Sunday, 22 December 2013

Failed Porn filters? Not Really - It's all Going to Plan for Cameron

There has been a lot of frenzied Internet activity over past few days about the Newsnight story about porn filters failing to block porn sites while blocking sex education and information sites. This is seen as a failure. The solution, according to Women's Aid and some other posters in Twitter is better, more sophisticated filters. This is of course impossible. Getting a group of humans to distinguish between something that is tawdry and something that has artistic merit is hard enough. Expecting a computer program to understand these distinctions is so much beyond current technology that when it does happen we will have to consider whether we need to give human rights to computers. It will be the age of manga style cyborgs when that can happen.
My view is that Cameron predicted that the filters would fail. This is actually helpful to his current agenda of redesigning the Internet so that it is regulated and controlled by big media companies. Remember the days when you needed a lot of money to get something typeset, printed and distributed ? Or how, of you wanted to get something released on video you would have to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds to get it certificated by the BBFC- costs out with the capabilities of most people.
Now of course anyone, including me writing this blog can get my work put not the Internet for the cost of a few amps of electricity.
Cameron wants the interent to operate like the high street with the public protected from anything that might be unsuitable for them. The BBFC ( an organisation that is finding its purpose coming to an end and which needs a new role) and ATVOD ( a highly funded body that has only received about 6 complaints from the public in 3 years and is a pointless parasite on Internet TV) are both vying to become the regulator of the Internet. Cameron has repeatedly said of porn 'If you can't get it in the high street you shouldn't get it on the Internet'. He wants to apply this maxim to the whole of the Internet. He wants unregulated news sources and commentary stamped out and an Internet in which most citizens only get what comes via Murdoch and company.
I've been blogging on Internet censorship for the past 6 months and everything I have said has turned out to be correct so this is my prediction for 2014- a Cameron controlled Internet.
Fight it now or repent at leisure.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Post Script to C-Section Story

Essex Council have today issued an explanation of the facts behind the c- section story which has hit the worlds press. It gives a good account of the council/social work involvement in this case.
In any case there is nothing in the Council's account which gives me cause for concern ( though others may disagree).
However, I never really believed that the Council had acted in bad faith. My beef has always been that the Council did not think it owed the public an explanation for its actions.
Many social work bloggers and tweeters had come to the defence of the council saying that it could not say anything to the media for fear of breaching confidentiality or going against some legal restrictions.
I was never very convinced by these arguments or convinced that the Councils policy of not speaking about ongoing cases was a good one.
In fact today's statement has vindicated my position because the council has now broken its (unwritten?) policy of not commenting and it is at least now trying to undo some of the bad publicity which it should accept some responsibility for. It's clear from the council's new response that they have written it because there has been unprecedented international interest in the case- not because they think involving the public in their decisions in an ongoing basis is a good thing of itself.
Over the years I have met a few journalists. I think they are basically people with a job to do like the rest of us and if they are given a convincing argument or interesting information that the public will want to know - then they will print it.
I have never been convinced by the argument that the press has it in for social work. If I was a journalist and one side of a story would not speak to me or address legitimate public concerns then I would not give them a very sympathetic write up either. When you see 'no comment' from a public body it gives a message that public opinion does not matter to the agency. In the current world of 24 hour news, bloggers, and greater interaction between public bodies and the public they serve, the secrecy which is associated with much social work practice is outdated as well as undemocratic.
Let's hope that the latest statement by Essex is start of a new openness and social work starting to take control of how it is reported rather than just reacting. Essex has now shown that you CAN comment on live cases ethically- and it is the best way to protect the profession, protect the reputation of local authorities and their social workers and most importantly reassure the public that they live in a free country where professionals cannot override civil liberties without exceptionally good processes, reasons, and accountability.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Another PR Disaster for Social Work- Why We Need to Stop Blaming the Media and Stand up for an Open and Accountable profession.

