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2023: January

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Inside Whitehall's Ministry of Truth...

How secretive 'anti-misinformation' teams conducted mass domestic political monitoring


Link Here31st January 2023
Secretive Whitehall units have been recording political dissent on social media under the guise of tackling misinformation, a Big Brother Watch investigation has found. Politicians, academics, activists, journalists and even members of the public have been subjected to monitoring by Whitehall officials, and an "information warfare machine" in the British Army.

Key Findings:

  • Anti-fake news units in the Cabinet Office and DCMS spent much of their time monitoring social media for political dissent, under the guise of "counter-disinformation" work.
  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Conservative MPs David Davis & Chris Green , journalists including Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer , and academics from the University of Oxford and University College London all had comments critical of the government recorded by the anti-fake news units.
  • Soldiers from the Army's 77th Brigade collated tweets from British citizens about Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic and passed them to the Cabinet Office. Troops also conducted "sentiment analysis" about the government's Covid-19 response.
  • The Rapid Response Unit [Cabinet Office] pressured a Whitehall department to attack newspapers for publishing articles analysing Covid-19 modelling that it feared would " affect compliance" with pandemic restrictions.
  • RRU staff featured Conservative MPs, activists and journalists in "vaccine hesitancy reports" for opposing vaccine passports.
  • The Counter Disinformation Unit [DCMS] has a special relationship with social media companies it uses to recommend content be removed. Third party contractors trawled Twitter for perceived terms of service violations and passed them to CDU officials.
  • Front organisations aimed at minority communities were set up by the Research, Communications and Intelligence Unit [Home Office] to spread government propaganda in the UK.

Ministry of Truth: The Secretive Government Units Spying On Your Speech is the first look at the government units using the fašade of tackling fake news to conceal large-scale monitoring of the British public on social media. The report exposes the controversial activity of the shadowy units during the coronavirus pandemic in particular, during which they recorded the social media posts and press activity of politicians, academics and journalists who criticised the government's handling of the crisis.

The units covered in the investigation include the Counter Disinformation Unit, which leads the domestic operational response for countering disinformation across government from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office -- both of which were highly active during the pandemic. It also examines the Foreign Office's Government Information Cell and the Research, Intelligence and Communications Unit in the Home Office. According to the Cabinet Office, staff from the Rapid Response Unit have now been "transferred to the wider team" in government working on "tackling misinformation". In December, Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee complained of an "erosion of oversight" as the Government is "refusing" to expand its remit to include the Counter Disinformation Unit, among other units, creating a blind spot of secret government activity.

Some of the units were supported by Army's 77th Brigade, which conducts information warfare. The investigation contains evidence from a 77th Brigade whistleblower that, in spite of claims to the contrary by senior generals, troops did spy on the British public. He lifts the lid on the "sentiment analysis" the 77th Brigade conducted, looking at how people viewed the government's handling of the pandemic.

Big Brother Watch's " Ministry of Truth" report is based on scores of Freedom of Information requests, and the co-operation of dozens of people in public life who submitted Subject Access Requests to the government to demand copies of their data held by the so-called disinformation units.

All of the public figures had comments criticising the government collected and analysed by one of the units. These ranged from quotes opposing comments on vaccine passports and travel restrictions to jokes about ministers' hypocrisy.

Key examples of public figures caught up in the Whitehall anti-fake news units' surveillance:
  • David Davis MP featured in a Rapid Response Unit "vaccine hesitancy" report for arguing that vaccine passports were discriminatory and created a false sense of security.
  • Chris Green MP and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham's opposition to local lockdowns appeared in an RRU update on the Delta variant.
  • Members of the British public discussing the pandemic online were monitored by the Army's information warfare brigade on topics from government ventilator supplies to expressing fears over Covid-19's link to blood clots.
  • Cabinet Office officials pressured the Department for Health to attack the Daily Mail for daring to question Covid modelling because they were concerned it could undermine compliance with coronavirus restrictions.
  • A post from UCL academic Dr Alexandre de Figueiredo, who researches vaccine confidence, was flagged by a contractor to the CDU because he argued that mass vaccination of children had risks, including to confidence in vaccines.
  • Rapid Response Unit officials rushed to flag Professor Carl Heneghan's Spectator article across Whitehall because he questioned whether the "rule of 6" was an arbitrary number.
  • Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer appeared in a similar report for tweeting about her interview with a woman who had suffered due to the care home policy during the lockdown.
Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said:

This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and even military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and members of parliament who criticised the government, particularly during the pandemic.

