Social Networking Censorship in the UK

 Internet censorship set to solve Britain's broken society



13th August
2011
  

Offsite: China Gloats...


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China enjoys David Cameron speaking in favour of Chinese style internet censorship
Ragged Union JackHere's a post from the Chinese News Agency Xinhua:

Apparently rioters used social media, like Twitter, Facebook and the Blackberry messenger system and Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday he's looking at banning potential troublemakers from using the online services.

The British government, once an ardent advocate of absolute Internet freedom, has thus made a U-turn over its stance towards web-monitoring.

In a speech delivered in Kuwait in February, the British prime minister, however, argued that freedom of expression should be respected in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square.

This is sheer hypocrisy on the UK government's part, and completely undermines its ability to criticise any other country - like China - for blocking access to the Internet or instituting online censorship.

...Read the full article

Update: An American View

14th August 2011. Based on article from mashable.com

U.S. journalist Jeff Jarvis asked on his blog:

If you take these steps, what separates you from the Saudi government demanding the ability to listen to and restrict its BBM networks? What separates you from Arab tyrannies cutting off social communication via Twitter or from China banning it?

Offsite: The Committee to Protect Journalists

22nd August 2011. See  article from  cpj.org

CPJ logo T here is no shortage of examples that demonstrate how repressive governments have seized on the riots as an opportunity to rebuke Britain. As soon as riots broke out, Iranian officials demanded that the U.K. government exercise restraint in dealing with rioters, offered to send a delegation to investigate human rights violations, and complained that the U.N. had been silent about the situation. In Russia, there have been comparisons between the riots and the protests in Libya. An opinion article in China's official People's Daily newspaper referred to the riots as a case in which the West is tasting the bitter fruit after championing Internet freedom. Syria has also accused your government of hypocrisy.

In light of such defiance of the U.K.'s moral authority on human rights, we urge you to clarify the intent behind your statement, spell out any planned actions you may take, and reaffirm your government's commitment to protecting free expression. Failure to do so would gravely undermine global efforts to defend human rights and would provide authoritarian regimes with arguments they will use to justify censorship and surveillance.

...Read the full article

 

27th August
2011
  

Update: Didn't Even Merit Discussion...

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David Cameron's Chinese style internet ban dismissed without discussion

David CameronTheresa May met with bosses of social network sites in Westminster to discuss whether users should be blocked if they are plotting to riot or commit crimes

David Cameron's plan to shut down social networking sites to prevent disorder was ditched in a humiliating U-turn.

The Home Secretary Theresa May firmly killed off the prospect of any clampdown in the face of opposition from human rights groups and social networking companies.

In a summit with Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, the Home Secretary indicated that Cameron's plan did not even merit discussion.

She told the firms that she was not there to talk about restricting internet services. Instead May appealed for help, seeking advice on how law enforcement could more effectively use social media.

Social networking firms are said to have advised police to employ internet monitoring firms to help keep an eye on public chatter on the web.

The Government's retreat came after leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Index on Censorship, wrote to the Home Secretary voicing strong concerns about a possible clampdown. The coalition of ten human rights and free speech advocates said:

Dear Home Secretary,

We are writing to you regarding discussions scheduled to take place between the Government and some social network and communications providers following the recent civil unrest. We noted the Prime Minister's suggestion that the Government will look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

We believe that Twitter, Research in Motion and Facebook have been invited to meet you to discuss this issue. As you know, there is existing legislation regulating the interception and disclosure of communications information, the use of communications evidence by law enforcement and restrictions on people's use of communications technology.

It is reasonable to review the existing legal regime to ensure that it appropriately fits new technologies. However, turning off, restricting or monitoring people's communications networks are matters that require extreme care and open, detailed deliberation.

We are very concerned that new measures, made in good faith but in a heated political environment, will overextend powers in ways that would be susceptible to abuse, restrict legitimate, free communication and expression and undermine people's privacy. This is especially so if proposals involve unaccountable voluntary arrangements between law enforcement and communications providers.

It is essential that any review of regulations covering communications networks happens through a public consultation, with full details of meetings between the Government and social network platforms made public as soon as possible. This should involve a genuine multi-stakeholder process that includes not only the communications providers but groups representing broader citizens' rights such as freedom of expression and privacy.

