PunterNet, PR, and Bad Driving

Harriet Harman is not having a good time. She is accused of failing to stop at road traffic accident, she was embroiled in the  expenses claims fiasco, and she is the deputy leader of a party that just got dropped by the biggest selling paper in the UK. But, this is not why she is on this site.

She is mentioned here because of her statements about the website Punter Net. As the name of the site implies PunterNet is a website, for “punters”, or more precisely clients of prostitutes. It could be described as being similar to a Which? forum for users of prostitutes (not that Which? would like that analogy). PunterNet provides a surprisingly large amount of information about the prostitutes that are reviewed, for everything from costs and location, right down to wheel chair access.

Harriet Harman called for the website to be banned. And, as the site is hosted in California, she address the comment directly to the Californian governor, Arnold Swartzenager

Ms Harman’s exact statement was:

Surely it can’t be too difficult for the Terminator to terminate PunterNet…..If he doesn’t I’ve got a message for Arnie – I’ll be back!

British politicians don’t really pull off the James Bond style quips very well; Ms even Harman less so. Particularly, because it doesn’t make any sense.

Assuming that the Governor chooses to push forward a law to ban this site, and then California legislates against the site, both of which are a huge assumptions, then the site will simply be moved elsewhere. It could move to a neighboring state, or a different country, there will be no difference whatsoever.

What is frightening is that Harriet Harman doesn’t seem to know this. Presumably she is not aware that there are many sites in the world that contain material that the UK government doesn’t like, but can still be viewed from the UK. Everything from Al Qaeda promotional websites to child abuse images and extreme pornography. If she is not aware of this she is remarkably ill informed.

Even more strange is the fact that UK government effectively  operate a firewall that allows them to block almost anything and everything they want to. This has happened for quite some time, but hit the mainstream press recently when a page from Wikipedia was blocked.

How can the deputy prime minster not know this?

More accurately, either she, her advisors and script writers didn’t know any of this, or they did know this and still decided to push the idea of closing down a website, operating legally in a different country, as it fits in with their personal agenda.

The net effect?

The statements by Harriet Harman were in fact so ridiculous that the owners of PunterNet, stated that the recent press had produced lots of new traffic for the site:

I would like to thank you for the huge influx of traffic to my website which your actions have caused….I am sure that the ladies who are a part of the PunterNet community thank you as well, as they will no doubt benefit financially from the many new clients who might otherwise never have found them.

The Law

Historically, the UK has allowed prostitution. Rather choosing to legislate against those who exploit women, banning (in theory) brothels and pimps, put allowing individual women, working for themselves, to make their own choices; the morals for this are not commented on here. Therefore its strange that the UK Government wants to ban  a site, in a different country, which advertises something which can be legal both in the country it resides and the UK. Has she not seen all the adverts in UK magazines, and phone boxes, advertising “escorts”?

Police experience in the UK has learnt that providing safe environments for women to sell sex is the lesser of the two evils, when compared to the problems of “street walkers”. As a result, in many areas the police have decriminalized prostitution, by allowing the practice to continue unhindered.

The government states that they are concerned that about a spike in the sex industry during the Olympics and want to take action to stop this: This is laudable and may be accurate, with previous major sporting events showing a huge increase in the use of prostitutes. This demand for sex for cash leads to the demand for more prostitutes which, in turn, can lead to sex trafficking; and all of the human horrors that brings with it.

If it’s the governments intent is to stop the eastern European gangs kidnapping and moving young women around Europe, then perhaps the best place to start is not shutting down a website that operates in California, and has been since  1999 (according to the WHOIS database)

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Girls (Scream) Aloud: A Test Case?

Is the Girls (Scream) Aloud case really a test case? Does it affect any laws?

The horror/porn/rape story of involving Girls Aloud has generated thousands of articles, and huge media interest as it was to be biggest test of the obscene publications act since the Lady Chatterley case.

The rules of the game where simple:

Darryn Walker was arrested for writing and publishing a story that, by any “normal” moral standard is awful, he would be tried in court in relation to definition of obscenity. The outcome of the game was one of two options:

1) If Mr. Walker was found guilty then this would be a landmark decision on what cannot be published on the internet, this would be a “triumph for moral decency”.