The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of 'countering misinformation' highlights how, absent serious safeguards, the concept of 'wrong information' is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the government uses in attempt to control narratives online.

Contrary to their stated aims, these government truth units are secretive and harmful to our democracy. The Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation.

Legal expert on media and free expression, Gavin Millar KC said:

The secrecy surrounding the activities of these units is very worrying. Citizens cannot be sure that their rights to freedom of speech, privacy and data protection are being respected by the state unless it tells them what it is doing with their communications and information.

It is particularly concerning that political speech unwelcome to the government is being targeted, without any apparent safeguards to ensure compliance with the law.

" There are no obvious security or intelligence issues about most of these activities. So there must now be the fullest possible transparency and oversight by Parliament, as well as scrutiny by the courts.

David Davis MP said:

Big Brother Watch's findings should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who knows the dangers of the overmighty state. Journalists, politicians and members of the public should all be free to air their views without examination by Government agencies.

Privacy and free speech are fundamentally important values. But in the war on 'misinformation', they are being put at risk. It is time for a serious rethink at the heart of Government.

 

 

Billie Eilish Live At The O2...

Distributors mess around cinema customers with disgracefully last minute BBFC ratings


Link Here25th January 2023
Billie Eilish Live At The O2 is a 2023 US music film by Sam Wrench
Starring Billie Eilish BBFC link 2020 IMDb

Well ahead of the film's release, cinemas sold tickets with the expectation of a 12A rating.

A disgracefully last minute announcement of a BBFC 15 rating caused disappointment and led to ticket cancellations (and hopefully refunds).  The distributors, Trafalgar Releasing, responded by an 11th hour resubmission with the word 'motherfucker' deleted and a reference to pornography removed. This time round the BBFC confirmed the required 12A rating.

It is unclear as to why the cinema industry wants to mess round its customers, but perhaps it is about time that official age ratings should be announced before ticket sales commence.

Summary Notes

Join fans around the world in experiencing the never-before-seen extended cut version of Billie's Grammy-nominated concert film.

Versions

cut
pre-cut
cut: ~12s
run: 98:43s
pal: 94:46s
12AUK: A pre-cut version was passed 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate sex references:
  • 2023 cinema release titled Billie Eilish Live At The 02 (Extended Cut)

BBFC ratings info reveals that:

  • the use of the word 'motherfucker' was removed by the distributor
  • that one or more references to pornography were reduced to a single reference
BBFC uncut
uncut
run: 98:55s
pal: 94:58s
15UK: Passed 15 uncut for strong language:
  • 2023 cinema release titled Billie Eilish Live At The O2 (Extended Cut)

 

 

 

Offsite Article The Living Daylights...


Link Here25th January 2023
Movie -Censorship.com details ITV cuts from a recent TV screening

See article from movie-censorship.com

 

 

Only OnlyFans and Pornhub...

So how is porn age verification panning out in the US?


Link Here22nd January 2023
Full story: Age Verification in USA...Requiring age verification for porn and social media
The US state of Louisiana has commenced a new law requiring porn websites to obtain identity/age verification before allow access to viewers. The law is not enforced by official censors. Instead it simply allows Louisiana to sue for damages for any harm claimed as a result of underage porn viewing. So how is it panning out in practice?

It is the second week of the new law. Vice has found that very few sites have actually implemented the age verification system. As it stands, only PornHub and OnlyFans check Louisiana's residents' ages, others don't.

