Consultations and Departments
Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service has opened a public consultation into prosecutions for communications on social media. Following serious criticism due to the CPS' handling of these cases in the past, they have put out new guidelines. The Director of Public Prosecutions has stated;
- "This interim guidance sets out clear advice to police forces in England and Wales on handling complaints from the public relating to social media. It takes a common sense approach and will help support consistency from prosecutors and police. We welcome the opportunity for early consultation to take place between CPS and police before any action is taken in these cases."
The new guidelines include setting a higher threshold of what can be considered damaging before a prosecution is launched, alongside a responsibility to consider the public interest and to respect that something that is distasteful or offensive is not necessarily something that warrants prosecution.
ORG will be contributing to this consultation before it closes on 13 March 2013.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is currently going through the Report Stage within the House of Lords. The sessions are being held on Tuesday 26 February, Monday 4 March, Wednesday 6 March and Monday 11 March.
Following Lord Puttnam's amendment to the Defamation Bill which threatened to lead to the Bill being entirely dropped, an amendment removing his was tabled on 25 February. Lord Fowler has brought forward an amendment to Clause 2 which would, in effect, simply remove the Puttnam amendment from the final draft of the Bill. Lord McNally stated that he welcomes the amendment "in so far as it will remove an element of the Puttnam amendment that went further than Lord Justice Leveson recommended. No one wants to see Leveson implemented more than I do, but the tripartite talks are the key to achieving that objective, not the Bill as now amended." The next stage of the Bill will be the consideration of amendments by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Questions and Debates
Malicious Communications Debate
A Westminster Hall debate was held on malicious communications in response to the new guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions on when prosectors should proceed with charges. Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton, Labour) opened the debate, stating that "[trolling] is a growing problem in British society and one that Parliament and the legal process have been slow to recognise." Mr Rotheram goes on to criticise the new CPS guidelines as they allegedly fail to differentiate between trolling and other forms of malicious communication; Mr Rotheram believes the new guidelines do not protect people who suffer from trolling while online. To conclude Mr. Rotheram's contribution to the debate, he feels the new guidelines are inadequate and the police need to tackle online abuse to a much greater extent.
Open Access Debate
The House of Lords recently discussed the Coalition Government's 'Open Access policy', following on from the publication of a short report from the Science and Technology Committee on the its potential implementation. The debate began with an explanation of what the 'Open Access policy' represents; Lord Krebs referred to it as "the most radical transformation in academic publishing since the first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, was published in 1665." He also went on to claim that there was an inexorable trend moving toward open access of academic journals, thus justifying the policy. Lord Krebs also raised several important points regarding the policy, such as who would pay the enhanced costs when British scientists were collaborating with scientists overseas and whether UK journals might suffer a 'brain drain' from those who do not wish to partake in open access.
Hargreaves Report Question
John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) asked Secretary of State Vince Cable MP why the estimates of maximum financial benefits from the implementation of the Hargreaves Report have been cut, following on from the news that the revaluation had brought the gains down from £27billion to to £790million through the Modernising Copyright plan.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire, Liberal Democrat), responding, stated that the reason for the reduction in net gains to the British economy is due to the fact that Modernising Copyright does not contain the creation of the single EU patent or the Digital Copyright Exchange.
'Do Not Track Bill' introduced into US Senate
Senator Jay Rockefeller has introduced a Bill into the US Senate this week which would force internet service providers to offer consumers the choice to not have their browsing history tracked. According to CNET, Senator Rockefeller has pushed ahead with the Bill because the voluntary code of practice entered into my some ISPs has not provided results.
US report highlights hacking threats from Russia and China
The Guardian has quoted a report commissioned by President Obama as stating that China and Russia are "aggressive" actors in the realm of cyber-espionage. The report reads;
- "We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace."
The report was criticised by the Chinese Government, who have referred to the allegations that it is involved in illegal hacking as being deeply flawed. The report goes on to highlight potential risks from "hacktivist" groups such as Wikileaks. The Obama Administration is launching a new diplomatic push to protect intellectual property rights abroad and to help American companies avoid hacking from hostile governments or groups.
In related news, security technology expert Bruce Schneir has written on his blog a warning that Chinese hacking attempts should be viewed as simple espionage, rather than as an act of war. He warns that the US military are using these hacks as a power grab to strengthen their control of cyberspace. Mr Schneir states that "calling it war just feeds our fears and fuels the cyberwar arms race."
