ORG parliamentary and policy update/2013-w25

< ORG parliamentary and policy update

This is ORG's Parliamentary Update for the week beginning 17/07/2013

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Official Meetings

Javier Ruiz and Ed Paton Williams met Helen Goodman MP to talk about mobile phone privacy. Jim Killock attended a Parliamentary round table on online bullying hosted by Steve Rotheram MP with Stella Creasy MP and Nadine Dorries MP.

Javier Ruiz met with the Web Foundation; and Jim and Javier met with the Open Data Institute.

Next week, ORG has a meeting in Parliament hosted by Tom Watson MP with David Davis MP, Caspar Bowden and Simon McKay talking about PRISM.

Consultations and departments

Note: we have not tried to cover the Guardian's latest revelations about GCHQ's Mastering the Internet programme

PRISM: Obama defends NSA spying system as "transparent"

In a response to the PRISM revelations President Obama has dismissed claims that the US is spying on its citizens, claiming that "any intelligence gathering done by the security forces is legal" and transparent. In an interview with Charlie Rose Obama "reiterated the stringent legal processes in place that are required for any data gathering". According to Obama "if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails...unless they go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probably cause." According to V3 the president is setting up a committee to see how data is gathered, stating that:

"What I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.”

This comes only days after it has been reported that Apple had received up to 5,000 requests for customer data from US government authorities. In a detailed statement on the Apple website it was maintained that Apple had "never heard of the PRISM system" but had received and fulfilled data requests from the government. Apple detailed that :

between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013, between 4,000 and 5,000 requests were received, which specified access requests for 9,000 to 10,000 individual accounts. These requests were from federal, state and local authorities and related to both “criminal investigations and national security matter”.

Despite this Apple stressed that "no content of conversations is recorded and cannot be decrypted."

CPS guidelines on social media

The Crown Prosecution Service has published its "Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media" replacing the interim guidelines issued on the 19 December and coming into effect on the 20 June. The current guideline "set out the approach that prosecutors should take when making decisions in relation to cases where it is alleged that criminal offences have been committed by the sending of a communication via social media." As a result the guidelines "cover the offences that are likely to be most commonly committed by the sending of communications via social media." As a general principle a prosecution may only be started if a case satisfies the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, if the prosecutor is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence and whether a prosecution in required in the public interest.

ORG welcomes the effort to improve on the guidance regarding prosecutions, where in the past examples of individuals being prosecuted inappropriately have taken place. However guidelines only serve as a sporadically effective relief and as a result ORG's response is based on the concern that the current laws have a chilling effect on freedom of expression online.

See ORG's full response and recommendations here.

UK regulator seeks to block payments to PornHub

ATVOD (Authority for Television On Demand), the "independent co-regulator for the editorial content of UK video on demand services" is attempting to gain industry support to block the flow of money from some pornographic websites in the U.S, including PornHub. As wired reports "Websites that offer hardcore pornographic content freely, without proper age-verification" are, says ATVOD, "in violation of the Obscene Publications Act. Following on from a 2000 appeals court decision which ruled that "the content of American websites could come under British jurisdiction when downloaded in the United Kingdom" ATVOD are contending that "when content held on US servers is viewed in the UK, that content becomes subject to UK law." On 14 June it was reported that ATVOD "was in discussions with the UK Cards Association about blocking payments to non-UK websites that may be in violation of the Obscene Publications Act."


Culture, Media and Sport Committee

On 19 June the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its written evidence concerning the regulation of the press. Evidence was submitted by Lord Hunt of Wirral clarifying the "position as to the attitudes of the lay PCC Commissioners", D C Thompson & Co Ltd and The Newspaper Society. The following concerns, amongst others, were expressed with regards to the draft Royal Charter:

  • "They take no account of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations in relation to local and regional newspapers.
  • They establish one Recognition Panel for all types of newspapers and magazines and a set of criteria which are inflexible and incapable of alteration without Parliamentary approval.
  • It follows that a Regulator will have to establish an arbitration scheme which would be free for complainants to use, and to comply with detailed provisions in respect of the composition of the Editors' Code Committee, the hearing of group complaints, and the provisions required to achieve and maintain recognition.
  • All categories of newspapers-including small weekly newspapers-will be required to finance and be bound by a "recognised" Regulator if they are to obtain some protection from the new exemplary damages and cost rules which have been introduced.
  • This will create a substantial financial burden for regional and local newspapers and force them into a system of regulation and control which is inequitable given their behaviour and conduct was exonerated by Lord Justice Leveson. It is regrettable that discussions with the Secretary of State and DCMS officials have to date indicated that there would not be the flexibility for regional and local newspapers to create their own system of independent regulation with separate recognition and compliance criteria."

