Government Proposes ‘Most Censorious Online Speech Regime in the Western World’

Today the Government is officially announcing its plans to censor companies that host “harmful content such as violence, terrorism, cyber-bullying and child abuse” on the internetThe proposals will give the state quango Ofcom broad powers to censor the internet. By lumping in the subjective concept of “cyber-bullying” with genuine crimes, the scope for censorship is incredibly broad…

The Government does not expect legislators to read the lengthy response to its online harms consultation, so Guido has brought you the troubling highlights. Anyone in favour of free expression should be deeply worried… 

  • Ofcom will create guidelines to instruct any company with ‘user-generated content’ about how to manage online censorship. This includes comments sections on websites like Guido…
  • Ofcom will be given the remit to draw up and adapt the details of how its internet regulation works. Taking away power from accountable politicians and giving it to faceless bureaucrats.
  • Companies will be expected to remove illegal content.
  • Ofcom will also create rules for content that “is not illegal but has the potential to cause harm”.
    • The Government claims Ofcom will take a less serious approach with legal speech, however the Government has confirmed legal speech is in scope for censorship.
    • It is often not immediately clear what is illegal and what is legal speech, meaning regulation will force major companies to take an overly-censorious approach in the face of fines, jail time, and website blocks.
  • The “risk-based and proportionate” approach gives high levels of discretion Ofcom staff. Guido readers may be interested to note that Ofcom’s new chief executive is a “Diversity & Inclusion Champion” for the civil service. Inevitably ‘woke’ people will end up setting the rules…

The Government has stated a commitment to protect free expression, it is unclear how this will be balanced against a regulatory body that exists to create censorious guidelines.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Head of Research, Matthew Lesh, tells Guido:

“Make no mistake: free speech is under threat. The Government is proposing the most censorious online speech regime in the Western world. We must not be fooled by platitudes about freedom of expression. The inevitably woke bureaucrats in Ofcom will be deciding what sort of speech is and is not allowed across much of the internet. They will have extraordinary discretion to decide who to target and what is harmful.

This is a recipe for disaster for anyone that thinks differently to the Notting Hill set — any correct but unpopular opinions will not just come under attack from the Twitterati, but the law itself.”

The Tory’s 2019 manifesto was the only of any party to commit to “support free speech”. The Government has to change course.

mdi-timer 12 February 2020 @ 14:26 12 Feb 2020 @ 14:26 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Rory Backs Facial Recognition Technology to Fight Crime

He was also asked – as a Scot – how he spent Burns Night…

mdi-timer 26 January 2020 @ 10:05 26 Jan 2020 @ 10:05 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Parliament Accidentally Wipes Active Casework

Parliamentary Digital Services (PDS) has today outdone itself by deactivating multiple active MPs’ staffers’ email accounts – and in the process deleting potentially years of correspondence and active constituents’ casework. PDS is often the bain of multiple staffers’ lives, and their move today has been true to form. Fibre-optic Fagins…

Following an election, there is an automatic grace period of a month, after which all former MPs and staffers’ emails are erased from the servers. This time around, however, PDS forgot to double-check whether any staffers – specifically those whose MP stepped down – have carried on with new MPs for their constituencies. Most absurdly, however, Guido has heard of a case where a staffer who received new email addresses following the election has even seen that one go down.

Guido understands there are a large number of staffers – predominantly Tories – who fit the bill; enjoying a less-than-productive day at work. This has led to multiple vulnerable constituents in need of help with housing or asylum having years of correspondence potentially permanently wiped.

Staffers are, as may be expected, up in arms, and desperately trying to find out whether the data is recoverable. Which it most likely won’t be if PDS used GDPR-compliant wiping methods…

UPDATE: A UK Parliament Spokesperson says they emphasised warnings to MPs and their staff before the election regarding the grace period, in line with GDPR and Data Protection legislation. They have been offering advice to any staffers affected, however notification was given multiple times and staff working for new members had to sort out renewed sponsorship. Sounds like the start of a protracted blame game…

mdi-timer 21 January 2020 @ 16:44 21 Jan 2020 @ 16:44 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
BBC News Tech Cock Up Magnificently Handled

BBC Afternoon Live presenter Martine Croxall managed to smoothly work her way out of a tricky tech situation in the two o’clock headlines. Well worth a watch…

Hat-tip: Julian Druker
mdi-timer 10 January 2020 @ 14:13 10 Jan 2020 @ 14:13 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Brexit Party’s Head of Digital Strategy Left Two Weeks into the Election

To add to the Brexit Party’s woes today in light of four MEPs resigning the whip, Guido learns their Deputy Head of Digital, and Head of Digital Strategy, left two weeks into the election, after having resigned at the end of October. Given their lack of air time, digital ads were crucial to their success…

Ed Jankowski, who joined the party in April, left a fortnight into the election due to frustration at the party’s ideological – not data-driven – kamikaze campaign. The Brexit Party currently has no active Facebook ads just a week before the general election and claim their Facebook operation was Jankowski’s remit…

It is understood Ed was replaced by the former Chair of UKIP’s Youth Wing, Jamie Ross McKenzie (who was previously given a police caution for assault). There are few wheels left to fall off the Brexit Party’s campaign…

mdi-timer 5 December 2019 @ 12:42 5 Dec 2019 @ 12:42 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Tories Buy MargaretBeckett.com

Everyone knows it can be difficult teaching your grandparents how to use the internet, so very kindly Ed Barker, the Tory candidate for Derby south, took it upon themselves to buy and set up margaretbeckett.com on her behalf. A kinder, gentler politics in action…

Unfortunately for Margaret, the Tories didn’t quite stick to the Labour message, instead calling on unsuspecting voters not to vote Labour, with their Derby South candidate helpfully explaining in a video:

“She’s got no website, no social media and the only way of contacting her is by letter… Now as the candidate doesn’t have her own website I thought I’d do one for her just to show how disastrous it would be to have Jeremy Corbyn as our Prime Minister.”

Just another example of how clever the Tories’ online strategy is this time compared to the last…

mdi-timer 3 December 2019 @ 14:00 3 Dec 2019 @ 14:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
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