not be able to recommend these tools are applied on private messaging or legal but harmful content.

Reporting child sexual abuse

A new requirement will mean companies must report child sexual exploitation and abuse content they detect on their platforms to the National Crime Agency .

The CSEA reporting requirement will replace the UK's existing voluntary reporting regime and reflects the Government's commitment to tackling this horrific crime.

Reports to the National Crime Agency will need to meet a set of clear standards to ensure law enforcement receives the high quality information it needs to safeguard children, pursue offenders and limit lifelong re-victimisation by preventing the ongoing recirculation of illegal content.

In-scope companies will need to demonstrate existing reporting obligations outside of the UK to be exempt from this requirement, which will avoid duplication of company's efforts.

 

 

A scammer's wet dream...

UK Government announces that the Online Censorship Bill will now extend to requiring identity/age verification to view porn


Link Here6th February 2022
Full story: Online Safety Bill Draft...UK Government legislates to censor social media

On Safer Internet Day, Digital Censorship Minister Chris Philp has announced the Online Safety Bill will be significantly strengthened with a new legal duty requiring all sites that publish pornography to put robust checks in place to ensure their users are 18 years old or over.

This could include adults using secure age verification technology to verify that they possess a credit card and are over 18 or having a third-party service confirm their age against government data.

If sites fail to act, the independent regulator Ofcom will be able fine them up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover or can block them from being accessible in the UK. Bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.

A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. There are widespread concerns this is impacting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent. Half of parents worry that online pornography is giving their kids an unrealistic view of sex and more than half of mums fear it gives their kids a poor portrayal of women.

Age verification controls are one of the technologies websites may use to prove to Ofcom that they can fulfil their duty of care and prevent children accessing pornography.

Many sites where children are likely to be exposed to pornography are already in scope of the draft Online Safety Bill, including the most popular pornography sites as well as social media, video-sharing platforms and search engines. But as drafted, only commercial porn sites that allow user-generated content - such as videos uploaded by users - are in scope of the bill.

The new standalone provision ministers are adding to the proposed legislation will require providers who publish or place pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing that content. This will capture commercial providers of pornography as well as the sites that allow user-generated content. Any companies which run such a pornography site which is accessible to people in the UK will be subject to the same strict enforcement measures as other in-scope services.

The Online Safety Bill will deliver more comprehensive protections for children online than the Digital Economy Act by going further and protecting children from a broader range of harmful content on a wider range of services. The Digital Economy Act did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is accessible, and which research suggests children use to access pornography.

The government is working closely with Ofcom to ensure that online services' new duties come into force as soon as possible following the short implementation period that will be necessary after the bill's passage.

The onus will be on the companies themselves to decide how to comply with their new legal duty. Ofcom may recommend the use of a growing range of age verification technologies available for companies to use that minimise the handling of users' data. The bill does not mandate the use of specific solutions as it is vital that it is flexible to allow for innovation and the development and use of more effective technology in the future.

Age verification technologies do not require a full identity check. Users may need to verify their age using identity documents but the measures companies put in place should not process or store data that is irrelevant to the purpose of checking age. Solutions that are currently available include checking a user's age against details that their mobile provider holds, verifying via a credit card check, and other database checks including government held data such as passport data.

Any age verification technologies used must be secure, effective and privacy-preserving. All companies that use or build this technology will be required to adhere to the UK's strong data protection regulations or face enforcement action from the Information Commissioner's Office.

Online age verification is increasingly common practice in other online sectors, including online gambling and age-restricted sales. In addition, the government is working with industry to develop robust standards for companies to follow when using age assurance tech, which it expects Ofcom to use to oversee the online safety regime.

Notes to editors:

Since the publication of the draft Bill in May 2021 and following the final report of the Joint Committee in December, the government has listened carefully to the feedback on children's access to online pornography, in particular stakeholder concerns about pornography on online services not in scope of the bill.

To avoid regulatory duplication, video-on-demand services which fall under Part 4A of the Communications Act will be exempt from the scope of the new provision. These providers are already required under section 368E of the Communications Act to take proportionate measures to ensure children are not normally able to access pornographic content.

The new duty will not capture user-to-user content or search results presented on a search service, as the draft Online Safety Bill already regulates these. Providers of regulated user-to-user services which also carry published (i.e. non user-generated) pornographic content would be subject to both the existing provisions in the draft Bill and the new proposed duty.


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