Australia's law-enforcement agency has defended its use of a law that requires ISPs to block websites government agencies deem illegal, without judicial oversight.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) claimed they need section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, which requires telcos to enforce criminal laws, protect public revenue and anything deemed to be a matter of national security.
The AFP, financial regulator ASIC and an unidentified national security agency have interpreted the law to mean they have the power to order telcos to block websites hosting illegal material.
But ISPs have called for restrictions. They argue there is not enough oversight and that some providers had even received blocking requests from animal protection agency the RSPCA.
Between 2011 and 2013 the Department of Communications estimated 32 requests to block websites had been made. As far as it was aware, only three government agencies had used the power.
Porn websites will be forced to check users are over 18 under a new crackdown to stop children accessing explicit material.
Mobile phone companies and credit card firms will have to ensure that someone proves they are aged 18 or over before being given access to adult websites.
Now it has emerged that plans are being drawn up to force adult websites to carry out checks on the age of users. It would cover pornography sites, as well as those selling guns and other age-restricted material, the Sunday Times reported.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working on the plans with Treasury minister Andrea Leadsom, who oversees regulation of the banking system.
However, the new rules would only cover UK-based websites to begin with. It is already nearly impossible to run a British adult website due to onerous age verification rules and critics have noted that only one of the 1,266 adult websites visited
from the UK in December 2013 was a service that is regulated in this country.
It seems very unlikely that these new rules will have any impact on the availability of porn to children. Even if new downloads were stopped tomorrow there's probably already enough knocking around and hard drives and memory sticks to last several
lifetimes of playground swopsies. The only effect it will have is to add to the mountain of red tape, administrative costs and restrictive regulations that is impoverishing the west.
Offsite Comment: Why age checks on porn sites will do more harm than good
That tidbit of information, along with other reports indicating that PayPal and Visa will be taking part in the new scheme in addition to other approved methods of verification, suggests that one way the government ostensibly means to gain control of the
internet is by pressuring processors to age-verify while simultaneously holding out the (dubious) promise of increased and officially sanctioned business.
British intelligence services can access raw material collected in bulk by the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without a warrant, the government has confirmed for the first time.
GCHQ's secret arrangements for accessing bulk material are revealed in documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK surveillance watchdog, in response to a joint legal challenge by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty
International. The legal action was launched in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations published by the Guardian and other news organisations last year.
The government's submission discloses that the UK can obtain unselected -- meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence -- information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was not technically feasible to obtain the communications under
a warrant and if it is necessary and proportionate for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.
The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to deliberate circumvention of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of
the UK's surveillance activities.
Big Brother Watch has published a report
highlighting the true scale of police forces' use of surveillance powers.
The report comes at a time when the powers have faced serious criticism, following revelations that police have used them to access journalists' phone records.
The research focuses on the use of 'directed surveillance' contained in the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by police forces; a form of covert surveillance conducted in places other than residential premises or private
vehicles which is deemed to be non-intrusive, but is still likely to result in personal information about the individual being obtained.
Although the report details how directed surveillance powers were authorised more than 27,000 times over a three year period, police forces are not compelled to record any other statistics; therefore we cannot know the exact number of individuals
that these authorisations relate to.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has handed down a landmark verdict. The Court ruled that embedding copyrighted videos is not copyright infringement, even if the source video was uploaded without permission.
The case in question was referred to EU's Court of Justice by a German court. It deals with a dispute between the water filtering company BestWater International and two men who work as independent commercial agents for a competitor. Bestwater accused
the men of embedding one of their promotional videos, which was available on YouTube without the company's permission. The video was embedded on the personal website of the two through a frame, as is usual with YouTube videos.
While EU law is clear on most piracy issues, the copyright directive says very little about embedding copyrighted works. The Court of Justice, however, now argues that embedding is not copyright infringement.
The Court argues that embedding a file or video is not a breach of creator's copyrights under European law, as long as it's not altered or communicated to a new public. In the current case, the video was already available on YouTube so embedding it is
not seen as a new communication. T he Court's verdict reads:
The embedding in a website of a protected work which is publicly accessible on another website by means of a link using the framing technology ... does not by itself constitute communication to the public within the meaning of [the EU Copyright
directive] to the extent that the relevant work is neither communicated to a new public nor by using a specific technical means different from that used for the original communication.
The Court based its verdict on an earlier decision in the Svensson case , where it found that hyperlinking to a previously published work is not copyright infringement. Together, both cases will have a major impact on future copyright cases in the EU.
