The Other Spousal Veto

The other Sarah has dug out some revealing statistics from the Ministry of Justice.

The first statistic is interesting, but probably not that surprising for anyone involved in trans activism. There is a clause in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 that allows the Secretary of State to refer to the courts any case where they believe gender recognition might have been obtained fraudulently. Despite the fact that the Gender Recognition Panel (GRP) insist on documentary evidence that someone transitioned at least two years ago, that they provide letters from two doctors on the GRP’s list of approved doctors and up until now, that they divorce, there was still a fraud clause included in the act just in case.

No case has even made it as far as a referral to the courts due to fraud, which rather takes the wind out of the sails of anyone suggesting gender recognition is too easy to obtain, or that people do it because they want to commit fraud. (You can change your name without also changing your gender, anyway)

The second statistic is rather more worrying, however. Many people will know about the spousal veto included in the Same-Sex Marriage Act that allows spouses to de facto veto gender recognition of even an estranged partner. But there is an older spousal veto: Section 12(h) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which was inserted by the Gender Recognition Act way back in 2004.

It was always thought that this clause, which allows someone to void their marriage if they find out their partner had obtained legal gender recognition prior to the marriage, was largely theoretical. There are some safeguards – there’s a time limit of three years after marriage to annul unless you get special permission from a judge, and it only applies if you didn’t know your spouse had a Gender Recognition Certificate. (This last point is a little tricky, because it’s hard for someone who is not out to prove they told their spouse something so it’s likely to descend into a case of he-said-she-said in court)

As with the spousal veto, this is just another case of the law feeling it needs to create special cases surrounding trans folk. But this is unnecessary – if trust in the marriage has broken down to that extent, why not resort to the usual divorce process – just as you would have to if your new husband or wife turned out to be a convicted criminal.

Unfortunately, it turns out not to be so theoretical after all. As a result of the Freedom of Information request, we now know that at least 13 marriages have been annulled because the spouse claimed not to have known their partner had a GRC. The reason is only recorded in 60% of cases, so the actual figure is higher – 21 or 22 cases in total, which is two or three cases a year.

So that’s yet another way in which trans folk have less rights in marriage than everyone else.

Equal marriage? I wish.

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Government to ban coffee, khat and cake

No, the title of this blog post is not an April Fools – just a bit tongue in cheek. One of these three things has been banned by parliament*, and it does seem as if MPs will readily ban anything if it makes them seem Tough in the War On…whatever it is we’re fighting this week.

Last night, there was a key vote in a parliamentary committee on banning Khat, a substance used by Somalis, Ethiopians, Kenyans and Yemenis. The Tories are all for banning it, despite another parliamentary committee already recommending against it’s ban. The swing vote was left with Labour, as Liberal Democrats on the committee intended to follow the previous recommendation and advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and vote against a ban.

So, let’s review the evidence for a ban:

  • It’s used by foreign type people and not culturally British, or something. Unlike that equally potent substance, coffee, which originated in, um, Africa.
  • Banning things is good. (Labour even went as far as trying to ban coffee last year, because “psychoactive substances” just sounds scary)

And now the evidence against a ban:

  • There is no evidence it’s harmful. Don’t just believe me, go and check what some experts said.
  • The government gets £12.8 million a year in tax from it. That’s enough to build roughly two new primary schools each year. (Or buy three quarters of a Trident warhead every year, if you’re a Tory)
  • Prohibition tends not to work so well. If it did, we wouldn’t need a war on drugs in the first place. People will still use it, they’ll just fund criminal activity in the process.

Given all the evidence, guess which way Labour – and thus the committee – voted. That’s right, a Tory-Labour authoritarian mini-coalition

Next up: Parliament bans the dangerous substance, cake.

*To be precise, the legislation still has to pass in the whole house, but now Labour have come out for the ban, there’s no doubt it’ll pass there too

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BBFC “porn” block appeals: Operators consider Girl Guides pornographic

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) operate an appeals system for over or under blocking of web content, following the implementation of Perry & Cameron’s Porn Filters. The appeals system is designed for cases where there is some dispute between operators and site owners about the blocking of sites.

