While she may be on her way out, there are still plenty of opportunities for Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick to show off her PR skills. Take this incident recorded by Big Brother Watch yesterday when the Metropolitan Police tried showing off their new facial recognition system, another civil liberties slow-motion car crash visible from space. When the civil liberties group caught word of the photoshoot they popped over to ask Dick some questions about the system, not least the impending mass-privacy breach. Her defence? They’re a “great bit of technology”, however “nobody’s privacy was intruded on” that afternoon since they hadn’t actually managed to get the cameras working…
When challenged by Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo about the 95% rate of misidentification by the technology, the Commissioner loftily replied that she was “not going to get into the debate about 95%” as “that’s not the position we have”. The final straw came when she was asked by a campaigner about the cameras working even more poorly with women and people of colour. Asked what she’d say to the innocent young black boy who had been wrongly flagged by facial recognition cameras as a wanted criminal last month, Dame Cressida didn’t respond and promptly walked off…
An experiment by the civil rights group Big Brother Watch has proved that politicians are walking into an anti-free speech trap that would censor their own comments. The government is intent on pressing ahead with the Online Safety Bill – set to be published next week – creating a new category of regulated “legal but harmful” speech which would hit the very politicians forcing through the change. They will be censored by their own legislation.
Using dummy accounts Big Brother Watch posted historic comments to Facebook which had been made Boris, Nadine Dorries and Angela Rayner, all three of which were removed for being offensive: Boris’s ‘burka letter boxes’ column quote; Nadine’s “nail your balls to the floor” tweet; and Raynor’s “shoot your terrorists and ask questions second” joke.
Despite appeals, all three posts remained removed from the platform…
The stunt by Big Brother Watch should alert MPs up to the damage this bill is set to do to free speech, something the government paid theoretical lip service to while eroding it in practice. Mark Johnson of Big Brother Watch says:
“These comments by high profile politicians are unpleasant and have been rightly criticised, including by ourselves. However, unpleasantness alone is not a legitimate basis for censorship. This experiment clearly demonstrates that such controversial yet lawful speech is destined for unprecedented censorship under the Online Safety”
“The Online Safety Bill would replace Britain’s carefully balanced right to free speech with the changing, censorious terms and conditions of foreign companies. The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary should take stock of Facebook removing their own statements and drop powers to target so-called ‘legal but harmful’ speech from the Bill.”
Will DCMS finally wake up and smell the authoritarian coffee?
Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries have reportedly written to the Cabinet arguing that sweeping new powers are required to force internet companies to monitor for “legal but harmful” user content, something that is dangerously vague and intrusive.
Matthew Lesh, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, is right when he says
“The Online Safety Bill is going from bad to worse. The Home Office demand for social media companies to proactively monitor legal speech is a recipe for censorship on an industrial scale. It will mean that Meta (Facebook) and Google will be required to read private messages between consenting adults. This is deeply disturbing and will result in a less safe and free internet. The state should not be requiring monitoring and the removal of legal speech. These duties will also impose huge costs on start-ups and smaller companies, deterring tech investment and solidifying Big Tech dominance.”
During the pandemic Big Tech has run riot stifling legitimate debate on the grounds of public health concerns, if this continues and spreads into general censorship it will be disastrous. The problem is politicians generally are so fed up with the abuse they get on social media they are angry enough to overturn the widely accepted free speech norms of the free world for a more authoritarian approach.
Everyone agrees monitoring for illegal content like child sexual exploitation is a desirable priority. Monitoring legal content that might vaguely be harmful is entirely different and the Home Office is wrong to deliberately conflate the issues. We would be on a slippery slope to laws protecting the “dignity of the state” and stifling criticism of politicians. In many authoritarian countries insulting government officials is an offence. It is not unimaginable that in the near future Jolyon Maugham would be organising a fundraiser seeking to bring a case against Guido for “harming” Prime Minister Starmer if this legislation goes through…
As if today wasn’t already exciting enough the Welsh Tories have announced they’re backing legal action against the Welsh government over Covid passports. Big Brother Watch is currently taking Drakeford’s administration to court over its continued imposition of vaccine passports, which in the words of the Welsh Tories have “no evidence that they work in meeting their objectives”. Big Brother Watch calls the scheme “draconian, discriminatory and pointless”…
The Tories health Spokesman this morning announced the party would be backing the legal action, cleverly pointing out “we must not forget that they are not a route out of restrictions, they are a restriction.”:
“Therefore, the Welsh Conservatives are supportive of this legal challenge against the Labour Government’s continued imposition of the freedom-limiting passport on the people of Wales.
“As legislators, our job is to make good law and strike down bad law: vaccine passports neither limit the spread of the virus nor increase uptake of the vaccine, so have no place on the statute books.”
At least there are some Tories out there with the right priorities…
Steve Baker has comprehensively rebranded from Brexit hero rebel-in-chief to Covid freedom fighter, helping lead the forthcoming rebellion on the Brady amendment. Arriving at Parliament this morning, Steve showed off his “2020 is the new 1984″ t-shirt, courtesy of Big Brother Watch – a campaign to “reclaim privacy and defend freedom”. You can get the t-shirt here, and Guido provides a guide to the rest of Baker’s rebellious outfit above…
Big Brother Watch have released a series of fact sheets explaining the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, better known as the Snooper’s Charter. The principal areas of note are as follows:
Internet Connection Records: • Telecommunication Services will be asked to keep a log of all of our online activity for 12 months.
• Every website you visit and the time, location and information about your device will be stored.
• ICRs will be used on production of a warrant by the police, intelligence agencies and other organisations including HMRC and the NHS.
• There are no specific requirements regarding how securely the information must be held.
Equipment Interference: • Your computer, phone or tablet could be made vulnerable by malicious software.
• You will never know if you have been the target of a hack.
• Even if you are not hacked a business or organisation you have innocent dealings with may be the target of a hack.
• Whenever you make a call, send a text, send an email or go online you create communications data.
• Your communications data can reveal every aspect of your online life.
• The Government wants Telecommunication Services to keep all your communications data for 12 months.
• The police, the tax man, the NHS and local councils can all request access to your communications data.
Interception: • Interception is the process of spying on texts, emails and internet activity or the listening in on telephone calls.
• Targeted intercept is specific, bulk intercept is broad.
• Without an indication of who bulk interception will be used against, anyone who uses the internet or a telephone could be vulnerable to their data being looked at or listened to.
• Any evidence gathered through intercept cannot be used in a court of law. It can only be used as part of a secret investigation.
Bulk Personal Datsets: • Bulk personal datasets are files of information on all UK citizens.
• Very little detail is provided about what datasets can be requested and used.
• BPDs contain information and details about people not suspected of terrorism or crime.
• The Home Secretary will sign warrants for use, Judicial Commissioners will only have the opportunity to review the decision.
Authorisation:• The Home Secretary already signs an average of 6 warrants a day on top of her other Ministerial duties.
• The “double lock” is more of a “rubber stamp” as the decision to authorise a warrant will be made by a Secretary of State and the Judicial Commissioner will only “review” the decision.
• We will be the only country in the “Five Eyes” alliance which will not have true independent authorisation. • Judicial authorisation rather than review will prevent any political abuse of the warrantry process.
Warrants: • A warrant is needed before any of the powers can be used.
• The detail of a warrant, including the operational purpose can be changed after a warrant has been approved sometimes without any further approval.
• Each request must be seen to be“necessary and proportionate”, but these terms are broad and open to interpretation.
Big brother is hacking…