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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
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.

 

 

Using censorship heavy artillery without caring about the collateral damage...

French censors bang the table demanding age verification but there are no data protection laws in place that protect porn users from being tracked and scammed


Link Here 9th March 2022
Full story: Age Verification in France...Macron gives websites 6 months to introduce age verification
Pornhub, Pornhub, XHamster, XNXX and XVideos do not comply with French rules contrived from a law against domestic violence.

The French internet censor Arcom (previously CSA) took legal action on March 8 and requested the blocking of 5 pornographic sites: Pornhub, Pornhub, XHamster, Xnxx and Xvideos. The censor sent an injunction to the platforms and left 15 days to comply with the law. The websites did not comply.

Since the vote on the law against domestic violence in 2020, an amendment specifies that sites can no longer be satisfied with asking Internet users to declare that they are of legal age by clicking on a simple box.

Depending on the judge's decision, ISPs will be forced or not to block access to the incriminated sites. In case of blocking, visitors to the pornographic site will be redirected to a dedicated Arcom page.

Distributors of pornographic content are therefore required, in theory, to check the age of their visitors. But how? There is currently no legally defined method to achieve this. The censor itself has never given guidelines to the platforms.

In fact data protection authorities have rather put a spanner in the works that has left the industry scratching its head. In an opinion issued on June 3, 2021, the National Commission for Computing and Freedoms (Cnil) decreed that a verification system which collects information on the identity of Internet users would, in this context, be illegal and risky. Such data collection would indeed present significant risks for the persons concerned since their sexual orientation -- real or supposed -- could be deduced from the content viewed and directly linked to their identity.

Faced with these legal contradictions, Senator Marie Mercier, rapporteur for the amendment, has simply banged the table harder:

I don't want to know how they are doing, but they have to find a solution . The law is the law.

Porn tube websites have explained their reluctance to implement. The option to use third-party verifiers may prove very expensive for a business model based on a high number of users making up for low advertising income per users. An estimate denied by the Tukif site, says that the cost of a verification service goes from 0.0522c to 0.222c per user, a cost to be multiplied by their 650,0000 unique daily visitors.

It is presumed that many porn users will be very reluctant to hand over dangerous ID proof to porn websites so blocking the entry of some audiences, while discouraging others will lead to collapsing income.

The websites also note that as the regulator hasn't attempted to block all porn tube sites then users will be more likely to swap to unrestricted websites rather than submit to ID verification on those website mandated to do so.

 

 

Australia's Online 'Safety' Bill endangers sex workers...

Sex workers' social media site Switter is forced to shut down in anticipation of new censorship laws


Link Here13th February 2022
A social media platform for sex workers with close to half a million users globally has shut down over legal concerns regarding online safety laws and the Australian government's social media defamation legislation.

Switter, which runs on Twitter-replica Mastodon, was set up by an Australian collective of sex workers and technologists, Assembly Four, in 2018 in response to the anti-sex trafficking legislation known as Sesta/Fosta in the United States.

Switter works as a safe space by, and for, sex workers, with little concern that their content or accounts will be censored. On the site, sex workers can find each other, share safety information, find clients and find out legal information or service availability.

However, the managers of the site have announced that they had decided to shut down immediately, telling its more than 420,000 users the raft of online safety and defamation laws in the US, UK and Australia made it difficult to keep the platform running. A letter from the management explains:

The recent anti-sex work and anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative changes not only in Australia, but in the UK, US and other jurisdictions have made it impossible for us to appropriately and ethically maintain compliance over 420,690+ users,.

Another concern leading to the shut down is the prospect of the Australian government's so-called social media anti-trolling legislation. The legislation, which will make platforms liable for defamation if they do not help to unmask an account making defamatory comments, would place a platform like Switter in the position of potentially having sex workers or their clients' anonymity removed in a time when they can still face discrimination from banks, housing and other institutions for the work.

 

 

Laid before the House...

Australian state of Victoria passes law to decriminalise sex work


Link Here9th February 2022
Full story: Legal Brothels in Australia...Movement to legalise brothels in Australia
Victoria has become the third Australian state to decriminalise sex work.