For Internet users it means that they are protected from liability if they embed copyrighted videos or images from other websites, for example.
Senior British executives from Twitter, Google and Facebook were summoned to Downing Street on Thursday and told to do more to take action to curb the online activities of extremists. The Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service are in talks about using
court orders to ensure that ISPs immediately remove extremist propaganda.
The warning came as it transpired that Britain's most high-profile radical Islamist preacher, Anjem Choudary, had influenced the man involved in the Ottawa attack. Canadian terrorist Martin Ahmad Rouleau's Twitter account showed that he followed several
radical preachers, including Choudary, who tweeted that he hoped that the Canadian attacker would be admitted to heaven.
However, Choudary said: The fact that someone follows you on Twitter does not mean you necessarily influenced him to do anything.
As part of the plans, the Government also wants to encourage social media sites to use so-called counter-speech tactics, which involves positive messages about Islam online to prevent extremists monopolising websites.
Messaging app Line started has increased censorship in China by adding more keywords to its region-based block list.
However researchers have revealed an increased sophistication to the system making it less noticeable to users, as edgecastcdn.net reported. The censorship software now allows users to use these words separately but not in phrases. Similar techniques
have also been implemented in social media sites such as Weibo.
Censorship becomes more meticulous and does not block everything completely, said Wu Qianhua, researcher at the university. He said he thinks the new tactic is helping the regime. For example, under the new system, users could send messages that
include Xinjiang or independence , but not two at the same time:
If you only hide a small part, instead of everything that is relative to a certain topic, then fewer people would be affected by censorship and more will be interested to talk about topics such as Xinjiang in a 'legal' way, Wu said. But when you hide
everything, people will be more curious about how the censorship works and why it exists.
The researchers found out that if users set China as their country, the app's censorship functionality will be triggered and automatically download a bad words list from a website named Naver . However, users could also learn from a post on
the lab's website on how to change their location settings and bypass the region-focused system that applies to China.
Facebook again made headlines this month for its refusal to allow users to represent themselves with their chosen identities. A number of users of the site, mainly drag performers, reported that their accounts had been taken down in violation of the
company's real names policy that requires individuals to use their legal name for personal accounts.
As per standard procedure at the Facebook censor's office, when enough negative publicity is created, the PR department springs into life. Facebook then makes profuse apologies, claims it was all some sort of ghastly mistake, then makes an exception to
the rules for the publicised case, makes no real changes, and then carries on as normal in censoring all the vast majority of people who are not quite so adept at generating publicity.
In this case Facebook has now appealed for attempting to out drag queens, Mentioning two drag queens while clarifying their policy Facebook's Chris Cox said:
Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil
Miss Hot Mess. Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.
Facebook has said that a single user highlighted the accounts as possibly using fake names and the reports were lost in the several hundred thousand fake name reports they process a week.
Offsite Comment: Dear Facebook: Sorry is a Start. Now Let's See Solutions
When it comes to Facebook's real names policy, it's really clear---something needs to change. Over the last few weeks, we've joined dozens of advocates in saying so. And in a meeting with LGBTQ and digital rights advocates, Facebook agreed. Of course,
admitting there's a problem is always the first step towards a solution. But what's not clear is what that solution will be.
EFF continues to believe that the best solution is simply to get rid of the real names policy entirely. But barring that, Facebook needs to find a solution that takes into account the myriad groups of people affected by Facebook's faulty policy,
from undocumented immigrants, to activists in oppressive regimes, to survivors of domestic violence.
Weeks after Facebook apologised for the way its real-name policy had led to the suspension of numerous drag queens' accounts, user accounts are still being suspended or deactivated for not using people's legal names.
Sister Roma, a veteran of San Francisco's Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence , is one of the leaders of the campaign to get Facebook to restore these accounts and has become a key liaison between the social media giant and people whose accounts continue to
be suspended or deactivated. Sister Roma told the Guardian:
Every time one or two get fixed, a handful get suspended So we really feel like we're swimming upstream, and while I'm hopeful that Facebook is doing the right thing, it's discouraging.
Sister Roma said she has fielded 300 to 400 emails from people whose accounts have been suspended or deactivated.
Internet insults could lead to two years in jail under new laws, 'Justice' Secretary Chris Grayling has said. He proposes that magistrates should be able to pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.
He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob
These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.
As the terrible case of Chloe Madeley showed last week, people are being abused online in the most crude and degrading fashion.
This is a law to combat cruelty - and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.
Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are currently prosecuted in magistrates' courts under the Malicious Communications Act, with a maximum prison sentence of six months. More serious cases could
go to crown court under the proposals, where the maximum sentence would be extended.
The law change is to be made as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill going through Parliament.
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, responded to the proposed new penalties:
The Justice Secretary should be focusing his efforts on incidents where real harm may be caused, not casting the net wider for anything that could be deemed offensive.
The Crown Prosecution Service and the police have completely failed to properly use the existing harassment law, which itself would address the actions of anyone who poses a serious threat.
The victims of serious abuse online, or indeed offline, do not need headline grabbing policies. They need definitive action to ensure that the police know what the law is when a compliant is made. It is that action which will keep them safe, not attempts
to legally blur the line between illegal behaviour and being generally offensive.
Offsite Comment: Trolling 'is' a free-speech issue, and always has been
The UK justice secretary's announcement on Sunday that the jail sentence for abusive online trolling is set to be quadrupled, from a maximum of six months to two years, should send a chill down the spine of all freedom-loving individuals. The fact that a
panic over the phlegm-spitting, misspelled missives of a few keyboard warriors has laid the path for heavy-handed state intervention into our communications sets a dangerous precedent for the future of free expression online.
In a landmark ruling, the High Court has ordered several of the UK's leading ISPs to block websites dealing in counterfeit products. The decision follows legal action by Richemont, the owner of several luxury brands including Cartier and Montblanc.
Following successful action by the world's leading entertainment companies to have sites blocked at the ISP level on grounds of copyright infringement, it was perhaps inevitable that other companies with similar issues, such as trademark infringement
would tread the same path.
Compagnie Financiere Richemont S.A. owns several well-known luxury brands including Cartier and Mont Blanc and for some time has tried to force sites selling counterfeit products to close down. Faced with poor results, in 2014 the company wrote to the
UK's leading ISPs, Sky, TalkTalk, BT, Virgin Media, EE and Telefonica/O2, complaining that third party sites were infringing on Richemont trademarks.
Concerned that Richemont hadn't done enough to close the sites down on its own and that blocking could affect legitimate trade, the ISPs resisted and the matter found itself before the High Court.
The court decision means that the ISPs named in the legal action must now restrict access to websites selling physical counterfeits in the same way they already restrict file-sharing sites.
A Richemont spokesperson told TorrentFreak that the ruling represents a positive step in the fight to protect brands and customers from the sale of counterfeit goods online. T he company said:
We are pleased by this judgment and welcome the Court's recognition that there is a public interest in preventing trade mark infringement, particularly where counterfeit goods are involved. The Courts had already granted orders requiring ISPs to block
sites for infringement of copyright in relation to pirated content. This decision is a logical extension of that principle to trade marks.
TorrentFreak reports that the decision is likely to be appealed.
A new criminal offence of posting so-called revenge pornography on the internet will carry a maximum jail term of two years, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has announced.
Cruel and angry individuals who publish intimate pictures, videos or text messages to retaliate against their former partners will be targeted with the new law.
The proposal will be formally proposed in Parliament this week.
This is a significant change of tack by the government as a few days ago the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that there were sufficient existing laws available to target revenge porn.
Speaking ahead of the debate in Parliament on Monday, Grayling said:
The fact that there are individuals who are cruelly distributing intimate pictures of their former partners without their consent is almost beyond belief. We want those who fall victim to this type of disgusting behaviour to know that we are on their
side and will do everything we can to bring offenders to justice. That is why we will change the law and make it absolutely clear to those who act in this way that they could face prison.
The new law will cover the sharing of images both online and offline. It will mean that images posted to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be caught by the offence, as well as those that are shared via text message. Images shared
via email, on a website or the distribution of physical copies will also be caught. Those convicted will face a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
The Ministry of Justice said the offence would cover photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way, or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.
Victims and others will be able to report offences to the police to investigate.
One in 10 requests for web links to be censored from search results under European right to be forgotten laws have come from the UK, Google has said.
Google said it had removed 498,737 links from search results since May this year - including 63,616 pages following requests from the UK. It said 18,304 requests were made in the UK, the third highest in the EU.
According to a transparency report released on its website, Google removed 35% - or 18,459 - of censorship requests.
Google also provided examples of the sorts of requests it had received, along with the search engine's decision.
In one of the first rulings of its kind, a French court last month ordered Google to remove links to defamatory information from its search results globally .
Up to now, most rulings have limited themselves to the local top level domain -- such as Google.fr. However, the decision of the High Court in Paris was that this would be insufficient because even in France users can search using the Google.com domain.
