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.