The state's upper house voted to pass the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill, with it winning 24 votes to 10.

The new law will ensure sex workers in Victoria have the same protections and recognition as any other worker, giving sex workers the independence to make free and fair choices about their employment.

The first phase of decriminalising sex work will commence in May and will remove most offences and criminal penalties for individuals participating in consensual sex work. The second phase is expected to commence in late 2023 and will include the remainder of the reforms, and repeal the sex work licensing system.

Fiona Patten, who has been campaigning for the change, said it had been 40 years in the making:

 I hope that one day, stigma of sex workers will be a distant memory, and it will be because of decades of work from many people and organisations

The two other jurisdictions that have decriminalised sex work are NSW and Northern Territory.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

First they came for the sex workers...

Moves to cashless society enables moralising financial companies to slam the door on sex workers


Link Here30th January 2022
National Ugly Mugs (NUM) is a pioneering, national organisation that provides greater access to justice and protection for sex workers. It has just released a report showing that the move to cashless payments is allowing financial institutions to ban sex workers from being able to make a living.

This report, lead by Tess Herrmann and supported by Dr. Scarlett Redman, explores the experiences of sex workers accessing financial services.

The stigma of sex work has a significant impact on the ability of sex workers to access basic financial services, which in turn impacts their ability to fully participate in society. It is vital that financial institutions end their practices of discriminating against sex workers for the sake of safety, inclusion and support.

Key findings:
  • There is evidence of financial discrimination against sex workers from various UK-based banks and financial institutions. This includes
    the refusal of services, such as business accounts, overdrafts and loans, and other financial products. In some cases, even the personal bank accounts of sex workers were shut down or frozen.
  • With increasing digitalisation of payment streams and the gradual move towards a cashless society, more sex workers rely on financial products that they are unable to access due to financial discrimination. As a result, many are forced to lie to financial institutions and state authorities about their business and prevented from filing their taxes correctly and even complying with UK regulations of the sex industry.
  • Sex workers have developed different strategies to deal with financial discrimination which in most cases involve either hiding or lying about their engagement in the sex industry or avoiding certain banks and institutions altogether, resulting in an exclusion from large parts of the financial market, including many investment products, the housing market, and retiring funds.
  • Experiencing financial discrimination has a significant negative impact on the mental health of sex workers with extreme anxiety, depression, and feeling excluded being reported most frequently.
  • The anti-sex worker bias of many financial organisations has wider implications for the working conditions of sex workers as a small number of international financial institutions hold significant power in online markets, including various platforms that sex workers are using to distribute their content.

 

 

Unsafe law...

Amnesty International finds that Ireland's prostitution laws facilitate violent attacks on sex workers


Link Here27th January 2022
Full story: Prostitution Law in Ireland...Government solicits public suggestions for changes to the law
Amnesty International has found that Ireland's prostitution laws are facilitating violent attacks against sex workers. Sex workers say they see police as a threat rather than a shield.

Research carried out by Amnesty International warned legislation implemented in 2017 was driving sex workers to put their lives at risk in a desperate bid to dodge the police. The organisation accused authorities of misusing the law, which was billed as being created to stop human trafficking and exploitation of sex workers. Amnesty reported:

Our research clearly shows that criminalising the purchase of sex is forcing sex workers to take more risks while penalising brothel-keeping is preventing sex workers from working together to ensure their own safety.

Ireland criminalised the buying of sex and substantially bolstered penalties dished out for brothel-keeping -- which is defined as two or more sex workers operating from the same property.

Many sex workers choose to work together to keep safe from clients but those doing so in Ireland can be sentenced to a year in jail or hit with a 5,000 euro (4,187) fine under the 2017 laws.

The new research, based on interviews with sex workers, found most had been subjected to violence from clients while doing their jobs. But sex workers said they were too scared of the police to report attacks against them due to assuming the complaint would not be followed up - with them also voicing fears of experiencing harassment or violence from police officers.

The Irish government is presently reviewing the laws which are known as the Nordic Model after they were first introduced in Sweden.


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