A pregnant woman was sedated against her will and her baby removed by caesarean section and taken into care after instructions from social services, it has been claimed.
Social workers went to the High Court to get a court order which allowed them to take the child from the mother's womb, according to reports.
The above is the first two lines of an article on the Sky News website. It has been tweeted by about 580 people. The original story in the Sunday Telegraph has been tweeted by about 1000. Difficult to imagine that that many people are interested in social work.
The twitterverse is full of indignant social workers saying that this is terrible. Not what happened but that newsagencies have dared to publish what is perceived to be an unfair and one-sided version of events. Why people think it is unfair I don’t know –it does not seem unfair an unfair judgement in light of what has been actually been made public.
The charge that it is open-sided is however, a valid one. The reason that it is one sided can be found in the final paragraph of the Sky news item.   
Essex County Council told Sky News in a statement: "Essex County Council does not comment on the circumstances of on-going individual cases involving vulnerable people and children."
That’s it. The sum total of what they have to say.
 Not –‘We are very sorry – we realise that there is much public interest in this story but we reassure that we have at all times acted in the best interests and the interests of her baby’. Not- ‘We are very sorry but we have been forbidden by a court order from responding to questions. We wish we could say more but it might prejudice proceedings.’
Such alternative statements would not really hold a lot of water. The fact that the story is being reported in the way that it is- draws great deal of media attention  that simply would not be there if a fuller account of the story had been told. In fact, now an MP is going to raise it in Parliament so it is difficult to see how there could be any less of a spotlight on the story.  
So, a response like ‘We are sorry we can’t say anything’ would not have cut much ice. However it would be a vast improvement on what they did say. What the terse statement by Essex council is saying is ‘Sod off- we don’t have to tell you anything and its none of your business anyway’.
Well –I’m afraid in a democracy public servants are accountable to the public for what they do through democratic processes and the only way that the democratic process can work is if people have information. We would not tolerate the Police using sweeping powers like this without being expected to explain themselves.
If there is a genuine legal reason why the council can’t give details of the case then ought to say this and apologise to the public for the fact they can’t comment. Furthermore if such constraints are a general problem then social services directors ought to be campaigning for changes in the law so that they can make more information public.
The statement by Essex seems to suggest that they are simply not commenting because of a policy- allegedly to protect ‘vulnerable people’. Clearly it is okay to seriously interfere with the liberty and health of a vulnerable person but not okay to respond to reasonable public interest in what is being done to them.  This has echoes of a case a few months ago where social workers condemned a man with learning difficulties for putting a video on Youtube of his child being taken into care and he had to take social services to court to get  permission to make the world aware of his story. Rather than saying he needed support to be able to tell his side of things many social workers said he was making his children vulnerable by putting the video online.
Surely an important part of protecting vulnerable people ought to be making judgements taken on their behalf open to democratic scrutiny.  
Vulnerable should NOT equal No right to speak or have your story heard.
Many of my friends who would normally be supporters  of public services think this present situation is terrible. The only people who think this is a case of press victimisation are social workers. I think the profession has to take a long look in the mirror and think about how other people see us.Look at the Independents headline - It says that this is the 'stuff of nightmares'. Actually its the sort of stuff that can be a death blow to the credibility of a profession. It needs some good PR and damage limitation double quick. Not falling back on jobsworth -'Its not our policy to comment ......'
I have been in social work now since 1986 and all through this time I have been constantly angered by the attitude of my profession to the media. On one hand there is a paranoia the media is against the profession  and on the other hand an arrogance about ordinary people not being able to understand complex social work situations even if they were told the information. Over the years few people have given my view any credence.  They have all fallen back on the idea that these things have to kept private to protect ‘vulnerable people’.  I guess I have always been a curmudgeon. This is one of the many popularly held views I have never agreed with.
In the meantime the image of the profession has sunk lower and lower and people just blame the media rather than thinking about whether we need to think of another way of engaging with the public.
I would not trust another profession which operated in secret so why should I expect people to trust my own when it is doing this.
It is true that newspapers do tend to favour certain political viewpoints and groups over others. However, they will report both sides of a story if they get it-even if they do give one side more credence. And most people do give their side. Even the toxic waste disposal industry will respond to media criticisms. They will make a press release that says that toxic waste burning  creates jobs or that it is all quite safe really. That might not convince many people but it is at least a response and an attempt to change public opinion.
Social work wants to improve its image and it ought to be capable of doing better than the toxic waste business.
The Essex response says ‘Social Work doesn’t care what the public think and they don’t have a right to know or the ability to understand.’
That is the attitude we should be fighting – not the media.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Duh! Cameron's War on Porn Reaches New Heights of Stupidity