2) If Mr. Walker was found not guilty, then it would a “triumph for freedom of speech”. This would effectively mean that the Obscene publications act was dead.

People on both sides of the divide were vocal in the fact that they were, without doubt, right.

In a country where Nuts and Zoo make soft porn common place, the idea that Lady Chatterley’s lover was banned, for so long, seems astounding. But even in these times where, according to a BBC survey, the most popular career choice for young female British teens is “Glamour Model”, the Girls (Scream) Aloud story is truly offensive, by most standards.

But does that mean it should be banned?

If it had just been written in a book the case, and the ramifications, would have been more clearly defined.But it was published on the internet the case was far more complex. To make matters more interesting, the servers the story was originally published in where outside of the UK.

Was the UK going to legislate about data outside of the UK? Parliament can do that, but would they?

The Obscene Publications Act is currently aimed at UK material, would the courts want to effectively change legislation? Because of these questions the case had massive consequences. The UK Government could have used their ability to censor material on the internet with technology, rather than making a case out of it. The government use technology to filter the internet regulary and with controversial subjects. Or they could have made a deal for the data to be removed.

Despite other options being available, the decision was made to press charges.

The result of this huge trial? Not Guilty.

So a triumph for freedom of speech? Well not quite.

On the day of the judgment, 29th June 2009, Mr Walker was found not guilty, but this was because the Crown Prosecution Service, effectively walked away from the case when they offered no evidence.

This was largely because the prosecution had stated that the material could be found with the simple searches, and possibly by those who are genuinely looking for information on Girls Aloud. However the defense provided evidence that showed the story could only be found with specific searches. With this the CPS withdrew, and the judge submitted a formal verdict of not guilty.

But as no judgment was given about the case, the facts were not discussed or debated. As a result this is not really a test case, though it’s probably a show of the CPS resolve, or lack of it, to prosecute in these circumstances.

Girls (Scream) Aloud Update: Not Guilty

In the landmark case, know as the “Girls (Scream) Aloud” case, in which Darryn Walker was tried for writing a horror/horrific story about the famous group, he has been found not guilty.

The case was hailed as a major test for internet censorship in the same was as Lady Chatterley’s  lover was. The case, which started in 2008 was, initially, due to be heard earlier in the year, but was pushed back until today.

Tim Owen QC, defending,stated that “It was never his [Mr Walker’s] intention to frighten or intimidate the members of Girls Aloud….He had written what he had described as an adult celebrity parody and was only meant to be for an audience of like-minded people.

“As soon as he was aware of the upset and fuss that had been created, he took steps himself to take the article off the website….This type of writing is widely available on the Internet in an unregulated and uncensored form.”

Mr Owen also stated that “In terms of its alleged obscenity, it is frankly no better or worse than other articles.”

Judge Esmond Faulks formally returned a not guilty verdict to the charge of publishing an obscene article.

Internet Censorship: Rating for Websites?

Data is being lost by the UK government faster than the bloggers can keep up. New laws are being created faster than ever before, and more and more surveillance and censorship systems are being put in place.

So, as the year  2008 closes, what sensible plan does the UK government put forward? Limitations on surveillance? Instructions to the police to delete all DNA samples of innocent people?

No, the government, in the guise of Andy Burnham MP talks about putting an age ranking/certification on websites.

If this was any other Western country, this would be thought of as joke, its more Kim Jong il, than freedom and democracy.

The plan has to be crackers, accept for one thing, they could be just stupid enough to try and enforce it.

Historically, this type of plan would have been thought impossible, too many websites being created every day, who would manage it, etc. But with the technology already in place in the UK, this is now,  sadly,  quit possible. There will always be loop holes, and ways around it, but they will only be for the minority, not the majority.

Andrew Burnham  stated “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now

From this it can only be assumed that Mr Burnham is seriously considering changing the  architecture of the internet; to a place where the governments can always reach.

He goes on to say that: “I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading.”

Its nice to know that people like Mr Burnham will become the voice of who decides what we can and can not view.

While beheadings may be awful, its important to know what is going on in Iraq. Some may say its distasteful to watch people being blown up, but the UK and US governments routinely release videos of exactly this. Some people even put these videos to patriotic music (Note: its only extremist to do this if your Muslim).