We would like to request a meeting to discuss these issues, and look forward to engaging with you further.

Yours sincerely,

Amnesty UK
Article 19
English PEN
Index on Censorship
Liberty
Open Democracy
Open Rights Group
Privacy International
and others

 

3rd September
2011
  

Offsite: Emergency Powers...

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Musing that David Cameron has already got the powers to turn off the internet at times of riot

riotOne of the unanswered questions arising from the August riots is whether the government needs new powers to block the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media which were used to organise the disturbances.

Prime Minister David Cameron suggested, in the immediate aftermath of the rioting, that blocking the use of social networking communications was a policy option that was to be urgently discussed with telecommunications operators (and then implemented as a priority).

So when the Home Office says (as it has done) that no new powers are needed, then it follows that either no new powers are needed (ie, the government already has the power to block social networking communications) or the politicians have quietly gone off the idea (and have decided not to say so).

...

If I was having a bet, I think ministers might be considering the powers in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This is because the definition of an emergency -- which is required to trigger use of the Act's draconian powers -- clearly includes a riot, as a riot could cause serious damage to human welfare, to property and threaten lives.

Additionally, where the issue is urgent , then the Civil Contingencies Act's powers can be exercised by ministers without resort to Parliament. Although urgency is understandable in times of a crisis, these urgency provisions also minimise Parliamentary scrutiny of their use at the critical time that the powers are exercised.

...Read the full article

 

6th September
2011
  

Update: Emergency Powers...

The Enhanced Terrorism and Investigation Measures Bill will outline powers including curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement.

riotThe Home Office has published draft terror legislation to be used in supposedly exceptional circumstances.

The Enhanced Terrorism and Investigation Measures Bill follows  the government's review of CT powers, published in January, that claims enhanced measures are necessary in extraordinary circumstances.

IHome Secretary Theresa May said:

So we will publish, but not introduce, legislation allowing more stringent measures, including curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement.

These measures will require an even higher standard of proof to be met and would be introduced if in exceptional circumstances they were required to protect the public from the threat of terrorism.

We will invite the Opposition to discuss this draft legislation with us on Privy Council terms. These powers would be enacted only with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament.'

 

19th September
2011
  

Update: Reflections of China...

Social networking bosses appear for questioning by parliamentary committee

home affairs committee 1Commons Home Affairs select committee, 11th September 2011

Following accusations that social media were used to play a key role in the social unrest in August, representatives from Research in Motion, Twitter and Facebook appeared for questioning by the Commons Home Affairs select committee.

Stephen Bates, Managing Director of BlackBerry's Research in Motion, Richard Allen, Director of Policy at Facebook and Alexander McGilvray of Twitter were questioned by the committee, chaired by MP Keith Vaz, regarding the role of social media in the riots which spread across the country in August, and the trio insisted that all three platforms were used as a force for good.

In the midst of the unrest, calls were made to shut down social networking, particularly BlackBerry messenger, as it was suggested that this was being used to organise violence. Cutting off Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry messenger in times of unrest seems no different to the censoring this kind of media experiences in China and oppressive countries over the world.

The committee heard that should it be necessary, all three of the representatives of the social media, who work within frameworks to condone with the law, would not resist closing down social media, but did not feel that it would be necessary.

Bates, Allen and McGilvray all said that throughout the unrest in August, social media were used in a positive way -- to contact family and friends to advise that users were safe, to help clean-up in the wake of the riots, and perhaps most importantly as a tool of communication, used to quell and correct rumours.

A key issue addressed by the committee was responsibility. Bates admitted that BlackBerry messenger had been used in a malicious way to organise crime, but stressed the need for balance when addressing the issue.

Keith Vaz advised that there may be times when closing down social media was necessary, asking Why should the government not use the powers to close down these networks if there is mass disorder and this is the only way to stop it happening.

 

21st September
2011
  

Update: Protest Censorship...

Yahoo! Mail found blocking emails about Wall Street protest

yahoo mail logoPresumably this is along the lines of what Dave Cameron and co are thinking when they talk about internet censorship in times of troubles.

