UK Ditches Ban On ‘Legal But Harmful’ Online Content In Favor of Free Speech

Britain will not force tech giants to remove content that is “legal but harmful” from their platforms after campaigners and lawmakers raised concerns that the move could curtail free speech, the government said on Monday. Reuters reports: Online safety laws would instead focus on the protection of children and on ensuring companies removed content that was illegal or prohibited in their terms of service, it said, adding that it would not specify what legal content should be censored. Platform owners, such as Facebook-owner Meta and Twitter, would be banned from removing or restricting user-generated content, or suspending or banning users, where there is no breach of their terms of service or the law, it said.

The government had previously said social media companies could be fined up to 10% of turnover or 18 million pounds ($22 million) if they failed to stamp out harmful content such as abuse even if it fell below the criminal threshold, while senior managers could also face criminal action. The proposed legislation, which had already been beset by delays and rows before the latest version, would remove state influence on how private companies managed legal speech, the government said. It would also avoid the risk of platforms taking down legitimate posts to avoid sanctions. […]

The revised Online Safety Bill, which returns to parliament next month, puts the onus on tech companies to take down material in breach of their own terms of service and to enforce their user age limits to stop children circumventing authentication methods, the government said. If users were likely to encounter controversial content such as the glorification of eating disorders, racism, anti-Semitism or misogyny not meeting the criminal threshold, the platform would have to offer tools to help adult users avoid it, it said. Only if platforms failed to uphold their own rules or remove criminal content could a fine of up to 10% of annual turnover apply. Britain said late on Saturday that a new criminal offense of assisting or encouraging self-harm online would be included in the bill.

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Everyone Is Bullying the UK Government In Its Own Discord Server

The UK Treasury has opened an account on Discord to a torrent of abuse from users of the gamer-focused chat app — abuse they managed to send despite the government blocking all comments on the service. The Guardian reports: With its community-focused approach, where servers encourage tight-knit groups to form and discuss issues related to the overall focus of the topic, Discord may seem an odd fit for the strait-laced world of government communications. But the app has a lot of users interested in finance, thanks to solid take-up among day traders and crypto fans, two groups the Treasury is eager to connect with. The result: a read-only Discord server, where the only user who is allowed to post is the snappily named HMTreasurySocialAdmin1, who shares tweet-length news about the Treasury and chancellor.

But trolls will always find a way. Although posting is banned, emoji reactions are enabled, letting any user respond to a post from the Treasury with a single emoji, and new users are cheerily announced in a “welcome” channel. That means the Treasury’s server has been eagerly posting automated messages such as, “Welcome, LOCK UP PRINCE ANDREW. We hope you brought pizza,” and “Welcome Jeremy Corbyn. Say hi!”. The latter does not appear to be the real account of the former leader of the opposition. […] UPDATE: Emoji reactions and the welcome channel vanished but eventually returned. According to the HM Treasure admin, Discord is the reason to blame for the issues.

“Due to the rapid growth of today’s channel which has seen over 7,000 members join, a technical difficulty has led to reactions being paused,” a post in the news channel read. “We are working with Discord to get reactions turned back on.” The trolling can be continued here.

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Rishi Sunak Is the First Crypto Enthusiast To Serve In UK’s Top Office

Gizmodo points out that the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, Rishi Sunak, “is a certified Crypto Bro who once requested that the Royal Mint issue an NFT.” From the report: During his tenure as finance minister under former PM Boris Johnson, Sunak was in charge of advancing a number of crypto-related initiatives that sought to normalize digital currencies and integrate them into the British economy. By all accounts, he is the first crypto enthusiast to serve in the UK’s top office. He’s also the first person of color and the youngest PM — 42 years old — that Britain’s had in 200 years. To be fair, Sunak’s efforts at crypto promotion have at least trended towards regulation and taxation as opposed to total laissez faire deregulated madness — though those efforts could, ultimately, simply normalize a phenomenon that critics say is redundant at best and a privacy hazard at worst. In April, Sunak announced a series of programs to turn the UK into what he called a “global cryptoasset technology hub.” Among the initiatives announced at the time was a plan to integrate stablecoins into the national payment system, thus “paving their way for use in the UK as a recognized form of payment.” Considered to be the least volatile form of cryptocurrency, stablecoins have seen more interest by governments than other forms of crypto — though projects like Terra and Tether have shown the potential danger in putting too much faith in the assets’ stability.