If Google does not comply, it will face daily fines of 1,000 euros.
The CPS has updated its legal guidance regarding the prosecution of communications sent via social media with a clear section that explains how current legislation can be used to prosecute offences involving the malicious use of intimate media, sometimes
referred to as 'revenge pornography'.
This clarification does not signify a new approach but clearly sets out for prosecutors which laws can be used to bring these cases to court. In all cases the CPS will apply the most appropriate law which best addresses the alleged offending. It is a
matter for Parliament to decide if further laws are needed or if changes need to be made to the current legislation. A spokesperson for the CPS said:
No one should have to suffer the hurt and humiliation of 'revenge pornography' -- a nasty and invasive crime that appears, anecdotally at least, to have increased as social media use has gone up.
The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes these cases using a range of current laws, and we have now clarified our legal guidance to set out clearly how these cases should be brought to court.
Due to the very personal nature of 'revenge pornography' prosecutors are being asked specifically to consider the impact on the victims involved. The new guidance also makes clear that the context of each case needs to be considered alongside current
guidelines to ensure that the most appropriate legislation is used when prosecuting. The public, and indeed those intent on attacking former partners in this way, can now see clearly that this is a crime that can and will be prosecuted."
Revenge pornography' is typically sexually explicit media that is publically shared online without the consent of the pictured individual and is usually uploaded by ex-partners. The images are often accompanied by personal information including the
pictured individual's full name, links to social media profiles and address, and are shared with the intent to cause distress or harm to the individual.
The guidance outlines:
The issue in cases of 'revenge pornography' will be whether the message or communication is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false, not whether the image itself is indecent or obscene.
Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with the sending of electronic communications which are indecent, grossly offensive, threatening or false, provided there is an intention to cause distress or anxiety to the
Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send or cause to be sent through a 'public electronic communications network' a message that is 'grossly offensive' or of an 'indecent, obscene or menacing
Where there is more than one incident, or the incident forms part of a course of conduct directed towards an individual, a charge of harassment should be considered.
Where the images may have been taken when the victim was under 18, prosecutors will consider offences under the Protection of Children Act 1978.
In the most serious cases, where intimate images are used to coerce victims into further sexual activity, other offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will be considered.
In order to prosecute, all cases must meet the evidential stage in the Full Code Test of the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and be considered to be in the public interest.
These offences would not normally be brought under the Obscene Publications Act.
We have informed the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications of this change, following their interest in the subject earlier this year. The CPS legal guidance on the prosecution of cases involving communications sent via social media were
drafted specifically due to the rapid expansion of social media and can be found on www.cps.gov.uk
The Guardian US has won an Emmy for its groundbreaking coverage of Edward Snowden's disclosures about mass surveillance by US intelligence agencies.
The Guardian's multimedia interactive feature NSA Decoded was announced as the winner in the new approaches: current news category at the news and documentary Emmy.
The comprehensive interactive walks the audience through the facts and implications of the NSA's mass surveillance program, revealed by the Guardian last year in coverage based on leaks by Snowden. The interactive includes interviews and discussions with
key players including the journalist Glenn Greenwald, former NSA employees, senators and members of US congress.
The project was led by interactives editor and reporter Gabriel Dance, reporter Ewen MacAskill and producers Feilding Cage and Greg Chen.
Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong has signed a new decree imposing stricter Internet control in the country. Signed last September 16, 2014, the new regulation promotes responsible and constructive use of the Internet
among Lao netizens.
A few months ago, Lao officials announced that they were studying the experience of other Southeast Asian nations as a guide in drafting an Internet law which they plan to implement this year. They chose the restrictive cyber laws
of Myanmar and Vietnam as models in formulating the framework of Laos' Internet law. Laos officials also reportedly looked at the approach used by China in regulating the Web.
As expected, the result is a law that claims to support the growth of the Internet but actually contains numerous contradictory provisions that undermine free speech and other citizen rights.
Provisions that recognize the privacy rights of Internet users, the protection of intellectual property, and prohibitions on pornography may be less controversial for Laotians. But the law also prohibits sharing photos that contradict Lao traditions and culture.
The question is this, who will decide whether an obscene image insults Laotian heritage?
The same decree also identified several so-called cybercrimes whose definitions are unclear and very broad. They include:
Disseminating false information against the Lao People's Revolutionary Party;
Circulating information that encourages citizens to be involved in terrorism, murder, and social disorder;
Supporting online campaigns that seek to divide solidarity among ethnic groups and between countries;
Spreading information that distorts truth or tarnishes the dignity and rights of individuals, sectors, institutions and organizations;
Sharing of comments whose contents are in line with the abovementioned prohibitions.