This may have something to do with the way the age check is implemented: when you access PornHub from Louisiana, you're met with a screen asking you to verify your age. From there, you're redirected to AllPassTrust, a Cyprus-based company specialized in age verification. AllPassTrust links to LAWallet, the state of Louisiana's digital driver's license wallet, which provides you with a code that you need to enter on AllPassTrust.

The way it's looking now, only Louisiana drivers licenses are accepted for verification, which is a problem for anybody currently in the state that doesn't have one. Sure, practically everybody in the United States has a driver's license, but there are those who don't, and visitors or short-term residents of the state won't be able to verify their age since they won't have a license issued in Louisiana.

According to local Louisiana newspaper L'Observateur, opponents are already gearing up for a legal challenge.

The idea is spreading though. There are reports of national politicians proposing similar laws to Louisiana.

Also two Republican state senators in Arkansas introduced a bill this week requiring age verification before entering a website offering pornography. Senate Bill 66, which proposes a Protection of Minors from Distribution of Harmful Material Act, is sponsored by Sen. Tyler Dees and Sen. Jim Petty. The proposed legislation is a copycat version of Louisiana's new law.

 

 

Offsite Article: Billie Eilish: Live at the O2 is unexpectedly 15 rated...


Link Here 22nd January 2023
Should cinemas sell advance tickets if they don't know the age rating yet?

See article from variety.com

 

 

Offsite Article: Enshittification...


Link Here22nd January 2023
Explaining the rise and fall of social media platforms

See article from pluralistic.net

 

 

Offsite Article: A harmful approach to harmful content...


Link Here18th January 2023
Full story: Online Safety Bill...UK Government legislates to censor social media
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. By Matthew Lesh

See article from thecritic.co.uk

 

 

Sharing censorship news...

Ofcom warns adult video sharing websites that are stupid enough to be based in Britain that it will soon be enforcing age/identity verification


Link Here15th January 2023
Full story: Ofcom Video Sharing Censors...Video on Demand and video sharing

One of our priorities for the second year of the video-sharing platform (VSP) regime is to promote the implementation of robust age assurance, so that children are protected from the most harmful content. In October 2022, we published our report on the first year of VSP regulation . The report highlighted that many platforms that specialise in videos containing pornographic material (or "adult VSPs") do not appear to have measures that are robust enough to stop children accessing pornographic material.

Today Ofcom is opening an enforcement programme into age assurance measures across the adult VSP sector.

Our objectives for this programme are:

  • to assess the age assurance measures implemented by notified adult VSPs, to ensure they are sufficiently robust to prevent under-18s from accessing videos containing pornographic material;

  • to identify whether there are other platforms in the adult VSP sector that may fall in scope of the VSP regime but:

    • have not yet notified their service to Ofcom, as required under the VSP framework (see more below); and

    • may not have appropriate measures in place to protect under-18s from pornographic content; and

  • to understand from providers of adult VSP services the challenges they have faced when considering implementing any age assurance measures. This will also help us build a picture of what measures work and are proportionate to expect from different VSPs, in line with our strategic priority of driving forward the implementation of robust age assurance.

The programme will seek to determine the scale of any compliance concerns in respect of notified and non-notified adult VSPs. We will then decide whether any further action (including enforcement) is needed, and how best to address potential harm.

 

 

Legal age restrictions...

Porn sites in France suffer setbacks after losing court cases


Link Here15th January 2023
Full story: Age Verification in France...Macron gives websites 6 months to introduce age verification
Notable porn websites operating in France have suffered two legal defeats.

In the first case, a priority question of constitutionality (QPC) had been addressed to the Court of Cassation. MindGeek, which publishes Pornhub, argued that ISP blocking of their websites, as ordered by France's internet censors of the Audiovisual and Digital Communication Regulatory Authority (Arcom), was an affront to freedom of speech in France.