Sunak’s plans also suggested creating additional regulations that would’ve helped further incorporate crypto into the UK’s economic and legal framework, thus spurring greater investment in the space. “The measures we’ve outlined today will help to ensure firms can invest, innovate and scale up in this country,” Sunak wrote in a press release published at the time. Another ambitious initiative pushed by Sunak was the Financial Services and Markets Bill, a piece of legislation that would give local governments in Britain broad discretion to regulate cryptocurrencies, thus further assimilating them into the nation’s economy. The bill, which has not yet passed, is currently being looked at by Parliament.

At the same time, Sunak also recently backed a study to look at the potential benefits of creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC), or “Britcoin” as he dubbed it. Proponents of CBDCs argue that they could have benefits for spenders, making payments “faster, cheaper, and more secure,” as one op-ed puts it. However, critics argue that they are unnecessary and could ultimately spell huge privacy troubles, given the trackable nature of crypto and digital currencies. Despite his crypto track record, analysts have suggested that is is unlikely Sunak will have time to focus much on any web3-related initiatives in the near term. Given Britain’s current economic dumpster fire, any work on “Britcoin” might have to take a backseat.

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Britain’s Failure To Build is Throttling Its Economy

An anonymous reader shares a report: Building in Britain is never easy, often difficult and sometimes impossible. The country has become a vetocracy, in which many people and agencies have the power to stymie any given development. The Town and Country Planning Act, passed in 1947, in effect nationalised the right to build. Decisions about whether to approve new projects are made by politicians who rely on the votes of nimbys (“Not in my back yard”), notes (“Not over there, either”) and bananas (“Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything”). Green belts, which were designed to stop suburban sprawl, have achieved precisely that. These enormous no-build zones enjoy Pyongyangesque levels of support among voters, who picture them as rural idylls rather than the mish-mash of motorways, petrol stations, scrubland and golf courses that they are in reality. Strict environmental laws protect many creatures, especially cute ones like bats. Judges strike down government decisions if they are based on a botched process because Britain respects the rule of law.

In isolation, each part of the planning system may seem unobjectionable. But the whole thing is a disaster. Britain’s failure to build enough is most pronounced when it comes to housing. England has 434 homes per 1,000 people, whereas France has 590. Its most dynamic cities can barely expand outwards, and are frequently prevented from shooting skywards as well. But the problems extend well beyond housing. Britain has not built a reservoir since 1991 or finished a new nuclear-power station since 1995. hs2, a high-speed railway, is the first new line connecting large British cities since the 19th century. Even modest projects, such as widening the a66 road across northern England, take over a decade. The result is frustration and slower economic growth. A truly bold government could transform the planning system. A proper land-value tax would weaken the perverse incentives to keep city centres underdeveloped and encourage landlords to build or sell up. Scrapping or shrinking the green belt is a no-brainer. A rules-based system, with local authorities declaring loose zones of development and letting developers build within them, would be preferable to a discretionary system that leaves each decision in the hands of capricious politicians.

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No 10 Suspected of Being Target of NSO Spyware Attack, Boris Johnson ‘Told’

Boris Johnson has been told his Downing Street office has been targeted with “multiple” suspected infections using Pegasus, the sophisticated hacking software that can turn a phone into a remote listening device, it was claimed on Monday. The Guardian reports: A report released by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto said the United Arab Emirates was suspected of orchestrating spyware attacks on No 10 in 2020 and 2021. Pegasus is the hacking software — or spyware — developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli firm NSO Group. It has the capability to infect phones running either iOS or Android operating systems. Citizen Lab added there had also been suspected attacks on the Foreign Office over the same two years that were also associated with Pegasus operators linked to the UAE — as well as India, Cyprus and Jordan.

The researchers, considered among the world’s leading experts in detecting digital attacks, announced they had taken the rare step of notifying Whitehall of the attack as it “believes that our actions can reduce harm.” However, they were not able to identify the specific individuals within No 10 and the Foreign Office who are suspected of having been hacked. “The suspected infections relating to the FCO were associated with Pegasus operators that we link to the UAE, India, Cyprus and Jordan. The suspected infection at the UK prime minister’s office was associated with a Pegasus operator we link to the UAE.”

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