When I was a lad in the late 1970s there was a story in the papers about the entertainer Bob Monkhouse being charged with trying to defraud British film companies. The charges related to his rather quaint and charming habit of importing reels of classic films from other countries which he could not buy in the U.K. This was not pornography but most likley old Buster Keaton films or similar. In the days before video cassettes  and DVDs you had to watch films om actual reels of film- not something that most people in the U.K. could afford to do so importing your own movies was not something that most people could do.
Of course that case is laughable in todays age when you can buy almost anything from anywhere in the world and apart from the occasional V.A.T. charges you are free to use your credit card anywhere and have anything from decorative tea cosies to autographed baseball cards delivered to your home- AT LEAST AT THE MOMENT.
However, Camerons latest wheeze to stop internet porn threatens a return to internet feudalism.
When David Cameron announced his porn filtering plans a few months ago it was evident to most people that he knew very little about how the internet works. His latest whiz shows that he doesn't understand anything about banking either. 
His current plan is that banks and card companies will be asked to decline offering merchant services for U.K. Customers to companies which allow people in the U.K. to access explicit content free on their sites. This is because children may be able to view this material- which they ought not to be able to do of course if his porn filters gambit actually works.
The problem comes when you start to look at the detail. Firstly, much internet content of all types is free. It relies on citizens sharing their videos with others and the sites are supported by advertising. As a quick plug if you visit my Youtube channel you can see some fun vidoes from my recent holiday in Greece. Clearly, the sites where people are most likely to get free access to explicit material will not be using credit cards anyway. 
The article in the Telegraph makes reference to sites operated outside the E.U. This suggests that there may be some legal impediment to him enforcing this on EU sites. This raises the difficult issue that much of the international trade in pornography is based in countries like Germany, Holland and Scandinavia whom are all in the E.U. - Double Duh!
However, the glaring issue here is that web operators based in foreign countries will have their merchant services provided by the foreign banks who use the Visa, MasterCard  etc payment networks. When a payment to such a site finally arrives in the account of a U.K. Citizen it will show up as a foreign transaction. Your bank will not know whether it is a restaurant bill, a payment for a bus ticket or anything else. If its a site in a country like Greece or Japan the original text of the company name may just look like a line of letters. How will your bank know what type of transaction this is. 
Furthermore, credit card companies have probably hundreds of thousands of merchants on their books. They will not know what kind of business half of them actually are and if they do realise it is a porn site then all the company has to do is set up another merchant account with an innocent sounding name.
Then there is the issue of perfectly legitimate companies and transactions being refused on incorrect grounds. The in international credit card business relies on huge numbers of transactions being processed rapidly and efficiently. If credit card companies  are going to have to start policing what U.K. card holders spend their money on then this will involve additional costs and probably tens of  thousands of disputed transactions. The costs of this will have to be passed on either to customers- through extra charges on all foreign transactions or charges to merchants when they sell to U.K. customers. Some foreign banks and traders may decide it is too costly to trade with U.K. customers and you may find your card being declined by foreign internet traders or when you try to use your card in a hotel or restaurant outside the E.U.
There will of course be a huge potential business opportunity for internet businesses which launder money to launder transactions for U.K. customers who want to pay money to foreign sites which are either correctly or innocently blocked to U.K. customers. This is a huge business opportunity for international criminals who will get access to bank accounts of ordinary U.K. citizens and potentially lead to more expensive fraudulent and disputed transactions. 
Cameron's latest plan is yet another exhibition of extreme naivety. 
More concerning is the fact that this latest plan is yet another intrusion into the day to day lives of people and businesses. Cameron has threatened banks with legislation if they don't co-operate. Once the precedent of telling banks who they can take payments from is established - it could be used for other purposes. For example, persuading banks to refuse payments from radical or alternative bookshops, people who sell drug paraphernalia and other categories of merchant who are not technically doing anything illegal.
 Interestingly, this latest wheeze comnes at a time when ATVOD is flexing its muscles. For those who don't know ATVOD is a 'self regulatory body support sand encouragement from Government'. It was originally set up to regulate TV on demand and to ensure that  customers were not ripped off. However, it is now starting to act as a censorship body and is trying to control what U.K. households can access on the net. As I have pointed out in my previous postings there are huge industry interests behind current plans to censor the internet. Film and media companies want to severely restrict  the number of channels through which U.K. citizens can access content to allow them to charge differential prices in different territories. Bob Monkhouse's predicament might not seem so quaint or unusual if we move towards a balkanised internet with a huge cyber firewall around the U.K.
Cameron's latest plan is doomed to failure for its stated intent but is also a dangerous invasion in free trade and commerce.

Friday, 6 September 2013

New Munby Decision Needs to Herald a New Openness in How Social Workers Handle Child Care Cases

In a historic judgement Judge Sir James Munby has overturned an injunction by Staffordshire social services forbidding the father of a child who was taken into care from talking to the media or posting a video of the event on social media.
The Judge has said that the parents have a right to discuss what has happened to them with anyone they like and that it is satisfactory to have the video publicly displayed. He has said that there is no reason to believe that this will in anyway compromise the identity of the child.
This is landmark decision and in my opinion a good one for social workers. Firstly on the point of the video recording - this type of video is becoming common in the United States where citizens film 'cop watch' videos of police going about their duties. I recently saw one which featured a policeman shooting someone's dog. The intention of cop watch videos is, I believe, intended to highlight bad or unfair practices although it could also be used to highlight instances of good practice. As video technology becomes more common and easier to distribute on the web all professionals will have to get used to the idea that they could be getting filmed in their duties and this will involve I plications for practice and training.
On a wider issue I think that greater transparency and public discussion about why social workers take the decisions that they do. This is necessary because the decisions that social workers take are of legitimate public interest and concern. Imagine a world on which the Police would arrest people without publicly charging them with anything and then refusing to allow them to tell the media their side of the story. People would lose all trust in the Police and their authority, respect and the co-operation of the public would be lost.
It ought to be possible for people to discuss and/ or film their dealings with social services and discuss this in the media. It also ought to be possible for social workers to discuss their reasons for taking decisions in the media too - subject to some restrictions and any ongoing proceedings.
There is no reason to believe that the decision to remove this child was in any way incorrect or that there was any unsafe or incorrect procedures. Perhaps if the public were allowed to hear both sides of the story then they could be trusted to reach a reasonable conclusion. A social work profession that engages with and involves the public through the media will be one that is trusted to make good decisions. That will require some rethinking of issues such as privacy and confidentiality but in an increasingly public and online world these changes will have to happen.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sex, Lies and The Guardian- Miranda, Snowden and Assange

