Freedom of Speech in the UK

Law GavelIn the latest podcast, Todd rightly asks about the apparent lack of freedom of speech on social media in the UK. Undoubtedly, it’s a complex issue but it is becoming increasingly clear that the right to free speech is under threat here in Britain. In this post, I’ll look at some of the issues, but to start with, I am not a lawyer (thank goodness) and this doesn’t constitute legal advice.

Unlike the USA, the UK does not have a written constitution guaranteeing rights. The closest the Britain gets to this is the Human Rights Act (1998) which only came into force in 2000. The Human Rights Act is the embodiment in UK law of the European Convention on Human Rights (pdf).  The ECHR’s Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression but as will be noted from part 2 of the article below, there are plenty of possible exceptions. I’ve embolden the part that is relevant to the discussion here.

“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Obviously, the UK police do not pro-actively monitor social media looking for offensive posts. A complaint has to be received by the police based on someone taking offence at a posting on social media. The UK law has increasingly moved away from “offence intended” to “offence taken”. This was primarily done to increase the power of law in areas of discrimination, where people could avoid convictions by claiming that sexually or racially offensive language wasn’t intended in the way it was taken. Now the law supported those who were offended by the sexual or racial innuendo, regardless of intention. However, the “offence taken” law has grown out of its discriminatory roots to take hold in almost any area of offence.

Much as the compensation culture has grown, a similar one has arisen that “bad things” are always someone else’s fault and they have to pay. Although it started with physical hurt, this has gradually extended to psychological hurt and finally simple feelings. Instead of “sticks and stones will break my bones”, it’s “I’m going to tell on you.”

Finally, both the police and the legal system have increasingly taken a view of what’s legal and illegal rather than what is right and wrong. Consequently, instead of the police looking at the social media post with a bit of common sense and telling the complainant to grow-up, the police are now obliged to follow procedure and take up the complaint.

Overall, these changes in the law and approaches to policing now mean that abusive and offensive comments are taken much more seriously than before.

Let’s take a look at three cases that show the variety of circumstances.

The first tweet to come to widespread notice was Paul Chamber’s tweet in response to his local airport being shut because of snow. “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your (expletive deleted) together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” He was initially found guilty in May 2010 of sending a “menacing electronic communication” but fortunately eventually won his challenge in July of this year. The whole incident was farcical and made the law look stupid.

The second isn’t a tweet but a T-shirt worn in response to the shooting of two police officers that said, “One less pig perfect justice”, pig being an abusive slang term of the police. Barry Thew was jailed for four months for this, but many would have seen this as political commentary, particularly as it was about to be revealed that the police covered up their incompetence in a sporting disaster in which 96 people died by disgracefully blaming football fans killed and injured in the incident.

And finally, Britain has been embroiled in child sex abuse scandal involving a well-loved (but now dead) BBC TV personality. In the wake of this, a living person was named on Twitter as being a paedophile when he was wholly innocent and completely blameless. He’s now suing everyone who repeated the lie unless they apologise.

As can be seen, it’s a complex issue with both the freedom of speech under threat and the rights of others needing to be protected. The Crown Prosecution Service has recognised that there is potentially a problem and is intending to consult with the legal profession and social media companies. The Director of Pubic Prosecution, Keir Starmer, QC, has said that “People have the right to be offensive, they have the right to be insulting, and that has to be protected.

In a recent statement about another tweeting case, the DPP said, “Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.

There’s hope yet.

Courtroom Gavel photograph courtesy of Bigstock.

Ohio Attorney Found Guilty of Creating Digitally Altered Images for Use in Court

An Ohio attorney and former state prosecutor who describes himself as a “computer expert” has been found guilty of creating fake child pornography images in an effort to defend people accused of child pornography in two separate court cases.

Dean Boland purchased two stock images and digitally altered them to appear sexually explicit.  On Friday the Sixth Circuit Court found Boland guilty after the FBI became aware of him and began investigating his court use of the faked, explicit images.  Boland had used the images to argue two cases in Ohio and Oklahoma, saying that it was “impossible for a person who did not participate in the creation of the image to know [the child is] an actual minor.”

In 2007, the parents of the children in question became aware of Boland’s activity and filed civil suits against him.  The Sixth Circuit Court found that he put “six-year-old Jane Doe’s face onto the body of a nude woman performing sexual acts with two men.”

The federal judge has awarded the families $300,000 in damages after Boland argued that he was immune from any civil law suits because he had only created the images for use in court, never distributed them beyond the court room, and was protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of expression provision.  The First Amendment actually doesn’t protect individuals from the use of obscene speech.

Frankly, I can’t believe this case dragged out as long as it did, given the cut-and-dry look of it.  Boland could have easily used  altered images of adults or virtual images, both of which would have fit within the law, but he instead chose to alter images of real children and now he has paid the price for his actions.

Image: Court Room by BigStock

Apple, Samsung and a Third Way for Patents

Samsung LogoWhen I heard the verdict on the Apple v. Samsung case, I was angry. Angry with Samsung for copying, angry with Apple for suing, angry with jurors for naivety, angry with the legal system for letting itself be a pawn. Over the weekend, I’ve mellowed a little but I’m still concerned about the impact it will have on consumers.