Usefully, the BBFC have just published a report about which disputes they had to adjudicate on. So, what sites are tricky enough to handle that they needed external input from a regulator?

Firstly, cases of over-blocking:

  • A number of abortion related websites. Although “controversial for some“, the BBFC “found no content which we would classify at 18 or R18“.
  • A website that sells office supplies. The BBFC “found no content on the site which we would classify at 18 or R18.”
  • A web site about studying or working abroad. The BBFC “found no content on the site which we would classify at 18 or R18“.
  • A tool for generating passwords. The BBFC “found no content on the site which we would classify 18 or R18“.
  • A tool to help carers. The BBFC “found no content on the site which we would classify 18 or R18“.
  • Information related to motor insurance. The BBFC “found no content on the site which we would classify 18 or R18“.
  • The Girl Guides (!) web site. The BBFC found no content on the site which… well, you get the idea.

And there was one case of underblocking, of a site containing elements “encouraging members to post pictures of people they would rape, described as a ‘Rape Gallery’, alongside written comments about raping these individual.

Unsurprisingly, the BBFC “concluded that it would be classified at least 18 or R18, and might potentially be refused classification.

The remaining three cases were queries by operators, two in what appear to be a genuinely marginal case of “is this 18-rated porn” and one asking if they should be blocking a site on assisted suicide or not. So in at least some instances the operators acted responsibly, in the others…

…well, I’d love to see the support ticket where some poor helpdesk staff member had to justify blocking an office supplies website. I can only assume at least one mobile operator has an internal appeals policy that can be summarised by “LALALA, I’M NOT LISTENING”.

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Passport Office’s sham review into “unspecified” gender markers on passports

For those who have not followed the long-running saga of this, there has been pressure on the passport office for some time to consider allowing the use of X (Unspecified) in place of M or F for the gender marker on passports. This is of benefit to quite a few people, as society becomes more accepting of people who do not fit within the gender binary and a number of countries already permit this. It is also of potential use for someone who might travel under one gender but work under a different one, for example.

X as a marker is part of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard for passports, although it was originally intended for the handling of refugees where a large number of passports needed to be issued in a short space of time by someone who was not familiar with the gender of names in use in a culture. That’s less of an issue now than it used to be in the 1950s, but the standard remains.

Back in 2011, the Home Office and Passport Office promised to look into issuing UK passports with an X marker on them as part of the transgender action plan and partially in response to Australia doing the same. The resulting report was suppressed by the Passport Office for some time, but as a result of questions in the House of Commons last week and this week by Hugh Bayley, Julie Hilling and Stephen Doughty it’s now been released.

For some reason, the document is not on the online listing at the time of writing, but you can email the House of Commons Library to ask for a copy – I have uploaded a copy of the report here. (PDF link)

It is clear on reading the report why the Passport Office did not want it released, as it is written with little critical thought and with the obvious intention of trying to justify existing policy rather than explore new options.

Let’s skip ahead in the report to the most damning section first, option 5 on page 7 which gives the reasons they don’t want to allow X markers. Taking each point in order, we can quickly demolish the entire argument:

  • Mother-knows-best, because X markers would single out individuals (correctly) as having “no gender” and thus cause offense. It would appear the Passport Office are worried that people will be offended if they are treated appropriately.
  • People filling out forms are stupid, and might get it wrong. This is the same argument used to justify erasing poly households in the census when if it happens it really just suggests the form was poorly designed.
  • If someone’s gender is not obvious, they don’t know who should search a person at the border. The police already figured out how to handle this and the solution may shock you: They ask who you’d prefer to be searched by if it’s not obvious.
  • Apparently it’s expensive, although this is only an argument why it should be delayed until computer system changes are happening anyway rather than why it should not happen at all.
  • Other customers may request ‘X’ in their passports or in fact question whether HMPO should be asking what their gender is at all for the purpose of passport issuance and whether this is proportional“, i.e. if we allow unspecified as a marker then people might realise putting gender on passports really isn’t necessary. This phrase alone makes me fairly sure the document was not intended for public release.
  • Trans or non-binary folk might require “additional consular assistance” if they are stopped in certain countries. Like this doesn’t happen already if you visit the wrong place.
  • Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 prohibits them from outing trans folk. This is an argument against forcing people to have an X marker, not an argument against requesting an X marker.
  • Evidence of gender diversity needed for an applicant to be able to select ‘X’ as a gender marker would be difficult to produce“. This is only the case because the civil service wants to make it hard to produce and they say themselves (Without justification) that “self-identification would not be appropriate”. A simple ticky box on a form to select unspecified gender would be sufficient, or a statutory declaration of some form if they want to make things complicated. This is what GIRES suggested.

What follows is a fairly detailed deconstruction of the remaining points, which you may like to skip if you are not interested in the minutiae.

Section 1, page 2 is just a recap of existing policy, but as soon as we get on to paragraph 2.1 and 2.2 (Calls for change and petition) it becomes clear whoever wrote the report was poorly briefed. Both paragraphs talk about the old Identity Cards scheme allowing trans folk to have two passports, one per gender, which is not the same as having one passport with an unspecified gender marker on.

We do start to get a hint of another theme that runs through the document in 2.2(c), however, as the Passport Service adopts a mother-knows-best approach and apparently is a better judge than the trans and non-binary communities what would be in their best interest: The Identity Card Scheme provided for a transgendered person to have two ID cards…it may also create difficulties for the individual and may increase the potential for their involuntary outing.

According to section 2.3, the Passport Office “sought to speak to key stakeholder groups and to relevant parts of Government“. They did not seem to try very hard, given they only spoke to one internal civil service group, one campaigner (Christie Elan-Cane) and one external organisation. (GIRES) They completely forget to mention that it was included in the transgender action plan by the Government Equalities Office.

The next section, 2.4, points out “there are no outstanding applications in which the applicant has sought either change to the process of considering applications from transgendered people or of changing the passport itself with the gender marking“. Quite apart from being an appalling piece of English and nearly incomprehensible, what it appears to be saying is that nobody has applied for a gender-non-binary passport. This might be because, I don’t know, the forms don’t give you an option to apply for it?

And section 2.5, we’re back to mother-knows-best: “We remain open to suggestions for change but such a change would be on the basis that it was either required by law or that it provided additional benefits to the applicant. Choice is an important factor but we have received feedback that would suggest that enabling that choice may be more detrimental than beneficial.” It is not clear what feedback they are referring to, given the lack of scope of their consultation.

Just to be clear, there is quite a bit of emphasis in section 2.6 on the fact that because they have not been listening they have not heard the calls for X markers: “There have been very little public calls for the ‘X’ provision in the passport. … There are no calls for change from gender representative groups or civil liberties groups.” Even ignoring the political pressure to change, yhe only external group they consulted, GIRES, also asked them to change the current system. It is not clear why they make reference to “civil liberties groups”.

Section 3 is a worrying graph on “Gender in the life of a passport” that repeatedly asserts that any mismatch in apparent gender presentation could indicate potential fraud. It has clearly not occurred to the passport office that they are actually arguing against their own position here: If someone has a non-binary gender or variable gender presentation, then without an “X” marker they are more likely to face problems due to their appearance being taken as fraudulent.

They also miss the obvious point that is frequently raised in such situations that gender is at best a 50/50 discriminator and thus not particularly powerful. They even note elsewhere in the document that not all government-issued ID in the UK has a gender marker on it.

Section 4 covers legislative issues. They should probably have left this well alone, given it goes a long way to arguing against their position.

Firstly, (section 4.1), they state “legislation in other areas recognises only the genders Male and Female“. Whilst this might be true, there is an increasing move towards removing gender from legislation as it just gets messy when you start dealing with same-sex marriage, people transitioning and anyone who does not fit nearly into a male/female binary world view. A good example of this would be amendments to sexual offenses legislation which now defines rape not by the gender of the attacker but by use of a penis.