Copyright Alert System launched in the USA
A system of identifying and storing the IP addresses of those engaged in copyright infringement has been launched in the USA. The system involves the collecting of IP addresses and subsequently notices will be sent out informing those engaged in the infringement that they are doing so and pointing them to legal alternatives; it has been described as being designed "to educate rather than punish." It is a six strike system and following the sixth strike, bandwidths will be increasingly squeezed to prevent downloading. Currently, the system does not provide for the completely severance of internet services.
From a UK perspective, the BBC have reported that a 'three strikes policy' is favoured. However, the Government withdrew the legislation for this scheme after a House of Lords committee queried whether it would be within Treasury rules. Though the Government has stated that it intends to reintroduce legislation, this has not happened to date.
German Bundestag to hold copyright hearings
The German Bundestag (Parliament) is to hold additional hearings into the proposed German Copyright Act, a news source has reported. According to the report, the draft Act would force search engines to pay publishers for displaying previews of their content. An expert was quoted in the article as saying;
- "I think that this is rather a sign that there is a growing push-back against the plans from the Bundestag...I cannot say whether this is because of the Google, or any other, campaign or just because the issue seems to be very important."
Google has been campaigning against the change to the law through 2012 while Mozilla stated that the draft Act "may be bad for users and the web." On Friday, the law was passed in an amended format. The new bill, reportedly, now states;
- "that publishers have the exclusive right to commercialize their products or parts thereof, except in the case of single words or very small text snippets."
Google praised the amended Act though some have questioned whether it is now clear enough to avoid future problems.
Law and Legal cases
H33T, Fenopy and Kickass Torrents to be blocked
European Court of Justice to rule on deleting search information
Google has urged the European Court of Justice to place greater emphasis on its right to free expression than to the individual right to privacy, it has been reported. The case was brought after Spain's data protection authority ordered Google to remove some results on its search rankings but Google appealed against the order. The case now hinges on whether Google is to be considered a 'data controller' in itself and therefore responsible for data protection; Google has argued that Google Spain is not a data controller while the Spanish data protection authority has argued that it should be considered one. Google has stated that to force it to remove content would be akin to restricting its freedom of expression;
- "There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice. The substantive question before the Court today is whether search engines should be obliged to remove links to valid legal material that still exists online. We believe the answer to that question is 'no'."
Social networking sites reject proactive monitoring following illegal photograph postings
Officials from Twitter, Google and Facebook have argued that they cannot be expected by governments to proactively monitor their content, it has been reported. Their rejection comes after the police ordered them to remove photographs reportedly showing Jon Venables, jailed for killing James Bulger and released in 2001; the Attorney General has threatened to launch legal proceedings against those who were uploading the images. The official stated that Twitter did not want to become embroiled in arguments surrounding specific accounts nor could it be expected to vet content but noted that people should be aware that "online is no different to offline: what is illegal offline is illegal online."
ORG Media coverage
Torrent Blocking Articles
ORG Director Jim Killock was quoted on the front page of The Metro newspaper and on its website on the story of H33t, Kickass Torrents and Fenopy being blocked by six internet service providers due to a UK court order. Responding to the case, Mr. Killock stated that "you’re talking about a technologically aware and determined group of people who won’t be stopped by old men in grey suits."
On the same story, ORG was quoted in a CIO article. The article states that "six ISPs including Virgin Media, British Telecommunications and British Sky Broadcasting [were ordered] to block H33t, Kickass Torrents and Fenopy." ORG, responding to the case in a blog post, were quoted in the article as saying that blocking was "an extreme response." The article holds a link to the original blog post.
BBC World Service on Iceland proposal to block pornography
Jim Killock appeared on the BBC World Service programme 'World Have Your Say' on the subject of whether pornography "is ever acceptable" - the programme centres on whether the proposed ban on some forms of pornography in Iceland is ethically justified or technologically feasible. The fellow contributors were an academic who feels that pornography violates the civil rights of women, a journalist who feels that the stigmatisation of porn is what is damaging, a literature journalist, a coordinator of the Christian Action Network in Capetown alongside two executives from the adult entertainment industry.
Mr. Killock cautioned against having high expectations of the ability to filter adult content successfully; he noted that "you cannot completely control content." He noted that filtering systems are so ubiquitous, such as in schools, that children learn how to get around them. He spoke of the need of educate both children and adults on what they can expect on the internet and on how to teach children to avoid accessing content that is inappropriate for them. Though he notes that ethical issues do surround pornography and underage access, he drew the conversation back to the technological challenges of any future ban in Iceland would entail; he stated that such filtration devices are "a kind of veil" and will not achieve what proponents have said they will.
He also stated that if there are social problems, they should be "addressed head on. Blocking and filtering, like any form of censorship, is effectively saying 'we give up, we don't know how to solve this problem.'"