Government Bills

Intellectual Property Bill

Line by line examination of the Intellectual Property Bill took place during a third day of committee stage on 18 June. Discussing Clause 20 relating to the "proposed reporting duty placed on the Secretary of State" regarding the creative industries Lord Stevenson of Balmacara highlighted the necessity to cover "plans for changes to legislation relating to IP and copyright" stating that:

"A report along the lines we are suggesting in these amendments will be an important first step in making our copyright industries a central part of our economic focus and ensuring that Parliament becomes better informed and can debate properly our progress."

As a result amendments "25F, 26, 26ZA, 26A, 26B, 26C, 27, 28 and 28ZA seek to broaden the scope of the proposed annual report and detail what the contents of the report should contain", requiring the report to include an assessment of the impact of the intellectual Property Office's activities on job creation.

With respect to clause 21, "intended to simplify the way in which the UK currently meets its international obligations to extend copyright protection to works from other countries" Viscount Younger of Leckie summarised the reasons for amendments being introduced. Describing the current drafting of the clause it was argued that it "would not provide the Government with the flexibility to extend as much, or as little, of the Act as is appropriate." As a result amendment 28K "is consequential and removes text that has become redundant".

According to the progress of the bill "Report stage" is scheduled for 1 July where further line by line examination will take place.

Full Intellectual Property Bill as amended in Grand Committee available at

Debates and questions

Cybercrime Question

Mr Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps she is taking to tighten control over illegal internet sites.

James Brokenshire MP, in response, stated that:

"Working in partnership with law enforcement, industry and charities, we have taken significant steps to remove illegal child sexual abuse content from the internet, block access to such material, and to take action against those responsible for it. The UK has a clear process by which criminal images of child sexual abuse can be reported and for websites containing such images to be blocked by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), invited the major ISPs, mobile operators, and others, to a summit on 18 June to discuss what more could be done to minimise internet harm, which the Policing Minister attended.

The internet continues to be used as a central platform by Al Qaida and other terrorists and extremists. Extremist material online can contribute to an individual becoming radicalised. The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit is taking down and filtering more and more unlawful content online. To date, this unit has removed 5,700 pieces of online terrorist content and blocked around 1,000."

Electronic Surveillance Question

David Davis MP: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment she has made of whether the logging of port address translation data relating to mobile telephone internet use and internet protocol address resolution is both technically and economically viable.

James Brokenshire MP, in response, stated that: "Her Majesty's Gracious Speech on 8 May stated that:

'In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my Government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.'

The Government is looking closely at this issue, and is consulting communications service providers and technical experts in order to ensure that our proposed solution will be both technically and economically viable. We will bring forward proposals in due course."

Electronic Surveillance: USA Question

Julian Huppert MP: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when she first became aware of the US Prism programme.

James Brokenshire MP, in response, stated that:

"It is a long-standing practice of successive Governments not to comment on matters of security and intelligence."

Cybercrime Question

Mr Jim Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many individuals have been employed within his Department to work on cyber security issues since May 2010.

Mr Robathan, in response, stated that:

[holding answer 17 June 2013]: "We regard cyber security as the responsibility of all personnel within the Ministry of Defence, and we are incorporating it into the way we conduct operations and business. Since the Government has set out its cyber security strategy, we have also increased the numbers of specialists in the Department employed on cyber security. This information is being withheld for the purpose of safeguarding national security."

International Developments

G8: Leaders to tackle Google, Amazon tax arrangements

Prominent web firms such as Google and Amazon could be forced to pay more corporation tax following on from world leaders during the G8 Summit promising "to change the rules governing tax payments to ensure large companies pay their fair share." In a declaration from the G8 Summit leaders have promised to make considerable changes, including:

  • Tax authorities across the world should automatically share information to fight the scourge of tax evasion
  • Countries should change rules that let companies shift their profits across borders to avoid taxes
  • Developing countries should have the information and capacity to collect the taxes owed them.
  • Land transactions should be transparent, respecting the property rights of local communities.

European Union

German Parliament urges government to limit software patents

On 7 June the German Bundestag decided on a motion to limit software patents. The Parliament urges the German government to take steps to limit the granting of patents on computer programs whereby software "should be exclusively be covered by copyright, and the rights of the copyright holders should not be devalued by third parties' software patents." According to FSFE the only exception where patents should be allowed "are computer programs which replace a mechanical or electromagnetic component."

During an expert meeting in Parliament industry associations BIKT and BITMi proposed changes to German copyright law which would also affect software patents. The first proposal was to add a "protective shield" clause introducing a "blanket ban on the enforcement of patent with regard to software." The second proposal would make sure that "the effect of patent claims shall not extend to works protected independently by copyright."

Full motion (in English) available here

Devolved Matters

Law and Legal Cases

Chinese national sentenced to 144 months in copyright case

Chinese national Xian Li has been sentenced to 144 months in federal prison according to [1] U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As the Washington Free Beacon reports "Li had operated a website which distributed more than $100 million worth of pirated software' in one of the most significant copyright infringement cases. Li engaged in over 700 transactions whereby he distributed pirated software to over 400 customers located in at least 28 U.S. states and over 600 foreign countries."

ORG Media coverage

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

ORG contact details

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