Apple is not a great first inventor. It didn’t invent the PC, the GUI, the digital music player, the smartphone or the tablet: I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to educate themselves as to who did. Apple is great at design, marketing, timing and extracting value from suppliers, partners and customers. Absolutely no doubts there and they have the bank balance to prove it.

Android LogoThe word on the street was that Apple was looking for a $30 licensing fee to cover the use of the patents. As a consumer, I think that’s a rip off when compared to the overall price of the device. None of those patents are intrinsic to the device and I would happily have a phone or tablet that doesn’t have those features. Multitouch and pinch-to-zoom is over-rated generally, and as for the bounce-back, it’s a waste of CPU cycles.

Obviously there are two possible outcomes from an Android perspective. Either the patents are circumvented and Android users get an arguably lesser experience or the manufacturers stump up the licensing fees.

But there is a third way…Wouldn’t it be great if, as an Android consumer, one could choose whether to avail of certain patents or not? You could accept the Apple licensing and pay the extra $30 or else decline and get the non-infringing version. How brilliant would that be and it would let the market decide which patents are valuable and which aren’t.

Of course, the chances of it happening are slim but remember Google and Samsung, you read it here first.

GNC-2012-05-08 #763 Show Notes are Back!

As you can see there is a link below that has a no-follow tag on it that takes you to the new show notes page. I explain in the show tonight the reason for the change. There may yet be a software solution here at GNC. But we have to do some more investigating on how to implement it. But one thing I am pretty sure of the list of links to all of the articles I cover are forever gone from within the show notes blog post.

Tonight I take you on a tech journey that covers a wide range of topics including some cool stuff happening here at Geek News Central. I want you to pull up a chair or watch the show from your lazy boy as I break down the latest tech news. You have a great chance to win a cool prize in today’s show so listen to win.

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Listener Links
Innovators in e-Learning from Michigan Virtual University
Free Tech for Teachers.
VW Hover Car in China.
AT&T continues to cry and be Greedy.

Links to articles covered in this Podcast on the GNC Show Notes Page [Click Here]

GNC #704 New Media Models

I talk about different podcast models and why there is room for multiple flavors in the space. I also share with you some personal info that I hope will help some of you that listen to the show. Lots of tech as usual!

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Listener Links:
Saturn Fly By Jaw Dropping!
Starz and Netflix Info.

Links to articles covered in this Podcast on the GNC Show Notes Page [Click Here]

Credits: Jack Ellis – Executive Producer

GNC #701 Back to Business

Back to business on show 701. I am excited about our Saturday Morning Tech we will have a number of our bloggers on to talk tech, so be sure to join me Saturday morning at 9am PST.

Big Thanks to Our Executive Producer Jack Ellis for all his work on all of our shows!

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Listener Links:
Volvo and Siemend team up on Electric.
Hubble Movies.
120 Petabyte Drive.

Show Links:
ISP Giving up User data!
Mars Secrets.
Space Junk Out of Hand.
AT&T + T-Mobile = DOA by DOJ?
AT&T – T-Mobile = Winner?
Sicko Goes to Jail.
LoJack to get Sued?
Buzz Out Loud scales back.
Lion Enhanced Apps.
Final Cut Studio Back on Sale?
FT says no way to Apple Extortion.
Linux Kernel Server Hacked.
Conflict of Interest?
Tweet Button Value?
Netflix looses Starz – Netflix Yawns.
How dare they!
BlogFrog for OhanaNews.com?
Waffle House Hurricane Factor?
Hubble Time Lapse Movies.
Hotfile has to give up Users.
BitTorrent TV?
Will an Apple TV Happen?
Cool RC Plane Video.
China Hackers Revealed.
Parallels 7 for Lion.
Google Calendar Time Zone Mayhem.
Ford Evos
Ford Zipcar.
Sony Tablets.
Tom Tom GPS Update.
Jailbreak Tutorial.
Samsung SmartTv update.
Creative Gaming Headset.
PogoPlug Mobile.
AT&T Kills A-List Feature.
Dyson DC41.
Nexus S in Space?
How to deal with the Law.
Massage Device Recalled.
Blogger gets an Update.

GNC #694 No Constraints

I talk about constraints tonight, you will notice show is 1:23:00 I have realized I have been feeling constrained and rushed with the 1:10:00 limit I imposed on myself. Unless I get a barrage of email begging me to go back the show is going back to a semi un-constrained time limit.

Are you a Fan of this show or others at TPN follow the producers? Click Me!
Mobile Video Feed!

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Show Hotline 24/7 1-619-342-7365 or e-mail geeknews@gmail.com

Listener Links:
Shuttle Cockpit 360 Degrees!
Barnes and Noble Comment!
Studio and Plank Discussion.