Section 4.3 talks about nationality, adoption and how nationality can only be passed on by a mother or father or, in certain cases, by the father. This is already complicated by same-sex marriage and the ability of people to transition. I am more than comfortable with the ability of the courts to quite simply handle what the Passport Office call “a complex undertaking”.

Section 4.4 talks about banks establishing identity. This really isn’t the Passport Office’s problem, but if it is then the same point as in section 3 stands: If someone has a non-binary or variable presentation, having the X marker on a passport helps rather than hinders.

Section 4.5 uses the phrase “third gender”. I am not comfortable with this language, as turns gender from binary to trinary. The whole point of this is that gender is fluid and on a spectrum, and not subject to being placed into little pots. Some people may identify as third gender, but not everyone. Both this and the following section, 4.6 start talking about issues outside the scope of the Passport Office.

Section 4.7 claims that a passport bearing an X gender marker might not be “recognised by other parts of government of wider UK society“. This implies that existing legitimate passports bearing an X gender marker, either because it is an old passport belonging to a refugee or because it is from a country that does issue them would not be accepted. I find this surprising, especially given that failure to accept such a passport would be a clear-cut violation of the Equalities Act 2010.

Section 5 details their options. Mostly, these cover choices not being campaigned for such as multiple passports with different gender markers so are not relevant, but there are enough egregious errors that it’s worth pointing some of them out:

Option 2, issuing two passports, mentions “One passport, one person“. This is not a strict rule, as many frequent travelers hold two passports. Typically, this is because they are traveling in parts of the world where it is not a good idea to reveal who else you have been visiting in the region and thus they can choose to use a passport without any incriminating entry/exit or visa stamps. The argument about creating two identities could apply to anyone changing their name (e.g. through marriage) or gender, and could happen anyway if someone obtains a new passport and retains their old one. Some parts of government remain obsessed with the idea that people transition just to commit fraud.

Options 3 and 4, removing gender from passports, gets hung up on the idea of violating international standards by removing the field and overlooks the obvious choice of simply replacing gender markers on all passports with X. It also goes on about it being a “security risk” for unsubstantiated reasons and makes the bizarre observation that might still ask for it on the forms, even if it is not on the passports.

I’ve covered option 5 above and I won’t get into section 6, costs, save to say that they are at best giving justification for not doing this now, rather than justification for not doing this in future. Forms will be reprinted and redesigned at some point anyway, as will computer systems, and the costs will be much lower if rolled into the normal update cycle of such things rather than being done immediately.

Section 7 covers notes in the informal discussions they held on the issue. The internal discussion with a:gender appears to have actually taken place with Sarah Rapson, the ex-Chief Executive of the Passport Office but this may be an error.

Section 8 covers the situation in other countries, although is of little real relevance. It mentions some countries are not safe for trans folk to travel to (This is not news, and is the case regardless of gender markers) but I did find it interesting that Argentina allows people to have an X marker on their passports simply by requesting it, with no other documentation required. Malaysia are reported to be considering removing gender from all passports, allegedly in violation of ICAO standards although it would be easy to just put X for everyone as I’ve noted. Oddly, the report does not mention that India is technically violating standards by using “E” (Eunuch) to identify Hijira on their passports. I find this omission odd because if anyone is going to have found problems with unusual gender markers on passports, it is going to be India, given the hijra community is estimated at being 5 million. (The number is not that surprising given the size of India – 5 million people is only around 0.4% of their population)

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More on the relationship between Stonewall and the trans communities

The departure of Ben Summerskill from Stonewall has renewed the age-old discussion about the relationship Stonewall has with trans folk. This is partially because the acting Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt, is known to be more trans-friendly but also due to an article written by Sarah Brown for Pink News. I’ve seen a few responses to this from the gay community, some of which are in the comments to the Pink News post – such as one person saying including the T in Stonewall would be “like having a blind man in a deaf support group“. The letter that Sarah published from a “Mr. W” is a good summary of the issues as seen from a gay cis (i.e. non-trans) male standpoint, so I’ll use that as a framework.