Thinking about e-mailing your friends and neighbors about the protests against Wall Street happening right now? If you have a Yahoo e-mail account, think again. ThinkProgress has reviewed claims that Yahoo is censoring e-mails relating to the protest and found that after several attempts on multiple accounts, we too were prevented from sending messages about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Over the weekend, thousands gathered for a Tahrir Square -style protest of Wall Street's domination of American politics. The protesters, organized online and by organizations like Adbusters, have called their effort Occupy Wall Street and have set up the website: www.OccupyWallSt.org. However, several YouTube users posted videos of themselves trying to email a message inviting their friends to visit the Occupy Wall St campaign website, only to be blocked repeatedly by Yahoo.

ThinkProgress emails relating to the OccupyWallSt.org protest were blocked with the following message (emphasis added):

Your message was not sent Suspicious activity has been detected on your account. To protect your account and our users, your message has not been sent. If this error continues, please contact Yahoo! Customer Care for further help. We apologize for the inconvenience.

And in a later update:

Yahoo's customer care Twitter account acknowledges blocking the emails, but says it was an unintentional error: We apologize 4 blocking 'occupywallst.org' It was not intentional & caught by our spam filters. It is resolved, but may be a residual delay.

[Yeah! yeah!]

 

19th October
2011
  

Updated: Dangerous Insults...

Glasgow man set to be jailed over insults on Facebook written after football incident

Facebook logoA man is facing a substantial prison sentence after posting sectarian comments on a Neil Lennon hate page just hours after an explosive Old Firm clash, a court has heard.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard that Stephen Birrell was caught during a special police operation launched to combat bigoted comments on the internet.

Birrell admitted posting the religiously prejudiced abuse on a Facebook site called Neil Lennon Should be Banned . He committed the latest 'offence' a few days after being released from a previous 12-month jail sentence.

Prosecutor Mark Allan told the court that a police team began investigating hate comments on the web after the touchline clash between Rangers then assistant manger Ally McCoist and Celtic manager Neil Lennon during the Old Firm match on 3 March this year.

Defence solicitor John McLaughlin said:

These postings were distasteful and abusive. However, his postings did not contain threats or incitement to violence. There was no mention on them of Neil Lennon or the manager of Celtic. It was hackneyed sectarian language.

The language he used was that of his peers growing up in Dalmarnock. He is now committed to changing his behaviour particularly since his mother is a Catholic.

Sheriff Bill Totten told Birrell: What you wrote was vile and hateful there is no place for these kind of remarks in our city or in our country. Adding that his comments could encourage impressionable people to behave in this way and were unacceptable: You should be under no doubt very real harm does result from this. A substantial custodial sentence will probably have to be imposed in this case.

Sheriff Totten deferred sentence until next month.

Update: Jailed for 8 months for Facebook insults

18th October 2011. See  article from  scotsman.com

Scottish Courts logoStephen Birrell, who posted sectarian comments on a Facebook page about Celtic manager Neil Lennon, has been given what is thought to be the toughest sentence for a football-related internet insult.

He was jailed for eight months for posting religious and racially-motivated comments on the social networking sit.

Sheriff Bill Totten told Birrell that the courts had to send a clear message to deter others who might be tempted to behave in this way .

One of the comments, posted a day before the Old Firm clash, read: Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags ha ha.

Two days after the match, Birrell wrote: Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers.

Birrell was also handed a five-year football banning order at Glasgow Sheriff Court for writing the comments on a Facebook page titled Neil Lennon Should Be Banned .

Offsite Comment: I don't believe in censorship...BUT...

18th October 2011. See  article from  lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.com

I'm struggling to think of the last time I heard anyone in Scottish politics say I believe in free expression , without following it with a but , or some other pious caveat, justifying illiberal legislation to put peoples' tongues in the vice, fetter their fingers, or otherwise curtail free speech.

...Read the full article

 

1st May
2012
  

Update: In the Age of Facebook...

Government know better than parents when their kids are ready to use Facebook

tim loughtoniTim Loughton, the Children's Minister, has accused mothers and fathers of aiding and abetting pre-teens to open accounts on Facebook.

His whinge was in response to Labour MP Ann Coffey who urged the Government and mobile phone companies to do more to combat sexting , where teenagers send sexual pictures of themselves to each other using camera phones.

Loughton said parents had a responsibility to monitor youngsters online, adding:

Having a Facebook page, you should be at least 13 to do that. That is not legally enforceable.