In its verdict of January 5, the Court of Cassation swept aside this QPC:

The question posed is not of a serious nature. Considering that the legal framework in question is sufficiently clear and precise to exclude any risk of arbitrariness . Nor is there any disproportionate harm to the objectives pursued.

The attack on freedom of expression, by imposing the use of a device for verifying the age of the person accessing pornographic content, other than a simple declaration of majority, is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to the objective of protecting minors.

Meanwhile YouPorn and RedTube lost an administrative challenge to the rather circuitous way that French authorities have specified the laws requiring age/identity verification to view porn websites.

 

 

It is not a good look for free speech...

Online Safety Bill latest change: State enforcement of big tech terms


Link Here12th January 2023
Full story: Online Safety Bill...UK Government legislates to censor social media

The Online Safety Bill is currently going back to Report Stage in the Commons on 16 th January, and is widely expected to be in the Lords for the end of the month, or beginning of February. We anticipate it could complete its legislative passage by June.

At the end of last year, a widely publicised change to the Online Safety Bill took out the so-called "legal but harmful" clauses for adults. The government has claimed this is protecting free speech.

However, in their place, new clauses have been shunted in that create a regime for state-mandated enforcement of tech companies' terms and conditions. It raises new concerns around embedded power for the tech companies and a worrying lack of transparency around the way that the regulator, Ofcom, will act as enforcer-in-chief.

Whatever they say goes

It is not a good look for free speech. It does not alter the underlying framework of the Bill that establishes rules by which private companies will police our content. On the other hand, it does create a shift in emphasis away from merely "taking down" troublesome content, and towards "acting against users".

For policy geeks, the change removed Clauses 12 and 13 of the Bill, concerning "content harmful to adults". The clauses regarding harmful content for children, Clauses 10 and 11, remain.

The two deleted clauses have been replaced by five new clauses addressing the terms of service of the tech companies. If their terms of service say they will "act against" content of "a particular kind", then they will follow through and do so. This will be enforced by Ofcom.

The new clauses emphatically refer to "restricting users' access" as well as taking down their content, or banning users from the service. The language of "restricting access" is troubling because the implied meaning suggests a policy of limiting free speech, not protecting it. This is an apparent shift in emphasis away from taking down troublesome content, to preventing users from seeing it in the first place. It is an environment of sanctions rather than rights and freedoms.

There is no definition of "a particular kind" and it is up to the tech companies to identify the content they would restrict. Indeed, they could restrict access to whatever they like, as long as they tell users in the terms of service.

The political pressure will be on them to restrict the content that the government dictates. It will not be done by the law, but by backroom chats, nods and winks over emails between the companies, Ofcom and government Ministries.

Joining the dots, Ofcom has a legal duty to "produce guidance" for the tech companies with regard to compliance. Ofcom takes direction from the two responsible Ministries, DCMS and the Home Office. A quick call with expression of the Minister's concerns could be used to apply pressure, with the advantage that it would skirt around publicly accountable procedures. "Yes, Minister" would morph into real life.

Restricting access to content

The new clauses do attempt to define "restricting users access to content". It occurs when a tech company "takes a measure which has the effect that a user is unable to access content without taking a prior step" or "content is temporarily hidden from a user". It's a definition that gives plenty of room for tech companies to be inventive about new types of restrictions. It does seem to bring in the concept of age-gating, which is a restriction on access, requiring people to take the step of establishing their identity or age-group, before being allowed access.

The new provisions also state that tech companies "must not act against users except in accordance with their terms and conditions", but the repetition of restrictive language suggests that the expectation is that they will restrict. There is no recognition of users' freedom of expression rights, and they may only complain about breach of contract, not breach of rights.

These restrictive clauses should also be seen in light of another little twist of language by the Bill's drafters: "relevant content". This is any content posted by users onto online platforms, but it is also any content capable of being searched by search engines, which are in scope of the Bill. The mind boggles at how much over-reach this Bill could achieve. How many innocent websites could find themselves demoted or down-ranked on the basis of the government whim of the day?

