ORG policy update/2017-w50

This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 11/12/2017.

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ORG’s work

  • ORG is running a petition against the Government’s proposals to criminalise repeated viewing of online terrorist propaganda and compelling internet companies to police their own networks. Sign the petition here!
  • ORG recently relaunched an improved version of the Blocked! tool. The new version has improved search capabilities, makes it easier to submit unblock requests to ISPs, and has expanded the number of probes available for service providers.
  • ORG drafted and submitted 3 Data Protection briefings for peers in the the House of Lords, on the proposed immigration exemptions, the Article 80(2) proposals, and the proposed Clause 173 amendment.
  • ORG also submitted a joint briefing to peers, written in conjunction with the3million and covering the DPBill immigration exemption.

Official meetings

  • Jim Killock attended a "Complicity and Counterterrorism" roundtable on Monday 11 Dec, which looked at Parliament’s powers to scrutinise the UK’s counterterrorism partnerships. The event was organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Drones, Extraordinary Rendition, and Rule of Law.
  • Jim Killock gave an interview to BBC Radio 4's Week in Westminster programme about the Committee on Standards in Public Life's recommendations to Theresa May that social media companies should be held accountable as publishers for the content they carry. The programme is to be aired on Saturday 16 December.

UK Parliament

Data Protection Bill enters House of Lords Report stage

The Data Protection Bill entered Report stage in the House of Lords this week, with sittings being held on Monday 11 Dec and Wednesday 13 Dec.

The immigration exemption contained in the Bill was discussed in the report sitting on the 13 Dec. Baroness Hamwee and Lord Paddick tabled an ORG-supported amendment (Amendment 42), which proposed to entirely delete the exemption from the Bill. The amendment was voted down in a division, by 222 votes to 92.

The Government tabled their own amendment to the immigration exemption, Amendment 44, which was supported by Labour. This amendment was accepted into the Bill, but did not address any of ORG's issues with the immigration exemption.

ORG's other primary interest, Article 80(2) amendments to the bill were not debated in this week's report sittings. The 80(2) amendment would allow consumer groups like the Open Rights Group to take independent action against entities who have been abusing data protection law. If successful, not for profit bodies could take action on behalf of data subjects without having to seek their mandate. The amendment would create similar enforcement powers for data protection as in others consumer rights like finance, and competition. It is expected that this will be discussed during the third Report sitting, to take place on 11 January.

Future amendments, as well as amendments that have already been debated are available here.

Other national developments

Ethics advisory body urges Government to shift liability for illegal content online towards social media companies

On Wednesday, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published a report entitled Intimidation in Public Life. The report considers the issues posed by internet abuse targeting public figures, noting that:

In recent years, the intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates, and others in public life, has become a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK.

The report's findings have been interpreted as presenting support for the Digital Charter, and it makes a number of recommendations, including a suggestion that the Government should bring forward legislation to shift the liability of illegal content online towards social media companies. The report also recommends compelling social media networks to implement automated techniques to identify potentially intimidatory content posted on their services, and use the information to take down content as rapidly as possible.

ORG is concerned that the report's recommendations will result in overblocking by social media firms - as they rush to remove content as rapidly as possible to avoid penalties or fines.

Further details, and a breakdown of more of the report's recommendations, are available on this ORG Wiki page.

Government proposes BBFC as regulator for age verification for online pornography

On Thursday, the Government issued a press release naming the BBFC as their preferred regulator for age verification services for online pornography. The regulator is designated under s.16 Digital Economy Act 2017 and is responsible for ensuring that pornographic sites comply with their obligation to verify the age of visitors before serving them pornographic content.

The regulator is granted the power to give notice to sites that they are not complying with AV regulations (s.21), or to instruct ISPs to block sites outright if they do not comply (s.23).

As per s.17 Digital Economy Act 2017, the Government’s proposal must be approved by Parliament before the BBFC is officially designated as the age-verification regulator.

Changes proposed to Scottish defamation law to take into account the growth of the internet and social media

The Scottish Law Commission has published a report on defamation for MSPs, including a draft bill, to consider radical changes to the law of defamation that take into account the growth of the internet and social media. The Commission claim that the changes bring Scots Law up to date while protecting freedom of expression.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that a defamatory statement should "only be actionable where it is published to someone other than the person who is the subject of it". In justifying this, the report noted that it had considered the primary function of defamation law, namely to protect a person's reputation, and noted that a reputation could not be damaged by a statement without an audience.