It is entirely possible that the UK government forces websites to have a “rating” or “content” marking system attached to them, and then the likes of CleanFeed can then be used to filter out content, depending on the viewer. This approach which would make it easier to see who is viewing what – by category, i.e take some of the brunt of the data mining work out of the government databases, and putting it back onto the website owners. The government could simply block sites that refused to use the certificates, or were found to be deliberately using the wrong one.

Alternatively CleanFeed could be adapted to be a more general filter. This technology exists and is used, quite legitimately, by companies like WebSense, to block inappropriate content within businesses.

Its quite common for a company to pay for a service to ensure that staff do not view certain sites, e.g sex related sites, or gambling related sites – some companies even block their staff looking for jobs.

It is entirey feasible that this type technology is deployed within every ISP in the UK, therefore stopping the UK citizens viewing whatever material the government at the time decides is inappropriate.

For the best demonstration of this technology look at China.

Will Andrew Burnham be going on a fact finding mission to Beijing, to see how they stop people getting access to the free press on day to day basis?

For those interested Mr Burnhams voting record is the same as everybody else who is keen on internet censorship:

He was strongly for the Iraq War, but against an enquiry into it. He is for ID cards, and anti-terror laws, but against a transparent parliament.

It’s a case of monitoring for good for you, but not for me.

Internet Censorship: Suicide

Earlier this year the UK government stated it will change the law to make it illegal to promote suicide on web sites.

There is already a law covering this, to a degree, the Suicide Act 1961. This act makes it  illegal  “aid, abet, counsel, or procure” in a suicide attempt, i.e it is illegal to help somebody to commit suicide.

Section 2 of the Act states that:

A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

But, while its illegal to assist in suicide, it is no longer  illegal to actually commit suicide (contrary to popular myth), and Section 1 of the 1961 Act makes that very clear  – “The rule of law whereby it is a crime for a person to commit suicide is hereby abrogated.”

One of the people calling for the change in the law is MP John Robertson (pictured below),  the Labour MP for Glasgow North West.John Robertson

Mr Robertson,  has an interesting voting record:

Voting against an investigation into the Iraq War.

Votingagainst a transparent parliament

Voting very strongly for ID cards and the controversial anti-terror laws.

He also had £147,000 worth of expenses last year, on top of his salary. Clearly a beacon of light in liberty in this crazy world we live in.

Previously it has not been illegal to merely provide information to somebody wanting to commit suicide, i.e courts did not see that as a breach of Section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act.  If the law is changed then this will override the 40 years of case law.

It is often stated that the longer case law stands the more valid it is, but not to the UK government.

Part of this call for censorship is due to the knee jerk reaction to the suicides in Bridgend. Which, in-spite all of the clamor and hype, stopped just as randomly as they started.

In fact despite all the media coverage about the subject, and the increased Internet debates discussing the issue, the rate of suicides did not continue to increase, but stopped completely.

i.e there was far more information about suicides after the 17th death in Bridgend than before the 1st suicide, but despite all of this information tthe suicides did not continue increase but stopped.

Therefore those drawing a direct link between the suicides and Internet activity have a major statistical hurdle to cross.

No doubt in 5 years time a study will be conducted and it will show that the 17 deaths were just a statistical anomaly, and there was a drop in suicides in the year before or after (its not very interesting for newspapers to report “SEVENTEEN LESS SUICIDES THIS YEAR!”)

While it may appear innocent and acceptable, like so many other laws, to ban the promotion of suicide, the law, like so many others before it, will actually go much further.

The new law, if it is ever passed, will seek to stop Internet debates/forums on the subject and will also cover assisted suicide/euthanasia – which is legal in other countries – and a reasonable subject to debate.

If this law does get passed, it could easily be amended to prevent debates and web sites on other related subjects, such as alternative pain relief (often using cannabis).

Is it more censorship that is required, or more responsibility and education?

Internet Censorship: Teen Sex (US)

Early this year a case  in Florida raised an interesting case, involving child pornography v consensual sex.

Two teenagers, 16 and 17, were involved in a consensual sexual relationship.

The 16 and 17 year old took pictures of themselves, with a digital camera, of some of their sexual activities, and then emailed each other the pictures .  Some how the police became aware of this case and decided to arrest and prosecute the teenagers involved.