Firstly, who are Stonewall in this context? They are not the same organisation as Stonewall Housing or Stonewall Scotland, both of whom are trans-inclusive. The reason for the common name is that several organisations have named themselves after the Stonewall riots of 1969. Most narratives have the riots being started as a result of police harassment of trans women and cross-dressers, so the fact Stonewall use that name but don’t include trans issues generates friction from the outset.

It really should not be surprising then that there was the 2008 protest outside the Stonewall awards when noted transphobe Julie Bindel was up for an award: She was being nominated for an award in the name of riots started due to oppression of trans folk.

What Stonewall do campaign for is same-sex relationships, i.e. mostly focused on gay and lesbian issues, although bisexual folk such as myself do get a look-in as long as we’re in a same-sex relationship.

So, on to the letter Sarah published:

As far as I am aware from speaking to some of my trans friends, most believe that they are the sex that they wish to be transitioned to and they want usually to date people of the opposite sex. Its rare a man changes to woman and then dates a woman and the same goes for women wishing to do the same. Most trans people do not believe that they are gay and therefor I fail to see what the gay scene can offer them.

Research suggests that less than half of trans folk are heterosexual post-transition – some people are simply asexual, but there are as many people that identify as bisexual or homosexual post-transition as straight. It’s a common enough misconception though, because trans folk needed to fit a certain erroneous narrative in days gone by in order to access medical care but those dark days are now mostly behind us.

Regardless, there has always been a huge crossover. Many straight trans women started out as effeminate gay men or as cross-dressers, and many trans men started off within the lesbian scene. People’s identities may change, but they will still retain links with activist groups they used to be or continue to be members of. And homophobia, biphobia and transphobia all have common roots: “We don’t like people who transgress gender norms.”

There are some people who may never have identified with the LGB community in any way – either because they are straight and transitioned young before sexuality was an issue, or went from being heterosexual pre-transition to being heterosexual post-transition. But this is rare.

It is about time some one with your influence created an established advice line for trans people run by trans people, so that the right information can be given and when problems need to be talked over there is an adviser who will understand more closely what experiences the person have been through.

Stonewall and other gay charities raise most of the money through the gay, lesbian and bi volunteers collecting money and in this austere time it does not go far, they need that money for its intended purpose i.e to counsel and advise people in same sex relationships and safer sex.

…and this is really the big issue. Stonewall and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation soak up the lion’s share of funding aimed at the LGBT+ community, and until recently the lion’s share of lobbying time. Despite Stonewall being quite clear they don’t cover trans issues, people feel by consulting with or funding Stonewall in particular that they’ve “ticked the boxes” for the LGBT community and move on to other things. Even the Court of Appeal make this mistake: a judgement published just today on the “gay cure” bus adverts refers to “Stonewall, an organisation that works for equality and justice for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

This leaves trans helplines, of which there have been a few, with little funding and even less access to publicity. This isn’t Stonewall’s fault, it’s a genuine misunderstanding on their part, but more needs to be done to ensure bisexual and trans campaigners and support groups get publicity.

As an aside, I’ll note the trans community isn’t immune from criticism in this regard. As I understand it, trans lobbyists pointed out to the Civil Service that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 would have a negative impact on intersex individuals but the Civil Service failed to actually talk to anyone suitable because it wasn’t pushed hard enough. When dealing with slow, bureaucratic organisations there is a tricky balance to be struck between being too passive and saying simply “we don’t do this” and inappropriate “white knighting”, i.e. speaking on behalf of people you shouldn’t.

Historically, Stonewall have managed to end up heavily on whichever side of that balance is worst for the trans community at that moment in time, but I am hopeful that will change.