The Guardian is currently most indignant about the treatment of David Miranda, the partner of one of their journalists who reported on the case of the documents leaked  by Edward Snowden.
The Guardian is portraying itself as defender of freedom of information and opposition to government surveillance. This is slightly ironic considering that Guardian columnist Deborah Orr had a few weeks previously written a cover story praising David Cameron’s plans to turn on default internet filters in every home in the U.K. However, that is not the main instance of double standards and hypocrisy which I would like to highlight in this blog.
A year ago columnists from The Guardian  together with other segments of the U.K. ‘liberal’ media turned on Julian Assange, a man who had previously been their darling.
The reason for this about turn was attempts by the Swedish Government to have Assange extradited in relation to suggestions that he had committed sex crimes. It is important to note that he had not actually been charged with anything, despite having previously gone to a Police station voluntarily to answer questions and waited in Sweden for 5 weeks before legally leaving the country. The current state of play is that the Swedes would like him to return to Sweden to answer some more questions- after which they will decide whether there are charges to be answered. Despite  doubts about whether  charges were going to be issued, tactics were used to try to return Assange to Sweden which would normally be used for dealing with terrorists.
A few male writers have foolishly published very ill advised opinions about the Assange’s alleged conduct. Having a sensible conversation about the allegations against Assange was actually very difficult. There was practically a media blackout in the U.K. When one interviewee on Newsnight mentioned the name of one of the women who had made the allegations he was told that it was not appropriate to mention the name of an alleged victim of sexual assault. However, the names of the women were easily available on the internet all of the world. In fact the situation about these allegations are extremely complicated and it is difficult to make a reasoned opinion about whether there is a reasonable chance of Assange being charged with anything or successfully prosecuted. Please note that is a separate issue from whether his conduct was appropriate or not.
If you want to get an understanding of the chain of events behind the Assange case I would recommend that you watch the brilliant Australian documentary Sex, Lies and Julian Assange.
Watch it and make your mind up. This information has never been openly discussed in the U.K. media- allegedly because it is not U.K. practice to debate these issues before a case is tried. However, in this case it seems unlikely that there will ever be charges and in any case all this information is available in most of the world including the country in which any trial would take place.
Despite the lack of any clarity that Assange was ever going to be charged with anything (never mind be proven guilty) Guardian columnists went hell for leather to disparage and savage Assange’s character. If you read the link below you will find details of some of the abuse which was directed at him.
Suzanne Moore accused him of being a ‘turd’ in a tweet and also suggested that he put hamsters up his anus. Deborah Orr, vanguard of liberty, said that he should return to face charges in a Guardian on-line article. This article has since been altered (with an acknowledgement that this was done) to reflect that he has not been charged. However, writing this in the first place shows a real disregard for journalistic rigour.
Assange was championed by the Guardian when he was revealing things which embarrassed U.K. and foreign Governments. However, as soon as the allegations of sexual misconduct were made he was suddenly transformed into a sleazy persona non grata without any reasonable debate about the validity of the allegations made against him.This is not of course an isolated case of shoot first and do the journalism later. George Monbiot reached a settlement with Lord MacAlpine in March for having written a libelous tweet  linking him to a sex scandal. It seems that when sexual misconduct is alleged all forms of process and evidence are considered unnecessary. In spite of this Will Self has written a piece recently about how upset he was about being wrongly suspected of being a pedophile while on a walk with his son. Clearly Guardian columnists are entitled to fair treatment and presumption of innocence while public figures they dislike are not.  
David Aaronvitch is also reported as having said ‘Don’t you think that supporters of Assange are misogynistic. Just for the record I don’t count myself as a supporter of Assange or a detractor. I have mixed feelings about Wikileaks and I have no idea whether he is guilty of any sexual crime. What I do have a strong dislike for is sloppy journalism and  schoolyard name calling by people who claim to represent the values of liberal and progressive society.
I think what the Assange  about turn shows is that the Guardian’s willingness to stand by whistle- blowers is not very robust. It is therefore very difficult to be convinced of the sincerity of their staunch defence of their own journalist and his partner. The McAlpine incident shows a lack of care to check the truthfulness of allegations.
The real problem with the Guardian is that there are seemingly two different teams writing in it. There is the team of hard journalists who go all over world breaking serious news stories and then there are the columnists who think the paper is just a platform for their own prejuduces where they can write nonsense  without doing any research.
If the paper really thinks that free speech and fair treatment of people are important it should stand by these principles and ignore opportunity to take a populist  slant against these principles.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Cameron, the BBFC and Censorship of Youtube- stage 2 in Destruction of the Internet

I read on the Telegraph website a couple  of days ago that David Cameron is planning for videos on Youtube and 'other' (all?) sites which involve user generated video content to have material  rated as suitable or not for different age groups and to have the ratings linked to web filters.
The details of how this will be done are rather vague. However, I understand that the method will involve a combination  of the author giving a rating and then crowd sourced ratings of the public whom can get to vote using buttons on the web site to rate the content. The system is to be designed by the British Board of Film Classification a body which currently rates (for a price) all DVDs Blu Rays and video games before they are released.
At first sight there are some things to commend this proposal. It is the public whom are doing the rating, not a faceless Whitehall body and there is a certain amount of democracy of access.
However, dig a bit deeper and think about the imlications of it and it begins to look much less attractive.
Here are the reasons why I think it is a bad idea;

1.   It is completely unnecessary. There are already ways of reporting and having inappropriate content taken off Youtube. If you find something on Youtube like a child being bullied then you want it removed quickly- not rated.