Internet service providers are ordered not to provide service to individuals, legal entities or organizations whose movement seeks to undermine the Party and government policies.
Based on these guidelines, it seems that legitimate criticism of government programs and policies can be interpreted as a criminal act if it creates division, confusion, or disorder among the public. It is easy to see how
authorities could use the law to prosecute journalists, activists, and other critics of the government.
The law also prohibits the creation of anonymous or pseudonymous accounts online, purportedly in an effort to ease the efforts of authorities in regulating the Internet. This is a big blow to citizens who seek to expose
wrongdoings in the government through the Internet.
The government believes that this kind of Internet regulation is necessary to prevent abuse and misuse of the Internet as a space for communication and connection. While acknowledging the positive contributions of the Internet to
the local economy, Lao officials also warned that it can be used to cause panic in society. They cited the spread of inaccurate information about the Lao Airlines crash and a recently online rumor of human organ trafficking in Attapeu province. In both
cases, the Laos government was forced to make official statements to clarify the wrong information.
Despite these excesses, however, the Laos government previously vowed not to block the Internet, believing that it is essential to the modernization and industrialization of the country. But the new Internet law will
undermine the commitment of Laos officials to keep the Internet open and free. It will discourage netizens from maximizing online spaces to engage public officials and challenge public policies.
The law could also impede the growth of the IT sector. In 2011 there were only 60,000 Facebook users in Laos. Today, more than half a million Lao citizens use the popular social networking site. According to news reports, there are
now five telecommunications companies, seven Internet service providers and about 900 computer shops in the country. At this time, what Laos needs is a law that will boost this industry and not something that will unfairly penalize critics, activists,
and even ordinary Internet users.
It is unfortunate that Laos has aligned itself with its neighbors in the region that are implementing repressive Internet laws to stifle dissent, intimidate the opposition, and even punish critical citizens. Laos should strive to
distinguish itself in the region by adopting a human rights-based framework in regulating the Internet.
China's government has tightened its control over the Internet so much recently that businesses, researchers and ordinary people are finding it hard to complete basic and innocuous tasks, like placing ads on websites, sharing documents and reading
technical documents. It seems the government of President Xi Jinping is so determined to crack down on dissent that it is even willing to stifle commerce and scientific research.
The country has imposed burdensome controls on the Internet in recent months by blocking online libraries, text messaging applications and cloud computing services, including those provided by American companies like Google. For example, the government
has made it very hard to use web services that were previously available, like Google Drive, which many businesses use to share documents among employees. And virtual private networks that allow employees to log on to their corporate servers remotely
have also come under attack.
The tougher line will certainly make it harder for foreign companies to do business in China -- one American executive told The Times the new controls were a frustrating and annoying drain on productivity.
Most Chinese people and businesses, however, cannot easily get around these controls. They will have a harder time getting access to information stored on foreign computer servers or communicating with people outside China.
This Friday a pilot scheme to add age ratings to online music videos starts but don't expect to see any huge 12s, 15s or 18s on videos just yet. All parties involved say people watching the videos won't see any changes until the end of the year.
YouTube says it is committed but technical change may take time and Vevo has agreed to trial the scheme.
Three of the biggest labels in the UK - Sony, Universal, and Warner Brothers - have all also agreed to take part. But it will only apply to artists signed to UK labels.
The BBFC will be awarding the age ratings.
Mercury-nominated singer FKA Twigs commented:
I think that the answer to protecting younger viewers is not to ban things, it's to show an alternative.
I guess with my videos we're talking directly about sexuality and there's nothing wrong with that.
Why shouldn't younger people learn and explore about what sexuality is as an adult? Why shouldn't they do that?
We're not living in Victorian Britain, do we want to be repressed? Do we want to have these kids doing weird things behind closed doors or should this be a country that is leading by example in explaining to people?
Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the web 25 years ago, called on Saturday for a bill of rights that would guarantee the independence of the internet and ensure users' privacy. He said at the Web We Want festival on the future
of the internet:
If a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites they go to, then they have tremendous control over your life.
If a government can block you going to, for example, the opposition's political pages, then they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.
Suddenly the power to abuse the open internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies.
He called for an internet version of the Magna Carta, the 13th century English charter credited with guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms:
There have been lots of times that it has been abused, so now the Magna Carta is about saying...I want a web where I'm not spied on, where there's no censorship.