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“X” gender markers on passports (Again)

Long term readers may remember I have written before about the possibility of X (“Unspecified”) gender markers on passports. It looked like we were getting somewhere on this, until in the middle of last year the Identity and Passport Service decided it was too difficult, and refused.

Thanks to the work of Christie Elan-Cane, the issue is not dead yet. There is an Early Day Motion doing the rounds on this topic, number 907.

If your MP hasn’t signed yet, why not ask them to put their name to it?

You can use WriteToThem to find out who your MP is and contact them directly from the web site.

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Unnecessary calls for voter ID in the UK

In the news last week were reports that the Electoral Commission wants to introduce mandatory photo ID before people can vote in England, Wales and Scotland. (It’s already a requirement in Northern Ireland)

The obvious reason for wanting to do this is an attempt to reduce electoral fraud in the UK, which is laudable. (For those not familiar with UK elections, the current system means you can only vote in one location, and your name is crossed off the list once you’ve voted, preventing voting twice)

But there are always drawbacks. In this case, two – firstly, the obvious that you get with nearly any measure is that it will cost. In order for this to work, the Electoral Commission or Returning Officers locally would need a process of issuing electoral ID to anyone who does not have a driving license or passport.

The second drawback is the one that is of more concern, and that is disenfranchisement. It is far more likely that marginalised groups will not have a driving license or passport, or have changed their name recently via marriage, or have a name that doesn’t translate into English consistently, which could cause problems matching up ID with voter records.

So, do the benefits of introducing voter ID outweigh the problems? It would seem not.

Widespread voter fraud does get detected in a number of ways by those involved in the process, such as individuals being seen voting more than once, people attempting to vote twice, (Once legitimately, once fraudulently by an imposter) known deceased people voting and so on. Despite this, only 25 allegations of voter impersonation at a polling stations were recorded by the Electoral Commission in 2012. (PDF Link, see paragraph 1.16) 19 of those related to one specific area, Peterborough. The Electoral Commission also highlights that none of these cases had any influence on any election result.

You’d not know this from reading press coverage, as news outlets list all electoral fraud, not cases that would have been stopped by mandatory voter ID. The Daily Mail is, unsurprisingly perhaps, the worst at this, with four of the five cases they listed having nothing to do with voter impersonation at polling stations. The fifth case involved corrupt polling station staff, so requiring polling station staff to check ID would not have helped. But it was not just the Daily Mail, as Channel 4 news also fell into this trap, citing the 2004 case in Birmingham which was down to postal vote fraud, not in-person fraud.

So why the push for ID? The Guardian gives us a clue, stating “tightening of the rules is necessary to restore public confidence following fears of ballot-rigging“. But we need to turn to the Electoral Commission’s own paper on the issue (PDF link, paragraphs 3.28 onwards) for the full story. They are pushing for ID checks for voters not because of fraud or even because they think it will have any impact on fraud, but purely because asking leading questions suggests the public think it will reduce fraud.

I would rather the Electoral Commission spent the money on voter education, rather than fixing a problem we don’t have and inevitably creating new problems.

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The Porn Block Fiasco goes mainstream

The knowledge that attempting to block porn on the internet is bound to backfire has now gone mainstream. (BBC News, Telegraph) Well, there’s a temptation to say “we told you so”, because we did. Repeatedly.

So far, sites we know that are subject to overblocking on either TalkTalk and BT include BishUK (a sexual education site for teenagers), LGBTfriend, Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Sexual Abuse Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline and Reducing The Risk (Another domestic abuse help site).

At the same time, the filters failed to do what they were supposed to – when BBC Newsnight tested on TalkTalk, 7% of porn sites were still accessible.

The trouble is one of resource – the same problem that makes “Report Abuse” buttons problematic. As of the end of 2012, there were over 600 million web sites on the internet. We’re probably over a billion by now.

If all 2,500 TalkTalk employees spent their entire time checking web sites, averaging one minute per site to classify it, it would still take over three years to check a billion web pages – by which time there would be another billion sites to check. You can filter this some as only around a third to a quarter of sites have unique content, but even with 2,500 staff you’ll never be able to keep up with new content.