2.It is highly unlikely that there will be much consensus on what is inappropriate for different ages of children beyond what is completely unsuitable. Some parents will want music videos with suggestive dancing rated for adults. Some parents will want sexist attitudes towards women taken down or made adults only. Pacifists will want to give anything which glorifies war or weapons  given an adults only rating. Some parents will want anything to do with homosexuality made adults only and UKIP supporters will probably want anything taken down that promotes culture which they don't think is British. Pro-lifers will want anyhting that gives information about abortion screened from young people.There are many readers of both the Guardian and Daily Mail who want censorship on the web but they so not have shared motivations or views about what they want censored. One thing is for sure. Youtube will have a new audience of people who never looked at it before but now spend all day rating videos according to their political inclinations.

3.  It represents mission creep for Cameron from blocking sites to censoring content. When internet filtering was first discussed I said that it would graduate to censorship of individual items of content. This is in fact what is happening and it will only be one more stage on the way to full scale censorship of the internet.

 4. The current proposals don't represent the full extent of Cameron's censorship ambitions and his ultimate objectives will adversely affect the development of the internet. The Telegraph piece states that Ministers 'accept ' that it is impossible to use a body like the BBFC to rate content before it is put on the internet due to the sheer volume of material that is up there. The unstated implication of that statement is that if there was much less material on the internet then they would institute compulsory certification.
It is very important to note that there is only a huge volume of material on sites like Youtube and Videojug because there is not compulsory rating. Hundreds of thousands of people put up helpful videos on all sorts of  topics from how to prepare for a job interview to how to build a self assembly bookcase. People put these videos up for no financial gain and many of the people who put videos up have little or no money. Some people who post videos are victims of war or injustice. How could they afford the BBFC charge of £75 plus £6 per minute? That's £110 ($172) for a 5 minute video. Would you be inclined to put up a video of footage from your holiday for that price? What if you wanted to get footage out quickly to alert people to a crisis. Any system which involves people having to pre-submit something  will make on the hoof citizen journalism impossible.
Just imagine Cameron had been around to propose this type of censorship in the early days of the internet. Most of the content you enjoy now would not be there and you would not even realise that it could have been there. What future developments in the democratization of media will be stymied by starting on the slippery slope of a controlled internet. 

5. What about sites which won't or can't co-operate with Cameron's rating proposals? The internet is (at the moment) a global and relatively free to access phenomenon. However, Cameron seems to want file sharing sites other than  Youtube to adopt his proposals. If small file sharing sites are ordered to install ratings programmes then are they going to be able to afford to do so and if they cant then will their access to U.K. homes be blocked. What about sites which are hosted in other countries- are they going to be forced to institute ratings just to get access to British homes? What if other countries all start having their own ratings systems? It will be impractical to simultaneously respond to all sorts of different ratings systems. The result will be that the internet will cease to be international with sites being blocked from all sorts of countries because they don't correspond to their ratings system. What about videos posted by individual users in other countries. Will someone posting a video in the U.S.A. have to complete Cameron's self assessment questionnaire before their video can be seen by U.K. viewers? The odds are that they won't want to bother and as a result U.K. homes will not be able to watch their content. The end result will be balkanisation of the internet- a situation which will be very inconvenient for most people but a boon for MEDIA BARONS, CORRUPT POLITICIANS WITH THINGS TO HIDE AND CENSORSHIP BUREAUCRATS.

6. Who is going to Police the effectiveness of this self-censorship process
Cameron will want to ensure that all video sharing sites are operating according to his policies and are operatin g a ratings system 'effectively'. He will need someone to police this.
 Have a look at at the BBFC website. They have a category of charges on their charging listing called 'Digital Platforms' with fees starting at £500 per year for sites with 100+ videos. A logical extension of Camerons proposals will be fora public body to audit what video sharing sites are displaying with fines for people who don't co-operate or deal with 'inappropriate' material quickly or efficiently. This will be policed by the BBFC who will charge fees (eventually much higher than quoted above) for auditing sites. The result will be that  sites will have eventually feel that they have to pre-approve  material before they put it on. They will charge people who want to upload material so that they can recover the cost of having someone watch it and to cover BBFC fees.

7. Who are going to be the new Publishers and distributors of material on the web?
Answer: The old publishers of CDs and DVDs and satellite TV. A highly regulated media only offers access to big players and those who will dance to their tune
Since it will eventually be impossible  to view uploaded material from other countries and ordinary citizens will  not be able to afford to pay censorship fees there will be a new role for publishers. Companies like Virgina and New International will pick the 'best of the web' from other  countries and package it in a pre-censored way with all controversial political material extracted according to U.K. Government requirements. New bands and performers who want to get their work seen by the public will have to pay media companies to get exposure for their work who will probably also want to get exclusive rights to selling their music. The ability to bypass big business to sell your work direct to the public will cease.  Rupert Murdoch will once again control media in the U.K. and be able to influence political opinion.
Big media lobbyists are involved  in moves to implement internet censorship  around the world. These companies do not care about protection of children - they want to retake the control of media which has been lost to them. They want once again to control what people see and hear and be able to exploit producers and consumers in the ways they used to.
Notably Cameron does not have anything to say about the large numbers of soft porn channels available on Sky and he has explicitly said that he does not have a problem with page 3. Answer- he is still afraid of standing up to big media interests. He will undoubtedly have discussed his current plans with Rupert Murdoch who is currently rubbing his hands in glee at how he or is sun is going to control the new U.K. local  internet which we will have in a few years.