Show Links:
Down she goes.
Will economy affect VC investments.
Pay for TV on Roku?
$500.00 or your Life?
Google TV Update!
Running out of Time?
Yes Police their is Freedom of the Press.
TSA No Insulin for You!
Syrian Hackers Fight Back?
Antimatter in Orbit?
WordPress Hijack.
Warrantless Spying on rise.
Apple Lion Recovery Disc.
Apple wants in ring with Lodsys.
Sorry I have bad news for you!
How Big are Solar Flares.
Juno Launch.
Sued for going to Fast.
Hacker Toolkit for Android.
200,000 on Lawsuit Hit List.
Portable Shaver.
Cool Device Chargers.
FrameSocket.
Website Speed.
Sell Shirts.
OpticBook 3800 Scanner.
Read it later.
Zip line Express for iPads.
Skype Updated for Lion.
Apple TV Hacked to Play Games.
3d Glass Standards Finally?
Google+ ios App.
Chrome OS for Tablets.
Honeycomb Update for LG!
Survey Says.

UK to Rewrite Copyright?

Channel 4 News is reporting that the British Government will put forward changes to the UK’s archaic copyright laws on Wednesday. Format shifting for both music and video is expected to become legal as will sharing  with family. Parody works will gain protection.

The proposals will be announced by Vince Clarke Cable, Business Secretary on Wednesday, and while file sharing using peer-to-peer and similar technologies will remain illegal, the legalisation of format shifting will allow companies like Amazon and Google to offer online music services which store copies of the owner’s music collection. This is currently illegal under British law which is why none of the current offerings are available here.

The protection to parody works (spoof music videos) is also good news as several popular songs such as Newport State of Mind have struggled to stay on-line in the UK where parody doesn’t have the protection it might in the US.

Overall, very welcome news for consumers in the UK and fingers crossed that the proposals don’t get too watered down before they become law. More news on Wednesday.

GNC #686 Now Your Bank is Tracking You!

Internet connection died half, way through my show tonight. No idea what happened but it made for an interesting show. The Blue Man makes an appearance plus a lot more cool tech, news, and information. Huge Mahalo to our Ohana for your continued support of the show.

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Listener Links:
Secret Service is not Playing.
Soaps Moving Online.

Show Links:
Amazon Gets Political.
Banks sell you out.
Groupon Loyalty.
Self Incrimination.
Apple users spending a lot of Money.
Artificial Sound.
Malware in your Imported Electronics?
Did Entertainment Industry Backdoor us?
Predators surfing at Local Wifi Spots?
Fukushima never ending.
Philly Papers to try Android.
Facebook Contact War.
1 in 5 is a texting accident?
Android Malware.
Hotfile vs MPAA.
Anonymous Hacks.
Gmail+ ??
Firefox Beta 6 for Android.
Hypnotize my kid no way!
Bing Maps.
Smoke Detector with Mobile Sim?
Grocery Special Delivery.
Last Shuttle Back flip.
Shuttle Mission Extended 1 day.
56 MPG end of Mercedes / Land Rover?
Hyundai Blue Link.
Insanity.
Yucca Mountain Round 11?
Google Wifi Lawsuit Moves Forward.
More peeks at Ios5.
400 Million Windows 7 copies Sold.
Machine 1/100th of Brain.
Cosmo for Guys.

GNC #666 My Wife wants What!

The month is winding down, but I could not be happier the team of writers at GNC have been kicking out some pretty awesome content. The refresh of the show formula so far is working and the feedback so far has been positive. I am on the search for existing talent across the new media space. Do you know of a show that is considered to be at the top of the class in their genre? If so I want to talk to them… Big thanks to the Insiders for all their support and of course the Ohana for being part of the show.

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Show Notes:
Finding that Perfect Domain.
Google Garage.
Boost your Brain Power with 9 volt battery!
TomTom has some explaining to do.
** Watch the ESA Video.
X Marks the Spot!
Voyagers in Deep Space!
Endeavor getting built!
Endeavor Facts
Qik Apps Updated.
Tungle purchased by Rim.
PSA Notices now on Seized Domains.
Ukrainians Shut down Adult P2P Site.
P2P Used for Movie Distribution.
Windows 8 Store Settings in Cloud?
Internet oh how far we have come.
New Type of Shovel?
DualLink Sync Cable.
High Speed Camera on the Cheap?
Upload Images into Google Doc Spreadsheets.
Chilling Effects.
Gmail / Outlook Sync Expanded.
Wireless Lockdown?
Custom Gaming Machines by Walmart?
More Free Android Apps over iOS.
Progress off to ISS.
Social Spy.
Copyright Blocks 81 yr old Jazz recordings.
Chrome gets Patched.
LTE Outage.
2028 Computers become Aware?
Amazon Cloud Issues.
Apollo 18 Films?
HP Gets Huge NASA Contract.
Is Part of your Brain Sleeping?
White iPhone.
YouTube Founders buy Delicio.us
Facebook DMCA Broken.
DOJ No more Microsoft Oversight.
Apple iPhone 5 in testing.
Hackers have Playstation Credit Cards?
Microsoft Revenues.
Only 5 Million?
Samsung swings again at Apple.