In Florida both the teenagers were above the legal age of consent, and therefore there was no offence of underage sex (or similar). However, the couple involved were below the age for sexual photography (as they would be in the UK, under Sexual Offences Act 2003), as a result the material was deemed to be pedophilic in nature, and the couple were involved in making and distributing it – even though there was no allegation of anything other than consensual sex, or that anyone other than the couple (until the police were called) had seen the images.

The couple appealed, but the Florida Appeals court, upheld the conviction.

This case would be a difficult one to judge, because of the effect of case law it is not just the merits of this case that must be considered, but all future cases. For example, if the judge, at appeal, had said “not guilty, because they are consensual”, then any person involved in distrubting, creating, or possesing images of 16 year old’s having sex would have the defence that the individuals were consenting, and the court would have to prove otherwise. Which can be difficult when those appearing in the photographs can not be traced.

The problem then gets worse, if peadophile is in possesion of pictures two 13 years old having sex, he could argue that they are 16 (they just look young), and that it is consensual. The prosecution would need to find the victims in the photograph to prove that they are both under 16 and not consenting, which is difficult, and can be impossible in many cases, given the international nature of the images.

Therefore the judge’s probably did not have any choice but to uphold the case,  which is unfortuante for the couple involved.

Internet Censorhip: Girls (Scream) Aloud

Update: Darryn Walker Found Not Guilty

Update: Is the Girls (Scream) Aloud case, really a test case?

A major test case relating to censorship in the UK will be held in 2009, with the trail date set for March 16th 2009.

The trial is that of Darryn Walker (aged 35), who wrote a 12 page blog article detailing the kidnap, rape, mutilation, and murder of the entire girls aloud band.

Darryn was initially labelled as stalking Girls Aloud in July 2008, by a vareity of websites. But, by stalking these news articles  mean “writing stories about”, rather than the following and watching with binoculars type of stalking. Its also interesting to see the sites running this original story; its was not hard hitting news and the legal press, rather it is the entertainment news sites.  Could it be that the PR staff of Girls Aloud put this story out, rather than being asked for it?

However, despite any additional actions (apparently) by the the author of the blogs, Darryn Walker. He, Darryn Walker, was tracked down and arrested for writing the articles. Most interestingly Walker was been charged under the Obscene Publications Act. At his original hearing Walker did not enter a plea (i.e did not say guilty or not guilty), and a full trial has been set for March 16th 2009.

This trial is interesting for several reason. Firstly the Obscene Publications Act is not really aimed at targeting text, but rather images, photographs and the like, and its most famous for the “Lady Chatterley Case”, which it failed in. If the CPS win the case, they could bring in a whole new set of powers to stop “offensive” stories being published.

Secondly, this is interesting due to what they are determining as obscene.  Clearly, the nature of the material is disgusting to all but a very select few, but it does not involve children, and a simple search for sex stories sites, will quickly reveal stories about incest, abuse, rape, child abuse, humiliation, etc.

These sites do not have illegal pictures, but lots and lots of stories, some of a very harrowing nature.

These stories are easy to access, with no payment, passwords, or security, and available from the front page of Google, they could not be easier easy to find. But the police have never taken action against these sites and, perhaps more interestingly the IWF has never blocked these sites.

So why are the police and CPS  now taking action in this case? This case is against one individual, instead of entire companies making money from this material? Its not the worst story on the internet, and until recently it was not the easiest to access, it does not involve children, though it is horrific.  Is it because the Girls Aloud team pushed for it?

Also, how does this story differ in nature from the “Torture Porn” genere of movies, such as Saw or Hostel, which feature the kidnap, murder and mutilation of girls.

Whatever the reason it will be major test case for the country.

The CPS are probably hoping that Walker will plead guilty before March, and not have to run the gauntlet of setting case law, on such a major issue, for the next generation.

The additional irony to this is that UMG ( Girls Aloud belong to UMG) and Lionsgate ( Saw is owned by LionsGate), got together in 2005 to throw their weight behind BlueRay DVD, to bringing us, the sexy but decent Girls Aloud , and torture porn of Saw, straight to your home, in High Def!