In summary- my doomsday scenario involves some extrapolation for Cameron's proposals but they are in my opinion logical extrapolations.

If you trust David Cameron to control the media then I urge you to read the brilliant book Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson M.P. and then see if you still feel the same way.
If you are a feminist like Deborah Orr who believes that Cameron's proposals will stop children seeing material which is sexist or offensive to women then you are very naive. Cameron is a Conservative, not a feminist.
If you think Cameron's proposals will reduce access to pornography of any kind then you are also very naive. 

Power of Big media Concerns = Billions of Dollars

Power of pornography industry = Billions of Dollars

Power of self help groups +
 civil rights groups+ 
 musicians who sell their music through the internet+
 and bloggers who want to talk to the world about what concerns them+
 people that want to upload their holiday and hobby videos   
                                                    = Maybe enough dollars for a pizza if they all chip in.

All these groups have equal access to the internet at the moment but they won't once the internet becomes regulated.
All Camerons proposals are the thin edge of a very fat wedge which will destroy the internet as we know it. 

Oppose him now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Phubbing ? I call it Multi-tasking!

Apparently there is a new name out for a phenomenon which you see every day - and this is people playing on your mobile phone while talking to someone. I don't think there is a word yet for playing on your iPad while talking- maybe it will be pudding.
I am afraid I am frequently guilty of both and it does seem to annoy some people - especially those of my own generation. It is not that I am disinterested in what the person is telling me. It is simply that I can't concentrate on anything unless there are several streams of input going to to my head at once. If I didn't have distractions I would end up day dreaming and drifting off and then I really would miss what the other person is saying. 
Cognitive psychology uses the term the ascending reticular activation system for nuclei within the brain stem which regulate arousal. People whose ARAS is set a high level of activity need peace and quiet to reduce their arousal levels and are most likely to be introverts. People whose ARAS is set at a low level quest for stimulation and need a high level of social interaction and novel experiences.
Despite the traditional association with nerdyness computers and social networks actually provide a great potential for additional interaction and stimulation for people who need it.
When I check out messages or emails when I am talking to someone I am usually  looking for information which will be useful to them within the context of our current conversation. Sometime something you have just been sent can answer a query or problem someone has come to you with. Sometimes when you are in a conversation with several other people dropping out for part of the conversation which isn't relevant to you to answer an email is actually a good use of time in a very fast paced world.
So- What is the answer to the phubbing problem. I guess for me the short term answer is to tell people why I am looking at something and make it clear that I am not just ignoring them or getting bored.
Ultimately, however, I think a better answer is something like Google Glass- where you have a screen display which nobody else can see. Then they wont know what media sources you are receiving. Or better still - a direct computer link into your brain. From there its on to full scale cyberization which  is hopefully not so far on the future that I won't get to enjoy it.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Why Cameron's Default Porn Filters Will Herald the End of The Internet as We Know It. Just Ask the Experts in Communist China Who are Designing the Filters

David Cameron is currently succeeding in persuading all the major Internet providers in the UK to turn on automatic porn filters in the internet service to all U.K. consumers by next year. If you don't want your Internet access to be filtered you will have to request your Internet provider to turn off the filter. 

Understandably this may cause you some embarrassment and some annoyance regardless of the reasons you choose to have it disarmed. It is perfectly possible for families to install these filters in their own households at the moment but for inexplicable reasons few are choosing to do this so the nanny state needs to step in. One of the suggestions is that it will only be turned off for periods at a time before it kicks in again automatically. So you may have to constantly produce your ISP with a running log of how often you want to access adult material and/or all the other stuff that the filter will stop you getting access to. In the end you may just think it is less bother to leave the censored internet on all the time and then capitulate to compulsory censorship- Nudge- I think they call it. You just need help form the Government to do the right thing for your children -even if you haven’t got any.

I am not going to waste time arguing the merits or otherwise of pornography on the Internet. If you believe it is a serious problem and that censorship of it is a good thing then nothing I will say is likely to sway you.  I just want to alert you to the costs you will incur to achieve this objective (or rather not achieve it- as it will almost certainly not succeed in limiting access to pornography).  
Many of you will think that porn filters are irrelevant to you because you don't access porn sites. If you think this then you are SERIOUSLY WRONG! I don't believe that Cameron is concerned about people watching pornography in any case. What irks him and the interests which he represents is that he can't currently charge providers of pornography large license fees for the rights to broadcast it or ensure that all the profits are channelled to Rupert Murdoch and his other friends in big media.

Mandatory Porn filters are not designed primarily to reduce access to pornography- like every other form of censorship which has existed in the UK they are designed to block the flow of free ideas, limit citizen access to broadcast media and to prevent certain types of knowledge and information being circulated.
Most of the things that all of you enjoy about accessing the Internet now are under threat and that is everything from cheap or free music downloads, to cheap Internet shopping to free and unhampered access knowledge about pollution, food safety, science , medicine and anything you care to mention. All of it will be gone.
I realised this as soon as the porn filter initiative was first announced. However, I was reticent to write a post on it as people would think I was a conspiracy theorist. I was going to rely on past experience of censorship in the UK to build my argument. Fortunately, I don't have to. Information leaked to media in the last few days about the conversations between the Government and Internet providers prove conclusively that all the concerns I have are legitimate.  The overall intention of these proposals is to develop centralised control over what people are all allowed to see on the Internet and ultimately who can publish on the net and what they can make public.

