The consultation to the British government’s Online Harms White Paper closed this week. English PEN and Scottish PEN made a submission, arguing that the government rethink its approach.
The government proposal is that a new ‘duty of care’ is placed upon online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to protect their users. If they expose users to harmful content—ranging from terrorist propaganda and child porn, to hazily defined problems like ‘trolling’ — then a new regulator could sanction them.
This sounds sensible, but it presents a problem for freedom of expression. If the online platforms are threatened with large fines, and their senior management are held personally responsible for the ‘duty of care’ then it’s likely that the online platforms will take a precautionary approach to content moderation. Whenever in doubt, whenever it’s borderline, whenever there is a grey area… the platforms will find it expeditious to remove whatever has been posted. When that happens, it is unlikely that the platforms will offer much of an appeals process, and certainly not one that abides by international free speech standards. A situation will arise where perfectly legal content cannot be posted online. A two tier system for speech. Continue reading “Online Harms: A Few Times When The Algorithms Chilled Freedom of Expression”
Last week I posted a quote from Dr Alex Mills of University College London, on Facebook’s woefully inadequate Terms & Conditions that related to defamation. That was drawn from a panel discussion I participated in on 22 March 2018 hosted by UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, entitled ‘Defamation – A Roundtable on Lies and the Law‘.
Here again is the audio of the panel discussion, and for for completeness I have pasted my remarks below too. The other participants were by Dr Alex Mills (UCL Laws), Prof Rachael Mulheron (Queen Mary Law) and Dr Judith Townend (Sussex Law). The discussion was chaired by Harry Eccles-Williams, Associate at Mischon de Reya. Continue reading “My remarks at the UCL Institute for Advanced Studies round-table on ‘Lies and the Law’”
Well, this is interesting.
Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, Google can no longer show one or more pages from your site in Google Search results. This only affects responses to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers that might appear on your pages. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.
These pages haven’t been blocked entirely from our search results. They’ve only been blocked on certain searches for names on European versions of Google Search. These pages will continue to appear for other searches. We aren’t disclosing which queries have been affected.
This is the first time this has happened to me. Continue reading “Google Search Links To This Blog Suppressed by Right To Be Forgotten Laws”
One thing I like to do on this blog is note the small and less spectacular effects of human rights violations on our democracy.
Too often, when we discuss government wrong-doing, or some power-grabbing piece of legislation, we speak in grand terms about how it could lead to the breakdown of democracy and the onset of totalitarianism. We always talk about the end state—Nineteen Eighty-Four, usually—which conveys the implicit message that the way-points in that journey are not terrible in-and-of themselves. Continue reading “Whitehouse wiretap smear: GCHQ has reaped what it has sown”
The Italian journalist Claudio Gatti has caused controversy this week, with the publication of an article that claims to reveal the true identiy of the celebrated novelist Elena Ferrante. Published in English on the New York Review of Books blog, and simultaneously in German, Italian and French, the article sets out the evidence Gatti has found that points to a particular woman, who he names.1
Anonymity and pseudonymity are often a pre-requisite for freedom of expression. Whistle-blowers usually need to keep their names away from whatever they have told journalists, lest they lose their jobs or even their liberty. This is the main reason why English PEN, for whom I work, campaigns so vigorously against draconian surveillance laws and for better protections for those handling journalistic material. Continue reading “The Exposure of Elena Ferrante: A Writer-on-Writer Attack on Free Speech”
Yesterday I wrote again in defence of politicians. Many of the frustrations that give rise to ‘anti-politics’ are borne of people not understanding how politics works: there is a constant need to compromise and any hard choice will end up disappointing people.
Sometimes, however, the anti-political feeling is justified. I have rarely been as angry with politicians as I was when the coalition government passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in just two days in 2014. This legislation made lawful a number of mass violations of privacy that the security services had been caught doing without public or parliamentary consent. The politicians from all parties made mendacious arguments in favour of the new law, claiming an ’emergency’ when there was none.
From that low point, my faith in parliament is slowly being restored. Continue reading “The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite”
Apple have refused an FBI request to help crack the iPhone of a terrorist.
Ray McClure, the uncle of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby has said that Apple is protecting terrorists, and that ‘life comes before privacy’.
I think Drummer Rigby’s uncle is mistaken, both in his assumptions about what Apple is technically capable of, and the moral trade-off between life and privacy.
We need to understand that Apple are not being asked to decrypt just the iPhone of one particular terrorist. They are not like a landlord with a spare key that will open a particular door. If they were, then there would be legitimacy in Mr McClure’s complaints. A judge could examine the particular case at hand, and then sign a warrant that permitted entry to the property or decryption of a device. Targeted surveillance and privacy violations are a legitimate law enforcement tool.
But that is not the request. Instead, the FBI have asked Apple to hack their entire operating system in such a way that would enable them to by-pass encryption on any iPhone. Including mine. Continue reading “I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist”
Whenever I moan about the British Government interfering with and weakening our human rights protections, one thing I usually note is what a terrible example it sets to other countries around the world. How can we expect other Governments to respect human rights if we do not respect them ourselves.
Here is a concrete example of this problem in action, courtesy of The Guardian.
China introduces its own ‘snooper’s charter’
Defending the law, the Chinese government pointed to legislation proposed in Western nations, such as Britain’s draft investigatory powers bill, which grants similar powers to the UK government.
There is no need to comment further at this point.
Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.
The audio of our discussion has just been published. You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website. Continue reading “Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist”
The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published at the beginning of November. Its a huge document and the Government promised there would be ample time for scrutiny before MPs start the formal legislative process next year. Unfortunately, some are suggesting it now be rushed through in the wake of the Paris attacks. Continue reading “GCHQ Has Not Been Here”