Just watching the debate on clause 3 of the Terrorism Bill which relates to websites, which has clarified for me how this will work – as opposed to how the government claims it will work…
…well it’s now as clear as it ever will be given that Hazel Blears was pitching this part of the bill for government.
Let run through the scenario.
First, the powers the government are seeking will not be for ordinary coppers but for ‘specially trained anti-terrorist officers’ and require the authorisation – possible, maybe, she’s not entirely – as a Superintendent.
This is, accordly to the Bleary One only a ‘notification procedure’ that affects your right to mount a ‘didn’t know it was there’ defence should you be prosecuted at a later stage.
What is claimed will happen is that you will receive a notice instructing you to remove the offend material with what appears to be 48 hours – and if you choose to ignore the notice and are then prosecute you cannot use the ‘didn’t know it was there, guv’ defence.
You – in this case, however – appears not to be the website owner but website hosting company, and their industry association, the ISPA, were apparently consulted on and agree with these proposals BUT – according to Blears – would not automatically react by taking down websites where they’ve received such a notice but consider whether they should or should not comply with it having looked at the offending material themselves.
Yes – that was a very large pig flying past the windows as you read that last sentence.
The ISP also didn’t ask for any judicial oversight of this process and, apparently, also agree that an appeals procedure in these matters in entire unnecessary.
Oh, and the government’s objections to judicial oversight?
We, first it not quick enough for them because the Lords amendment specifies oversight by a High Court judge – not that that matters as they’re no keener on using Circuit Court Judges who can usually be pulled in to provide interlocutory injunctions on a couple of hours notice when required.
And the other objection?
Well it seems that applying judicial oversight in such matters would give these notices similar oversight status to the extended 28-day
internment detention without charge process in terrorist cases and that is ‘not proportionate’ in Bleary’s opinion.
However my favorite comment of day came not from the government benches – not that there are many there in chamber for this part of the debate – but from an opposition member, Dr Julian Lewis MP, Member of Parliament for the New Forest.
Dr Lewis – as he was at great pains to point out, was one of the first people in the UK to sue a website owner for libel, having sued the late Steve Regan of Scallywag magazine for accusing him ‘of being a secret homosexual and a liar for denying it’ – strangely given charles Clarke’s earlier comments about Human Rights Lawyers, Blears passed on the chance to upbraid Lewis for having a vested interest.
But that’s by the by as Lewis’s contribution to the debate wins him the Wen Jiabao award for an outstanding contribution to free expression by being the MP who asked what the government was going to do about removing information from search engines like Google – because he knows that they can do things like that these days!
The reason Lewis is so concerned about this is – so he said – because search engines are able to ‘bring up’ information like the scurrilous accusations that Scallywag made about him.
Naturally, being a bit of geek, I had to put this assertion to the test, all of which revealed that relevant searches for, for example ‘Dr Julian Lewis + Scallywag’ or ‘Dr Julian Lewis + Simon Regan’ do indeed bring up a small number of accounts relating to this incident – something of the order of 30 hits or so at most – all of which do indeed make reference to Regan’s allegations…
…in the context of reporting the fact that he was sued and also faced a criminal prosecution over this matter for which he was convicted.
What’s even more interesting is that the top item returned for such searchs is this article which refers to the case, which appears on the website of…
… Dr Julian Lewis MP.
Should just point, as was noted several times during during the debate, aside from being illiberal and censorious these provision are also next to useless as they only apply to webhosts operating in the UK.
I thought I’d mention that as, should these provisions make it on to the statute books and in due consideration of the UK industies complicity in this matter, it is extremely likely that this blog will be relocating to US-based service provider where it will enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
I think that all of us current hosting in the UK owe to the IPSA to make that move, don’t you?
Amendment 22, which starts the run of amendments on judicial oversight has been removed by 319 – 255.
Bollocks – just what we need, another win for the four Home Office dwarves; Safety, Bleary, McNulty and Twat.