The current state of the Internet is very inconvenient for many large vested interests.
It is inconvenient for large media companies. In the days when you could only access an audience by tooling up record production and getting expensive promotion it was very difficult for musicians to get their music heard  and most of the profits went to the record companies. Now bands can promote their music direct to their audience and there is no need  for record companies or that sort of middleman - performers can connect directly with their audience.
A free internet is inconvenient for academic publishers. If you can publish research on the Internet for free why waste money funnelling profits into academic publishers who will only limit the potential audience to your research. Book publishers, distributors, media critics and a whole range of hangers on have all become redundant...... At least for the moment.
A free internet is inconvenient to people who want to charge British customers £20 for a CD or DVD that is available for $5.00 in the USA or a range of other items that are cheaper overseas. Many people on the left believe that big business wants to liberalise markets. They don't. Free markets are the enemy of business which wants to develop a monopoly or dominate a market. Conservatives are not libertarians- they represent vested interests - not the interests of the majority. Government regulations whether they be censorship, licensing rules or other forms of regulation do not hinder big business. Rather they support it by making it difficult for new providers to enter the market or access customers.
A free Internet is also inconvenient to Governments who want to prevent their citizens from knowing about inconvenient facts such as institutional racism in the Police, dangers of pesticides, the effects of global arms trade, the spurious justification for the Iraq war and other conflicts, mobile phone footage of Police brutality and all sorts of other things which they don't want people to know about.
If you Don't believe me then  google Spycatcher - this was a book which was freely available in the U.S.A yet banned in Britain and that was less that three decades ago.  Read about the biased media coverage of the miners strike or the fact that a passing reference to the war in Northern  Ireland was censored out of a Star Trek to give two examples of how mainstream media of the UK suppressed the exchange of ideas. Read about how the Obscene Publications Act was used in the 1970s against people who published books on how to grow marajuana or against people who ran gay bookshops. Censorship is ALWAYS abused by Governments for political purposes including the U.K.
Another case in point is the Video Recordings Act. This was brought in to the U.K. On the basis of a similar moral panic to one surrounding Internet porn. In the early 1980s there were ridiculous assertions about how the nations children were watching so called 'video nasties' were published in tabloids, backed up by very methodologically unsound research. As a result the Video Recordings Act was brought in which makes it compulsory to have footage watched and rated before it can be released on a DVD. This may not seem to be an unduly unreasonable measure until you consider the implications. Video certification is very expensive and the cost is borne by the producer of the DVD. If you are a small company wanting to release a very specialist silent or foreign film in the UK. Then you may find the costs of certification prohibitive - I think it was something like £10 a minute 15 years ago. If you wanted to film you amateur dramatics society performing Macbeth and sell the DVDs in HMV you would have to stump up something like £1000 for certification before you even start. If you don't then selling the video is illegal. Of course nowadays people will just upload the video to Youtube. However, the ultimate end point of Cameron's aims will make sites like Youtube off limits in the UK. He says he wants the same restrictions on web material as exist in what sells in the shops. This is only possible if content is scrutinised before it is uploaded and that will cost money and restrict people's access to the web as consumers and publishers.

It is important to look also at how an Internet filter will work. A computer programme is not bright enough to know whether something is intended to titilate. If it is programmed to block nudity it will block anything that looks like nudity to it- from swimsuit shots in a fashion catalogue to paintings of nudes by old masters. If it is asked to filter based on words or names them it will also filter out educational material, discussions and totally innocuous material that sounds like it might be salacious. For example an American College with name beaver in the title had to change its name because it was being blocked by porn filters. Not sure what steps the World Wildlife Fund or the Beaver Protection society can take (if there is one) - they may have to rename the species like they did with German Shepherds during the war.

Similarly, I worked in an organisation which had porn filters and I was unable to access information  about adult social care because the sites had the word adult in the title. Anyone in education around medicine or social care will have to go through the embarrassing process of asking their Internet provider to remove their porn filter if they want to be able to access material for their job at home.

If a porn filter is to work in terms of restricting sexually explicit material it will inevitably restrict a lot of completely non-sexual material also.

Okay so lets look at other reasons why Cameron's filtering proposal is already suspect. According to information on various news websites this week the Open Rights Group  has been told that the Government has been in discussions with ISPs about the filters being used to filter out all sorts of material including 'violent material', 'extremist and terrorist related content', anorexia and eating disorders' and other issues including smoking.,b=facebook
 Again the only way a filter can deal with this sort of material is to restrict everything that contains certain keywords. Thus a terrorism filter will restrict websites containing intellectual debate about the topic and also websites that are critical of Government policy about how to deal with terrorism and its causes. This of course will nicely fit in with the Conservative agenda of restricting free speech and preventing anti- war rhetoric.