The report also recommends that cases should not be allowed to be brought where the person being defamed is deceased and, as a precautionary measure against defamation being used as a silencing measure by the rich and powerful, that there should be no right to sue unless it is clear that a statement has caused serious harm to reputation.

Further recommendations can be found in the full report here.

Government update on the upcoming biometrics strategy

Baroness Williams has reported that the Home Office biometrics strategy and Government policy on the Police use of facial recognition systems will be published next year.

The report contains some details about the forthcoming strategy, including that the remit of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group has been extended from DNA and fingerprints to all biometrics, and that the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice (APP) has been updated to reflect that the police have the right to retain the image of an unconvicted person if there is an exceptional reason to do so.

Tech media outlet The Register reports that the Home Office has delayed publication of this strategy multiple times since 2012, and notes that the technology is already in use, for example at the last two Notting Hill Carnivals.

International developments

Vote on FCC's net neutrality repeal

On Thursday 14 December, the Federal Communications Commission in the United States voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality provisions which were originally approved by the Commission in 2015. Under the now-approved proposal, the FCC has removed rules banning ISPs from blocking or restricting access to online content, and removed a rule barring providers from prioritising their own content or services.

If the USA removes protection for net neutrality, this will likely bring pressure on Europe to follow suit. European net neutrality protections are already insufficiently strong, being abused by mobile providers selling data packages that favour sites like Facebook over their competitors. The conflict will be presented by lobbyists as a balancing act to force US internet companies to share their wealth with European telecoms companies providing the underlying infrastructure. The truth is that this will simply consolidate the power of the big internet behemoths at the expenses of SMEs, non-profits and startups. Facebook and Google don’t need extra help from special deals with telcos to dominate the market. The EU and UK need to step up and protect values of openness and competition that Trump’s government are busy abandoning.

Questions in the UK Parliament

Question on police use of facial recognition technology

Louise Haigh MP asked the Secretary of Sate for the Home Department what guidance has been issued to police forces on their use of facial recognition technology and data protection.

Nick Hurd replied that all forces were required to show regard to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice in their use of overt surveillance camera systems.

Question on third-party trackers in Android apps

Chi Onwurah MP asked the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport what assessment had been made about the potential privacy implications of third-party trackers in Android apps for UK citizens.

Matthew Hancock answered that the Government takes "both the protection of personal data and the right to privacy extremely seriously", and that the Data Protection Bill would "make our data protection laws fit for the digital age in which an ever increasing amount of data is being processed".

Written question about cyber attack statistics

Jon Trickett asked how many incidents relating to cyber attacks had been dealt with by GCHQ in each of the last twelve months.

Caroline Nokes responded that the first annual review of the National Cyber Security Centre was published in October 2017 and reported that the NCSC dealt with 590 significant cyber investigations in its first twelve months of operation.

ORG media coverage

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

2017-12-12-The Canary-The right-wing press has launched a front-page war against social media. It’s obvious why.
Author: James Wright
Summary: Jim Killock quoted in a story about Theresa May's ethics watchdog issuing a recommendation for laws to be enacted treating social media platforms as publishers of the content they carry.
Topics: Online censorship
2017-12-12-BBC News-Tech firms could be held liable for extremism and abuse
Author: Jane Wakefield
Summary: Jim Killock quoted in a story about Theresa May's ethics watchdog issuing a recommendation for laws to be enacted treating social media platforms as publishers of the content they carry.
Topics: Online censorship
2017-12-12-Sky News-Theresa May urged to prosecute web giants over abusive content
Author: Alexander J Martin
Summary: Jim Killock quoted in a story about Theresa May's ethics watchdog issuing a recommendation for laws to be enacted treating social media platforms as publishers of the content they carry.
Topics: Online censorship
2017-12-13-New Statesman-What could possibly go wrong with Theresa May’s plans to start punishing social media firms?
Author: Jim Killock
Summary: Opinion piece by Jim Killock about Theresa May's ethics watchdog issuing a recommendation for laws to be enacted treating social media platforms as publishers of the content they carry.
Topics: Online censorship
2017-12-13-Legal Cheek-Can Facebook really listen in on your conversations?
Author: Katie King
Summary: Jim Killock quoted in story about rumours that the Facebook app can listen to user conversations through a device's microphone.
Topics: Privacy, Security, Surveillance
2017-12-14-Sky News-Net neutrality: What a US vote means for the UK
Author: Alexander J Martin
Summary: Ed Johnson-Williams quoted in story about the potential implications that a US vote on net neutrality might have for the UK.
Topics: Net Neutrality

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