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Tag: rights

Freedom of Speech in the UK

Posted by Andrew at 3:37 AM on November 17, 2012

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.

The Data Retention Act vs Protect Our Children from Pornography Act

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2011

justiceWhat if I told you there was a bill that would make it easier for law enforcement to stop child pornography and protect children, would you be for it. What if I told you that there was a bill that forced ISP to retain their customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers and temporary assigned ISP addresses. What would you think of that bill. Well, what you say if I told you it was all the same bill, well it is. The House Judiciary Committee passed HR 1981- The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. If this bill passes the full House and Senate and becomes law it would require ISPs to keep 12 months worth of personal information. Anyone with access to the information would be able to tell what web sites you visited and what content you posted on-line. Those who support the legislation say it will help law enforcement fight child pornography, because there will be a semi-permit record to follow and the pornographers will not be able to hide their tracks. Those who oppose the legislation including the EFF say it assumes that everyone is guilty and that it erodes the rights of everyone online.

Of course the title of this bill, makes being against it difficult. What nobler cause is there then being against child pornography. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is so easy to give up rights in the name of security or to protect a vulnerable group, it is a path we should only take if absolutely necessary. There are already various laws and technologies that deal the same issue including the 2008 “Protect Our Children Act” which already requires ISP’s to report any time they have actual knowledge of possible transmission of child pornography. If this bill does become law and once the data is collected don’t be surprised if other interest including the RIAA and the MPAA will begin to want access to this same data in their ongoing fight against piracy.

Not only does this bill erode users rights and privacy, but it puts a burden on the ISPs to not only maintain those records, but to protect that information from hackers. Recent history has shown that this is very difficult and costly. Larger ISP can handle the cost, smaller ISPs may not have the means to handle the burden. This may lead to less choice for the consumer in the long run Also the more tech savvy pornographers will find ways around the system by using Tors, open wi-fi, bots and other methods. The question becomes how much privacy and rights of the innocents are we willing to give up to maybe stop the guilty.

Broadband Basic Right In Finland

Posted by Andrew at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2010

From the beginning of July, a 1 Mbit/s Internet connection will become a universal service in Finland.  Simply, this means that anyone who wants an Internet connection must be provided with one at a reasonable price by one of the 26 telecom operators.

This makes Finland the first country in the world to make Internet access a basic right and it’s interesting to compare this with the UK and France which have both threatened to cut-off the connections of persistent copyright infringers.

From a technical perspective, it’s not a big deal.  There’s already about 96% connection penetration in the country already and this means that there are only about 4000 properties that would need to be connected to achieve full penetration.

Personally, I think this is great step forwards.  1 Mbit/s isn’t super fast but it’s adequate and over time technology and commercial pressure will up the data rate.  However, the key point is that it’s a universal service or basic right enshrined in law, which means that it can’t easily be taken away.

There’s additional coverage over at the BBC.

Cloud Computing and the Fourth Amendment

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 4:30 PM on March 31, 2010

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, Amendment IV, US Consitution.

Anyone who watches American cop shows, knows that, before they search your house or business they have to have a warrant signed by a Judge. What about documents that are stored in the cloud or on a smartphone do they have the same protection. Maybe yes or maybe no, the law is not clear. The law covering this issue was written in 1986. It is called the Electronice Communications Privacy Act. In 1986, the Internet as we know it today did not exist , email was in its infancy and smart phones were in the realm of science fiction.

Today people store their papers and effects online and on their cellphones. Do these documents have the same protection from government search and seizures as those in our homes, business or on our persons. The problem is according to what I have read, the law is not clear. Different cases have led to different decisions and a mishmash of laws across the country. Several companies and agencies have joined together, to bring the 1986 law into the 21st century. These companies and agencies include, The Electronic Freedom Foundation, the ACLU, Google, Microsoft, AT&T and others, According to the article in ArsTechnica some of the updates they want included are

• All “private content” held by a service provider should be protected by the same standard as material on your laptop: a warrant must be obtained. Currently, the rules are murky and confusing; the government can go after server e-mail older than 180 days, for instance, with only a subpoena (no judge needed), while more recent e-mail needs a warrant.
• Warrants must be sought to access location information. Currently, says the CDT, GPS data is protected by warrant, but other data (such as that from cell phones) is not. Courts have been “all over the ballpark” on this issue.
• For “transactional” data (i.e., data that might include e-mail headers but not message content), the coalition says that a judge should be involved, though a warrant may not be needed.
• Subpoenas should only be used where government has a particular person whose data they seek; they shouldn’t be used for bulk requests on many subscribers at once without a court order.

Shouldn’t documents that are stored in the cloud have the same protection as those documents in your home. How about wireless conversations, shouldn’t they be protected like conversations over a landline phone. I think so, the documents and conversations are private and the government has no right to search or seize them without a warrant. Now those on the other side will tell you that the government needs the power to seize documents without a warrant in its fight against terrorism. I reject this argument, except in extreme emergencies. All papers and effects should have the same protection whether online or offline. A national law would protect both individuals against the government and provide businesses with clear guidelines to follow. Cloud computing is here to stay and our laws need to catch up.

UA Student Convicted for Downloading Music & Movies

Posted by geeknews at 9:48 PM on March 7, 2005

Parvin Dhaliwal,18, a student at the University of Arizona (UA), is the first person in country to be convicted of a crime under state law for downloading music and movies. Dhaliwal pleaded guilty to possession of counterfeit marks, or unauthorized copies of intellectual property, and was sentenced to a three-month deferred jail sentence, three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and a $5,400 fine. Dhaliwal must also take a copyright class at UA and stop using file-sharing applications. What makes this conviction notable is that copyright protection is normally a federal matter.

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