Also worrying is that filters could restrict ' esoteric topics' and discussion forums. Thus, opinions outside the mainstream or which support rights of marginalised people or communities will be potentially suppressed. The end result will be an Internet in which only sites which respond to certain filter friendly criteria will be guaranteed access to a reasonable audience.  This will have the additional benefit from Cameron's point of view of re concentrating media ownership amongst the old media companies who can afford to have their material censored and packaged. You would not be reading this blog if I had to pay to have someone read it or have a programme screen it to make sure it didn't upset filters.
There is clear evidence for this in the fact that Cameron has laser the ISP filters to look at copyright protection. See link below. It is likely that there has been lobbying by media firms.  A filter is not going to know whether something breaches copyright. A copyright filtering system will only work if people have to register or flag material as copyright protected in the first place. Thus there will have to be some system whereby you get you home made video of your cats chasing toy mice copyrighted before you can load it up on youtube. And you will probably have to have someone vet it (no pun intended) and rate it for suitability. All this will of course cost money which you will to pay to whoever has been contracted to this vetting. Most  people will not bother and will go back to being passive consumers of media. Citizen journalism will be dead. The winners will be people like Rupert Murdoch who will be able to charge people to access their platforms and ensure that only certain companies and people with lots of money get access to media. If you are a band starting out you will find that your opportunities to connect with your audience without using middlemen and companies become limited. This fits in with the views of Conservatives and people on the intellectual left who think that the public are incapable of coming to their own conclusions about what has artistic merit.
Many people thought that Murdoch was foolish to initiate pay walls for his newspapers online because people would not pay for online content. However, Murdoch is a smart individual and he realised that days of an unregulated and free Internet were probably numbered and indeed the filtering proposals could well be a result of his lobbying.
The next stage in this process will be a Balkanised Internet- different countries will only have access to material approved for their country. They will not have free access to news and opinions from other countries. They will not be able to shop in an international free market for goods because as I have already said Conservatives are actually against free markets and want to restrict how people trade to benefit vested interests. This is part of the rationale behind Internet regulation.
The default use of filters is an almighty step change in how the Internet operates in this country and it will be the beginning of a slippery slope towards the compulsory regulation of Internet sites and a requirement for approval of content before it goes up.
The real problem in this country and the reason that we will sleep walk into censorship is that there is no real lobby within the U.K. that is committed to protecting free speech or preserving the anarchistic and creative environment that is the Internet. The Left wing in Britain is just as in favour of a top down controlled society as the Right is and there is no strong libertarian sentiment or grassroots support for free speech rights. Tony Blair, not satisfied with large scale slaughter in Iraq on humanitarian grounds, wanted the United Nations to endorse a policy of pre-emptive intervention in the affairs of ‘failed states’. Commentators such as the Guardian's Deborah Orr take delight in the censorship of things they don't like. They forget that free speech is something that can't exist in half measure. Of course, people need to be accountable for the effects of things which they write and rights also confer responsibilities, and abuse of these rights should and does attract severe penalties. But this is not the same thing as censorship. Also it will not be Deborah Orr or Zoe Williams who will be doing the censoring (chilling enough as that prospect would be). It will be farmed out to big business who will be asked to follow a Conservative agenda.

Deborah Orr will quickly find that she cannot do her job without her filter being turned off. As a journalist she will doubtless feel that she has legitimate reasons for requesting it to be turned off. However, ordinary citizens will worry about the stigma of being identified as potential pervert of they object to the filter or ask it to be turned off. So they will accept it, and then they will accept compulsory filters and eventually they will forget there was a time when they could read what they wanted or say what they wanted without someone looking over their shoulder.

The Internet is a tremendous force for freedom and sharing across communities across the world and it offers huge opportunities for artists and academics to work outside the powers of bug media. If you accept these filters being imposed you will be a huge step closer to losing most of the things that you value about the Internet today. The company developing the filters is a Chinese company with strong links to the Chinese Government and its practices of censorship of free speech.

Do you trust David Cameron and Chinese business with you intellectual freedom. IF NOT YOU MUST ACT NOW AS YOU WILL NOT GET  ANOTHER CHANCE. The filters will quickly become compulsory.

1. Sign the petition against default porn filters NOW.

2. Contact your MP and tell them that you are against the proposals because of the dangers they represent to free speech, free access to media and publishing and free trade.

3. Tell anyone who tells you that watching legal porn is bad and needs to be limited by the Government that is a private matter for individuals and households and is none of their business or the state's. Say this even of you have absolutely no interest in adult material or even dislike it. There is bound to be something else which you do like that they disapprove of whether that be smoking, drinking, fast cars, gangsta rap, non-energy saving light bulbs, flying abroad, sun bathing without using sun block or flower arranging. After the censors and statists have dealt with the perverts they will be trying to tell you how they think you should live your life too.

4. Read Wired magazine online and other sources of tech news to find out about how can subvert Government regulation and surveillance. Get involved with the online community around anti-censorship and pro-freedom initiatives.

5. Tell your Internet provider that you don't want the filters and you will consider changing providers to a small provider if they implement it.

6. Save this article in a file and read it in 5 years. If Cameron's proposals to through then you can evaluate how accurate my predictions about the casing down of the Internet were. I know I am right about what will happen if Cameron gets his way. I just hope it doesn't happen.

7. If you like this article share it on Facebook and Twitter and leave a comment. If you don't like it or disagree with points please leave a comment also.