In a victory for transparency, the Government has announced that from today members of the public and journalists will be able to film and report on all public meetings held by local councils in England.
The Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014, signed into law by the Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary Eric Pickles, will allow citizens to use 21st Century techniques such as tweeting and blogging to report on council meetings. It will also allow them to view material relating to some decisions made elsewhere by officers acting under a “general or specific delegated power”.
The move to update the law follows attempts by DCLG to use non-legislative methods, including the publication of guidance which explicitly confirmed that members of the public could overtly film council meetings. Sadly some councils chose to ignore this step.
Journalists and publishers are at risk of being branded as terrorists, warns a report into the UK’s terrorism legislation.
The report entitled The Terrorism Acts in 2013 was authored by Professor David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. It covered topics such as the use of stop and search powers by the police as well as how often Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was used to question and/or detain travelers.
Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) section considered the definition of terrorism and under what circumstances terrorism legislation could be applied. Looking at the judgement in the case of David Miranda Professor Anderson highlighted the fact that “the publication (or threatened publication) of words may equally constitute terrorist action”.
As Professor Anderson explained the ruling raises the possibility that the author of a book, newspaper article or blog could be treated in the same way as a person who carries out more recognisable forms of terrorism, such as “shootings” or “hostage takings”.
All that is needed for this to happen is for the published material to be judged to be for the “purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause, designed to influence the government and liable to endanger life, or create a serious risk to health or safety.”
A report, by Reporters without Borders, has accused GCHQ and the NSA of being no better than their Chinese and Russian counterparts in terms of online censorship and surveillance.
The report entitled Enemies of the Internet is released to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship and comes on the same day that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for a Digital Bill of Rights to safeguard an “open, neutral” internet. It identifies specific government agencies such as GCHQ that have used the pretext of national security to move beyond their core duties and into the strategy of mass online surveillance that is prevalent today.
The Deregulation Bill, debated by MPs today, has caused alarm after it was highlighted that one of its clauses, which alters the process for obtaining production orders with regard to material held by journalists, significantly undermines the essential protections for journalists from being forced to hand over material to the police.
Of particular concern is a warning from Gavin Millar QC, who is currently representing BSkyB in a case where the Metropolitan Police are seeking material from them, is that this change could be combined with a ‘Closed Material Procedure’ – where a court sits in closed, or secret, session – and would mean the media is not present, or in some cases even notified of the hearing, when the police make an application to seize material.
Currently requests for material belonging to a journalist or media organisation must be made in open court, with the opportunity for challenge by the organisation affected. The combined effect of this change and closed material proceedings could lead to a situation where a judge is asked to consider a production order in a secret hearing without adversarial debate between the requesting body and the media organisation involved.
Yesterday the new European Union anti-terror chief appeared infront of MPs to discuss various issues, including what people are reading online.
As we’ve previously warned, the UK’s Anti-Extremism task force has already alluded to greater filtering of web content and now the EU has taken it one step further, with Gilles de Kerchove telling MPs he wanted to remove “not illegal, undesirable websites.”
Setting out the action being taken by the EU he said: “The Commissioner for Home Affairs will set up a forum to discuss with the big players – Google, Facebook, Twitter – how we can improve the way one removes from the internet the illegal and if not illegal, undesirable websites.”
Freedom of speech, and of the press, are essential parts of a free and democratic society. It should not be in the gift of politicians to decide what we read or who can write it and absolutely not on the basis of what some may consider undesirable. If content is to be blocked, it should be a decision taken by a court of law and only when a clear criminal test has been met establishing the content is illegal.
December 3, 2013
Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States
Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.
Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.
Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.
Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.
We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.
We have previously warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are very happy to support the newly formed Reform Clause 1 campaign which was launched in Parliament yesterday.
The campaign warns that the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will have a “chilling effect on free speech and expression”. We very much hope that this campaign will have the same amount of campaign success as the Reform Section 5 campaign that we backed earlier in the year.
At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.
Speaking at the Internet Service Providers Association, Security Minister James Brokenshire said that an announcement on blocking extremist websites is ‘forthcoming.’
This follows the Prime Minister telling Parliament on October 23 that: “We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force — it met again yesterday — setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”
Such an announcement has not been preceded by a public consultation, or any engagement with civil liberties and freedom of speech organisations. The threat the freedom of speech is only too clear.