July 21, 2011 | Jim Killock

Website blocking minutes released under FOI

DCMS have responded a Freedom of Information request from ORG, releasing the proposal from the “rights holders group”. They confirm that the leak to James Firth was genuine.

At Ed Vaizey’s discussions were the “rights holder group,” which includes the BPI, UK Music the Publishers’ Association and the Premier League; plus Google, Yahoo! BT, Virgin and TalkTalk.

The FOI release confirms that the ‘rights holders group” paper should not have been regarded as “confidential”. The public have had to wait a month before being able to know what rights holders are proposing. This is an opaque way of developing public policy.  It’s been noted elsewhere how unbalanced and dangerous these proposals are.

The Internet companies who are also attending are also being placed in a risky position. Sooner or later, they may be presented as being willing parties to closed door discussions of proposals that will potentially have adverse impacts on freedom of expression.

We can also observe the shifting and diverse interests of the Internet Service Providers:

Sky was positive about the opportunity to co-design a process, and in favour of beginning to discuss the issues, whilst awaiting the outcome of the 97A court case.

Virgin Media expressed in-principle support for the discussions, but was mindful of the important questions over costs and technicalities.

That gives us an insight into how these blocking proposals play into the issue of net neutrality. As ISPs themselves become content providers, this creates commercial imperatives to restrict and control the Internet in their own interests.

Most importantly, this closed process, with selected participants, removes the ability of other people to contribute, raise concerns, or to simply object.

We believe rights holders are redrafting their proposals. We again ask them to make them public so we can discuss them. We have established the principle that they must, within a month, be made public through freedom of information requests. They should have the courage of their convictions, take responsibility and defend their proposals in public.

109 MPs have now signed Julian Huppert MP's EDM 1913, which called for the Government to reconsider policies such as website blocking, in light of the recent UN Special Rapporteur Report that was expressly critical of blocking on freedom of expression grounds. More recently, the Organisation for Security an Cooperation in Europe released a report that reached similar conclusions about disconnection and website blocking jeopardising rights to freedom of expression. Over 8,600 people have written to their MPs about this issue.

Comments (2)

  1. JD:
    Jul 22, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Two wrongs don't make a right in this debacle and "cherry picking" supposedly supporting facts doesn't help either.

    For instance:

  2. Felix:
    Aug 01, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    Dear Nicholas [Soames],

    Thank you for your letter of 20 June on behalf of [me, my address] about ISP level content filtering.

    Your constituent is concerned, in light of Reg Bailey's Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood, that the Mothers' Union do not represent a majority and feels that they should not have the political leverage afforded for a majority.

    The Bailey Review has recommended that parents should be asked to 'make an active choice over what sort of content they want their children to access' and has tasked the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) with working with industry to make this happen. UKCCIS's priorities include detailed work on parental controls for all internet enabled devices so that it becomes the norm for parents to use filters that stop children seeing things they shouldn't, in the same way as holding their childrens hands when they walk across the road.

    I appreciate your constituent's views. The Government is committed to protecting children and youg people from inappropriate content in all forms of media, and supports organisations who want to see children protected from inappropriate content.

    My Department and I are currently working closely with industry and other organisations, such as the Internet Watch Foundationand the UKCCIS, and Claire Perry MP, to find effective solutions to help keep children, young people and the vulnerable safe from illegal and harmful content. We will be looking at all options that are available to us, particularly with regard to parental controls, and are involved in a full and frank conversation with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other representatives from industry to see how the offer to consumers can be improved.

    I am pleased to say that this work will be taken forward by UKCCIS

    Ed Vaizey