We know, and I know from personal experience, the temptations for younger children to set up a Facebook site and get involved with those social media.

And I also know that in too many cases they do that aided and abetted by parents. So it's not just a question of giving information to parents, it's making sure parents are acting responsibly on behalf of their children too.

A Facebook spokesman said:

Facebook is currently designed for two age groups (13-18 year olds and 18 and up), and we provide extensive safety and privacy controls based on the age provided.

If someone reports an underage account to use then we will remove it, and use back-end end technology to try and prevent them signing up again.

However, recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the Internet and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don't circumvent a system or lie about their age.

However, we agree with safety experts that communication between parents/guardians and kids about their use of the Internet is vital.

Just as parents are always teaching and reminding kids how to cross the road safely, talking about internet safety should be just as important a lesson to learn.

 

1st May
2012

 Offsite Article: Screw Obama...

A case that questions the Pentagon's limits on free speech for soldiers. Marine sacked after commenting on Facebook: 'Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him'.

See article from guardian.co.uk

 

 Update: An internet for children...

Political campaigners at the NSPCC call for more internet censorship in the name of child protection


Link Here 29th April 2017
nspcc logoThe NSPCC writes:

We're calling on social networks to be regulated and fined when they fail to protect children after it was revealed that 4 out of 5 children feel social media companies aren't doing enough to protect them 1 .

Out of 1,696 children and young people who took part in our Net Aware research, 1,380 thought social media sites needed to do more to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content. When asked about what they were coming across on social media sites, children reported seeing:

  • pornography
  • self-harm
  • bullying and hatred.

We're calling on Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children. These standards must include:

  • age-ratings in line with those for films set by the British Board of Film Classification
  • safe accounts automatically offered to under 18's -- with default privacy settings, proactive filtering of harmful content and mechanisms to guard against grooming
  • fines for companies who fail to protect children.

 

  Dream on...

The ICO thinks a few guidelines can keep kids off Facebook until they are 13


Link Here 5th January 2018
information commissioners office logo The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has warned Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to tighten up their age controls and kick off underage users.

The ICO stepped in after it became aware that millions of British children join the platform before they were 13. New ICO guidelines state that social media giants must examine whether they put children at risk -- by showing minors adverts for alcohol or gambling, for example.

The guidance, which is under consultation, also calls on the firms to do a better job of kicking underage users off their platforms, and to stop or deter children from sharing their information online.

Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, threatened:

Whether designing services to provide protection for children or having a system to verify age, organisations, including social media companies, need to change the way they offer services to children.

It's also vital that we ensure children's interests and rights are protected online in the same way they are in all other aspects of life.

In November, an Ofcom report revealed that half of British 12-year-olds and more than a quarter of ten-year-olds have their own social media profiles. At the moment, all the major web giants demand that users are over 13 before they get an account -- but they do next to nothing to enforce that rule.

Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat insist it is unrealistic to have to verify the age of users under the age of 18.

The ICO does not seem to have addressed the enormity of their demand. Facebook and social networks are the very essence of smart phones. If children aren't allowed to share things, how does any website or app feed up news and articles to anyone if it does now what the reader likes nor who is linked to that person. Typing in what you want to see is no longer practical or desirable, so the basic idea of sending people more of what they have already shown they liked is the only game in town. Of course the  kids could play games all day instead, but maybe that has a downside too.

 

  Changing liability law to force companies to censor swathes of the internet...

UK government publishes its intentions to significantly ramp up internet censorship


Link Here 8th June 2018
internet strategy Who is liable if a user posts copyrighted music to YouTube without authority? Is it the user or is it YouTube? The answer is of course that it is the user who would be held liable should copyright holders seek compensation. YouTube would be held responsible only if they were informed of the infringement and refused to take it down.

This is the practical compromise that lets the internet work.

So what would happen if the government changed the liability laws so that YouTube was held liable for unauthorised music as soon as it was posted. There maybe millions of views before it was spotted. If YouTube were immediately liable they may have to pay millions in court judgements against them.

There is lot of blather about YouTube having magic Artificial Intelligence that can detect copyrighted music and block it before it us uploaded. But this is nonsense, music is copyrighted by default, even a piece that has never been published and is not held in any computer database.