"Relevant content" is applicable when users seek to complain. But how can users complain about their website being down-ranked in a search listing when they don't have any confirmation that it has happened? The Bill makes no provision for users to be informed about "restricted access".

The change fails to take account of the potential cross-border effects, that will especially affect search functions. The Bill limits its jurisdiction to what it calls "UK-linked" content or web services. The definition is imprecise and includes content that is accessible from the UK. Online platform terms and conditions are usually written for a global user base. It's not clear if this provision could over-reach into other jurisdictions, potentially banning lawful content or users elsewhere.

Failure of policy-making

It reflects a failure of policy-making. These platforms are important vehicles for the global dissemination of information, knowledge and news. The restrictions that online platforms have in their armoury will limit the dissemination of users' content, in ways that are invisible and draconian. For example, they could use shadow bans, which operate by limiting ways that content is shown in newsfeeds and timelines. The original version of the Bill as introduced to Parliament did acknowledge this, and even allowed user to complain about them. The current version does not.

Overall, this is a failure to recognise that the vast majority of users are speaking lawfully. The pre-Christmas change to the Bill puts them at risk not only of their content being taken down but their access being restricted. Freedom of expression is a right to speak and to be informed. This change affects both.

 

 

Working up a sweat...

ASA censors get all wound up about a Wild deodorant advert


Link Here12th January 2023

A pre-roll ad on YouTube, seen on 5 September 2022, for Wild deodorant, featured a woman sitting up in bed. She seemed to be masturbating under the bedcovers while watching a computer screen. She was interrupted by a talking polar bear which then joined her in bed.

A complainant, whose ten-year-old son saw the ad, challenged whether it had been irresponsibly targeted because it was seen before Minecraft videos which were likely to appeal to children.

Wild Cosmetics Ltd said they had taken care to avoid the ad being shown to a younger audience. They said they targeted their YouTube ads based on users' interests, for example health and beauty, and it was likely that someone deemed a prospective customer had been logged into the YouTube account at the time the ad was shown. They said they did not choose with which videos their ads were shown; this was controlled by algorithm. They said they did not advertise on channels that were clearly aimed at children and would add this channel to their list of exclusions.

ASA Assessment: Complaint upheld

We understood from the complainant that the ad had been shown on the DanTDM channel. The content for this channel included commentary videos about Minecraft, Roblox and Pokemon and was largely, although not exclusively, aimed at children and showed content that was likely to appeal to children. In light of the ad's reference to masturbation we considered that the ad should have been appropriately targeted to avoid the risk of children seeing it.

We noted the advertiser had targeted the ads based on the interests of potential customers and had excluded some channels. However, those exclusions had proved insufficient to prevent the ad from being seen around videos on DanTDM channel, before a Minecraft video. Because the ad appeared before a video likely to appeal to children, we concluded that it had been inappropriately targeted.

We concluded that the ad had been irresponsibly targeted.

We told Wild Cosmetics Ltd to ensure their ads were appropriately targeted and that ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children did not appear in media that was likely to appeal to children.

 

 

Offsite Article: Classified as propaganda...


Link Here12th January 2023
BBFC commissions a survey angling for BBFC ratings to be mandated for all VOD streaming services

See article from bbfc.co.uk

 

 

Offsite Article: No pal to free speech...


Link Here12th January 2023
Baroness Claire Fox calls for UK legal protections against financial companies like Paypal, cutting off customers they disagree with.

See article from reclaimthenet.org

 

 

Better get a VPN...

Police Pay Home Visits to Warn Pirate IPTV Users


Link Here10th January 2023
Anti-piracy group FACT is helping UK police to deliver warning messages to alleged pirate IPTV users. Instead of simply sending letters in the mail, some cease-and-desist notices will be delivered in person. A recent IPTV crackdown resulted in the identification of over 1,000 subscribers, who will be asked to immediately stop any illegal activity, or else.