The solution will inevitably involve technology, perhaps with some human input for the top 0.01% of sites. (One person can probably get through that much in about a year) But it’s only in the last three or four years that the so-called Scunthorpe Problem has been mostly solved, with notable recent relapses including Virgin Media censoring TV programme descriptions in 2011 if they included “anal” (As in “Arsenal”) and “dick”. (As in Dickens)

Given these problems, is it any wonder that automated filters are going to get it wrong spectacularly often? It doesn’t help that the whole system is shrouded in secrecy, with no notification of blocking, no way of checking what sites are being blocked and no clear appeals process.

The problems with such systems have been well known within the industry for years, which will have been a large reason why ISPs resisted implementing these filters and only did so under pressure from government ministers.

Oh, and as to the most serious problems facing children on the internet – Grooming, Cyberbullying, etc? Filters don’t help there at all.

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The slippery slope to political Internet censorship

It has been revealed today that Cameron is planning on ordering Internet Service Providers to block “extremist” websites.

It may surprise some people, but I don’t have a problem with this. The reason I’m not worried is that it’s not going to work, because Cameron wants to use the anti-Child-Abuse Cleanfeed system to do it. One of the many criticisms of Cleanfeed is that it’s completely ineffective in the face of either a web site host or an end user with even a hint of technical ability, and there are even US Navy-sponsored initiatives to help users in oppressive regimes get around blocks.

The counter-argument by Cleanfeed is that it is not designed to stop “determined access”, just inadvertent access to unwelcome images. So it would seem the new system will prevent inadvertent access to terrorist and extremist web sites, not something that will likely have any significant access besides a few “Tough on terrorism” headlines in the Daily Mail.

What I do have a problem with is the slippery slope. When Cleanfeed was first introduced, many assurances were given that it would only be used to block images of child abuse. We’ve already seen that go wrong with the accidental block of Wikipedia, and it appears the secret list will now be extended to content someone, somewhere deems “extremist”. First it will be the obvious targets, but what about websites calling for civil disobedience or protest? The police will no doubt have some input into the block list and do you think they will be able to resist the temptation to add sites causing them headaches?

Mysteriously, they will become inaccessible with no way of verifying if you are on the list and no appeal.

This is worrying when it happens to mainstream websites, because Cleanfeed is somewhat dishonest and doesn’t tell you that you have hit a blocked site. Instead, you receive a generic File-not-found message. Not being a terrorist, why would you bother installing any mechanism to work around the blocks? No doubt people will figure out they have been blocked eventually, but in the case of a time-critical demonstration the damage could already have been done.

And once it is in place, might the powers that be try even more desperately to find ways of closing the loopholes in the system? I doubt this would work, given even China has failed in this regard so far, but there is a huge amount of collateral damage that could happen if they tried.

No doubt Cameron will say he doesn’t want to do any of the above, but will there be sufficient safeguards put in place? We saw when David Miranda was stopped at an Airport, where supposed anti-Terrorism powers were abused due to a lack of appropriate rules and oversight, that such things are critical. And what prevents a future, less liberally minded, parliament from quietly chipping away at those safeguards once the system is operational. Being a secret system, how would the public know?

If Cameron wants to do this, he needs to propose a better way than Cleanfeed. A more transparent system, with judicial oversight. And then we can talk.

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Politican of the year results

The results are in!

There was a strong showing by Sarah Brown, who was in the lead early on and was two votes shy of winning. Lynne Featherstone was also not far behind. However, we can announce that the person whom the trans community feels has made the most difference in the last year is…

Julian Huppert MP
“Can’t remember any other politician speaking so forcefully on issues affecting T* people”
“…for good work re marriage plus support shown to non-binary people”
Julian Huppert MP

Congratulations Julian, and keep up the good work.

(For those wondering about the delay in publishing results – it did not seem appropriate to post this last week, given TDoR events were ongoing for most of the week)

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