YouTube does not have a database that contains all the licensing and authorisation, and who exactly is allowed to post copyrighted material. Even big companies lie, so how could YouTube really know what could be posted and what could not.

If the law were to be changed, and YouTube were held responsible for the copyright infringement of their posters, then the only possible outcome would be for YouTube to use its AI to detect any music at all and block all videos which contain music. The only music allowed to be published would be from the music companies themselves, and even then after providing YouTube with paperwork to prove that they had the necessary authorisation.

So when the government speaks of changes to liability law they are speaking of a massive step up in internet censorship as the likely outcome.

In fact the censorship power of such liability tweaks has been proven in the US. The recently passed FOSTA law changed liability law so that internet companies are now held liable for user posts  facilitating sex trafficking. The law was sold as a 'tweak' just to take action against trafficking. But it resulted in the immediate and almost total internet censorship of all user postings facilitating adult consensual sex work, and a fair amount of personal small ads and dating services as well.

The rub was that sex traffickers do not in any way specify that their sex workers have been trafficked, their adverts are exactly the same as for adult consensual sex workers. With all the artificial intelligence in the world, there is no way that internet companies can distinguish between the two.

When they are told they are liable for sex trafficking adverts, then the only possible way to comply is to ban all adverts or services that feature anything to do with sex or personal hook ups. Which is of course exactly what happened.

So when UK politicians speak of  internet liability changes and sex trafficking then they are talking about big time, large scale internet censorship.

 And Theresa May said today via a government press release as reported in the Daily Mail:

Web giants such as Facebook and Twitter must automatically remove vile abuse aimed at women, Theresa May will demand today.

The Prime Minister will urge companies to utilise the same technology used to take down terrorist propaganda to remove rape threats and harassment.

Speaking at the G7 summit in Quebec, Mrs May will call on firms to do more to tackle content promoting and depicting violence against women and girls, including illegal violent pornography.

She will also demand the automatic removal of adverts that are linked to people-trafficking.

May will argue they must ensure women can use the web without fear of online rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail or vile comments.

She will say: We know that technology plays a crucial part in advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls, but these benefits are being undermined by vile forms of online violence, abuse and harassment.

What is illegal offline is illegal online and I am calling on world leaders to take serious action to deal with this, just like we are doing in the UK with our commitment to legislate on online harms such as cyber-stalking and harassment.

In a world that is being ripped apart by identitarian intolerance of everyone else, its seems particularly unfair that men should be expected to happily put up with the fear of online threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail or vile comments. Surely laws should be written so that all people are treated totally equally.

Theresa May did not say to much about liability law directly in her press release, but it is laid out pretty clearly in the government document just published, titled Government response to the internet strategy green paper [pdf]:

Taking responsibility

Platform liability and illegal harms

Online platforms need to take responsibility for the content they host. They need to proactively tackle harmful behaviours and content. Progress has been made in removing illegal content, particularly terrorist material, but more needs to be done to reduce the amount of damaging content online, legal and illegal.

We are developing options for increasing the liability online platforms have for illegal content on their services. This includes examining how we can make existing frameworks and definitions work better, as well as what the liability regime should look like in the long-run.

Terms and Conditions

Platforms use their terms and conditions to set out key information about who can use the service, what content is acceptable and what action can be taken if users don't comply with the terms. We know that users frequently break these rules. In such circumstances, the platforms' terms state that they can take action, for example they can remove the offending content or stop providing services to the user. However, we do not see companies proactively doing this on a routine basis. Too often companies simply do not enforce their own terms and conditions.

Government wants companies to set out clear expectations of what is acceptable on their platforms in their terms, and then enforce these rules using sanctions when necessary. By doing so, companies will be helping users understand what is and isn't acceptable.

Clear Standards

We believe that it is right for Government to set out clear standards for social media platforms, and to hold them to account if they fail to live up to these. DCMS and Home Office will jointly work on the White Paper which will set out our proposals for forthcoming legislation. We will focus on proposals which will bring into force real protections for users that will cover both harmful and illegal content and behaviours. In parallel, we are currently
assessing legislative options to modify the online liability regime in the UK, including both the smaller changes consistent with the EU's eCommerce directive, and the larger changes that may be possible when we leave the EU.

Worrying or what?

 


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