Last month, anti-piracy group FACT announced that one of these IPTV operations had been disrupted. Worcester Trading Standards officers, helped by West Mercia Police, FACT and BT, seized a variety of equipment and identified a main target. Knocking on Pirates' Doors

The alleged operator of the service now faces a criminal prosecution which, as we've seen in other cases, may lead to a serious sentence. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that subscribers are in the crosshairs too.

This month, FACT and police will pay home visits to people who used illegal streaming services. These people, more than 1,000 in total, were presumably identified following last month's raids by West Mercia Police.

The raided service offered modified streaming boxes, Firesticks, and subscriptions. While details are scarce, those targeted were identified as users of the service through administrative records.

This month, some of them will receive a knock on the door, paired with an in-person warning notice.

 

 

A family version of James Bond...

ITV broadcasts a cut version of No Time to Die


Link Here3rd January 2023
Thanks to Jon who writes:

I Just watched NO TIME TO DIE which premiered on ITV1 - New Year's Day between 8pm-11:05pm.

There were a fair few edits, mostly to remove the strongest elements of the violence e.g.

  • deaths of people during the testing of Heracles in the Cuba bar/party sequence,

  • the killing of the innocent scientists when Heracles is initially stolen,

  • the finale had minor trims made, when Bond is infected.

The strong language was all gone. All swearing was removed, bar one use of shit and one use of bloody.

The early romance scene at the beginning of the film in the pre-titles sequence between Bond and Madeleine, demonstrating their new married life, was toned down a little to make it less racy, as that aired pre-watershed.

And I'm sure the finale, featuring the island going up in flames and Bond's death, was faded-out early, just as he gives his final speech to Madeleine.

Lastly, the credits were crushed to a tiny size (1/6th of the screen size) and sped-up hugely, during the first part, where all the cast are listed, and then put back to full-size, when all the technical crew started.

The cuts weren't noticeable, unless you'd seen the complete version in cinemas or on home viewing formats. And if you didn't know it was cut, then you'd wonder why it had a 12A rating, as it all seems fairly tame.

The sound also seemed to be less crunchy in the fights. So not sure if that was toned-down, or if it just seemed less impactful on TV, than in a cinema with surround sound systems.

Still, this is ITV1 we're talking about, and I still think that they see themselves as moral guardians of family values, like they did in the 1990's and 2000's. So is it that surprising they've cut this film? Not really! Should we have really expected anything less?! (Rhetorical)

 

 

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 202...

A brief summary of Ireland's Internet Censorship Act


Link Here3rd January 2023
Full story: Internet Censorship in Ireland...Ireland considers the UK's lead in censoring porn and social media
Ireland's new internet censorship regime will be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner (OSC), who will create binding online censorship rules to hold designated online service providers Providers to account for how they censor content. The OSC is also empowered under the Act to introduce an individual complaints mechanism.

Harmful content is set out in Part 11 of the new Act:

  1. Offence Specific Categories sets out 42 different offences. A large proportion of these offences are offences against children, or provisions protecting the identification of child victims or child offenders. Notably the Act appears to be silent as regards identifying a child who is subject to an Order or proceedings under the Child Care Act 1991.
  2. Other Categories of Harmful Online Content are set out as a two-tier category:
  • (a) The Online Content must be content which bullies or humiliates another person; promotes or encourages behaviour that characterises a feeding or eating disorder; promotes or encourages self-harm or suicide; makes available knowledge of methods of self-harm or suicide.
  • (b) Online Content must meet the risk test if it gives rise to: (a) any risk to a person's life; or (b) a risk of significant harm to a person's physical or mental health, where the harm is reasonably foreseeable.

This part of the Act deals with age-inappropriate content yet the Act does not provide for any age-verification measures. Earlier drafts of the Act sought to introduce robust measures to ensure a minimum age verification of account holders of 15 years old. This provision did not survive to enactment stage.


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