Ed Vaizey appeared as a witness before the Lords Committee on Communication, discussing data protection and content deemed unsuitable for children.
Mr. Vaizey stated that consumers had to be "more savvy" regarding the use of content filters but noted that there were robust controls in place to target illegal content, such as child abuse. He also stated that the Government wants "Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide tools in a way in which choice was presented to parents." He continued to speak of tough "self-regulation" and the thrust of what he was saying to the Committee focused on individuals and service providers putting filters and systems in place, rather than the Government. He also stated that illegal content maintained outside of the European Union should be blocked.
Regarding data protection, Mr. Vaizey stated that "we don't want to stifle business with huge regulation" but that internet literacy would be made part of the national curriculum.
Debates and Questions
Intellectual Property Reform Questions
Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour) asked a question on what discussions the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable (Twickenham, Liberal Democrat) has had on how intellectual property reform will impact upon the creative industires,
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat), responding, stated that Mr. Cable had held meetings with Chancellor George Osborne while Treasury officials have apparently liaised with Business, Innovation and Skills officials.
Iain Wright (Hartlepool, Labour) asked a second question on intellectual property; how many times has Vince Cable (Twickenham, Liberal Democrat) met with officials from the Intellectual Property Office?
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat), responding again, stated that Dr. Cable has regular meetings with such officials, to discuss all aspects of intellectual property and the Government's response to the Hargreaves Review.
Eating Disorder Awareness Debate
During a debate on eating disorders in Parliament, the issue of pro-anorexia websites was brought up. Norman Lamb pointed out that pro-eating disorder websites are not themselves illegal and that many are hosted overseas; therefore, it is not possible for the Government to ban them, as the law currently stands.
Speaking of "harmful" websites, Mr. Lamb noted that he has held meeting with internet security companies, including McAfee and Symantec on the topic of speeding up the reporting process of such websites and urged them "to sign up to a concordat, speeding up the reporting of harmful content and blocking harmful websites." The companies were reportedly receptive to the idea of a voluntary concordat.
United States CISPA Bill
CISPA was reintroduced into the US Congress. This bill allows US companies such as websites and cloud providers to share user data and communications with US federal agencies and military intelligence - which would effect the privacy of practically every internet user, not just those in the US.
Icelandic Pornography Censorship Debate
Ögmundur Jónasson, the Interior Minister of Iceland, has introduced legislation to prevent the accessing of pornography across the whole of Iceland by creating an online shield. One advisor stated that [they] "are looking at the best technical ways to achieve this. But surely if we can send a man to the moon, we must be able to tackle porn on the internet." However, it is not clear whether the ban will ever be achieved; already MPs are making their opposition known and it is far from clear whether the technology would be 100% effective.
The General Data Protection Regulation continues to move through the committee stage in the European Parliament. The Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) will vote next week on amendments to the proposed Regulation. Our guide to the key issues is available on our website.
Several MEPs have come under fire for tabling amendments that contain similar language to recommended amendments put forward by industry and umbrella groups such as Amazon and the American Chamber of Commerce. The evidence for this comes from LobbyPlag, who compare suggested amendments put forward by lobbyists with actual amendments put forward by MEPs.
One of the UK MEPs at involved is Malcolm Harbour. LobbyPlag suggests 25% of his amendments contain language similar to that found in industry lobbyists' briefings. Mr. Harbour stated that he disputes the 25% figure and that "I do not believe we should immediately discount proposed amendments when they come from businesses that make use of and are responsible for protecting personal data."
It is not unusual for MEPs to put forward amendments from external stakeholders, as they look to get sufficient expertise they may not have in-house. But our concern is that MEPs are not giving citizens data protections interests an equal hearing.
ORG's briefing on the subject is accessible online, and this explains why we feel the amendments highlighted by LobbyPlag would weaken data protection rights.
ORG Media coverage
Independent Article on the Lobby Amendments to the General Data Protection Regulation
An article in The Independent on the amendments to the General Data Protection Regulation quoted Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. Regarding the amendments, particularly from MEPs Malcolm Harbour, Sajjad Karim and Giles Chichester, strongly resembling industry recommendations Mr Killock stated;
- “The scale of what they’ve taken from lobby groups – trying to dilute fining rights or dilute rights to get your data back – tells you a lot. These are squarely going to benefit large companies and won’t benefit consumers. Companies know more and more about us, and have more and more power over our daily lives. They can predict our health before we know about it. This is about giving control of our data back.”
Law and Legal cases
The European Copyright Society has issued its opinion on whether linking to copyrighted material could itself be considered a breach of copyright and the Society has deemed that it could not be. The case was originally relayed to the Society by the Swedish Court of Appeal. In their opinion, the Society concluded that;
- "The legal regulation of hyperlinking thus carries with it enormous capacity to interfere with the operation of the Internet, and therefore with access to information, freedom of expression, freedom to conduct business, as well – of course – with business ventures that depend on these types of linkages.”
They further stated that if hyperlinking was decided to be a form of communication with the public, all hyperlinks would have to be licensed directly; they referred to such a proposition as "absurd."
PCRA vs Newspaper Licensing Agency (UKSC 2011/0202) appeal (dealing with the exemption status for temporary copies of works used to create a search function, akin to Google News) was heard by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on 11/12th February. A final judgment will be announced at some point in the future.
Google Loses Appeal Battle Against Liable Responsibility
The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has ruled this week that Google may be considered liable for comments published on its Blogger platform if it does not respond to complaints quickly. According to the Director of Article 19, the ruling "effectively endorses a problematic ‘notice and takedown’ system, which encourages intermediaries like Google to remove potentially defamatory material immediately upon notification despite the fact that the material complained about may not be unlawful." This decision by the Court of Appeal overturns a previous decision which found that Google should not be held accountable for its content because it is simply a neutral platform provider.
Facebook wins Real Name Policy case in Germany
Facebook has won a court case against the German privacy watchdog regarding Facebook's policy of forcing users to register with the real name, rather than a pseudonym. Highlighting the different regulations in data protection rules throughout the European Union, the court ruled that because Facebook in Europe is headquartered in the Republic of Ireland, Germany's strict privacy rules did not apply.