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UK Porn Ban Will Take Effect in July

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  • The UK announced on Wednesday that it will implement a new law effectively banning people from viewing online pornography unless they have explicitly proven they are 18 or older.
  • The law, which is set to go into effect July 15, will require pornography providers to implement a “rigorous” age-verification process, and punish websites that fail to comply by withdrawing payment services or blocking the websites entirely from being viewed in the UK.
  • While the government has promised data security and privacy protections, opponents of the law have said it could lead to the creation of a database of UK porn viewers that could be susceptible to scammers stealing identification documents or leaks exposing other private information.

UK to Ban Porn

A new law in the UK set to go into effect in July will ban people from accessing online porn without first verifying that they are over 18.

The government officials confirmed Wednesday that the UK will become the first country in the world to implement a “rigorous” age-verification process for online pornography. The law will come into force on July 15.

Once the law goes into effect, internet pornography websites will be required to check that all users are at least 18-years-old. Websites that do not comply with the new law will risk having their sites blocked for all UK users or risk having their payment services withdrawn.

“Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online,” said Margot James, the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. “We’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content.”

However, an email sent from James’ office containing a press release about the ban allowed the addresses of all 300 recipients to be seen by other people. James described the incident as a data “error,” but many were quick to express skepticism over the ministry’s ability to enforce data security when their press release addressing the issue was itself a breach of data privacy.

The shape and form that the age verification checks remain vague at this time. According to a press release from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the body that will enforce and regulate the law:

“There will be a number of age-verification options available, so a user can choose what’s right for them […] Age-verification solutions range from the use of traditional ID documents online (for example, credit cards or passports) to mobile phones where the adult filters have been removed. Users can also use digital IDs or buy a card over the counter in a shop where the verification is face to face.”

Privacy Concerns

BBFC also stated in the press release that they plan to implement a “voluntary” age-certification program called the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), in order to better ensure privacy and data security.

Under the AVC program, providers that choose to become certified will receive a green ‘AV’ symbol which indicates that “rigorous security checks have been met and the provider has a high standard of data protection.”

While the government seems keen on ensuring data security protections, some people are concerned that the law could result in the creation of a database that contains private identification information of the UK’s porn viewers.

Jim Killock, the Executive Director of Open Rights Group, warned that such a database could pose a huge privacy risk if the BBFC goes forward with its “voluntary” verification system and does not impose a mandatory one.

“The idea that they are ‘optional’ is dangerous and irresponsible,” Killock said.“Having some age verification that is good and other systems that are bad is unfair and a scammer’s paradise – of the government’s own making.”

“Data leaks could be disastrous,” Killock continued.“The government needs to shape up and legislate for privacy before their own policy results in people being outed, careers destroyed or suicides being provoked.”

Is the Law Too Lax?

Others have criticized the new legislation as potentially ineffective, noting that there will likely be a number of ways for people to skirt the law.

People who want to bypass the restrictions can just go to platforms that are not covered by the rules. A good number of websites fall under this category because of a provision in the law that says more than a third of a website’s content has to be pornographic to quality as a pornography provider.

Under that exception, sites like Twitter, Reddit, and Imgur will not be regulated. Perhaps the biggest loophole is that the law does not apply to platforms that host pornography and do not charge fees or make money from advertisements or by other means.

Others are critical of how effective the verification checks will be. For example, if getting around a check requires a login that has been verified, it can be expected that those already-verified logins will be shared easily.

Additionally, because the law only applies in the UK, those who live in the UK can also flout the law by using a VPN so it appears their internet connection is in another country. This allows them to access that countries version of the website that does not have the ban.

The UK’s new ban comes a week after the government released a document proposing a set of rules which could penalize social media companies like Twitter and Facebook for allowing users to access harmful content including child abuse, terrorist content, cyberbullying and trolling, encouraging self-harm, and spreading disinformation.

In addition to punishing social media companies by holding them legally accountable for content that is deemed harmful, the government also said it was looking into ways it could slap tech companies with heavy fines, block access to websites, and hold company executives personally liable for not limiting harmful content.

Critics of the proposed rules have argued that they could lead to censorship and have unintended ramifications for tech companies. Like the pornography ban, the proposed rules are aimed at regulating social media and internet safety.

See what others are saying: (The Independent) (BBC) The Guardian)

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ByteDance Lays Off Hundreds of Workers After China’s Private Tutoring Crackdown

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Major changes to the massive education industry in China have left many companies scrambling to adapt.


Industry Blowback

TikTok owner ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees Thursday in response to new Chinese regulations that prohibit private, for-profit tutoring in core curriculum subjects.

These employees worked in ByteDance’s online education businesses, such as GoGokids, which were effectively killed by the new rules. The over 300 workers have been laid off “with compensation,” although it’s unclear just how much compensation they will receive.

The entire education industry, one of the largest in China, was gutted by last month’s new rules, which not only ban private tutoring in the most important subjects but also give preferential treatment to public school students trying to enter China’s top universities.

Some firms, like the $15.5 billion startup known as Yuanfudao, had to largely shut down all marketing while figuring out what to do next. Others have had to shutter nearly all of their facilities. The only exceptions are those that offer tutoring in extra-curricular activities like music, which is still allowed.

Leveling the Playing Field

The move is supposed to help combat inequities within China between wealthier students and those who are poor or from more rural areas. Often, those with fewer resources often struggle to get into top universities because of their need to go to public schools and lack of access to increasingly costly private tutors in subjects like math, Chinese, history, science, and physics.

Those subjects are almost exclusively what Chinese universities look at when considering applicants.

It’s expected that with the ban and preferential treatment to public school students, the percentage of university applicants being accepted will lead to more low-income Chinese people having better opportunities.

Even if the long-term goals have merits, companies like ByteDance and even those outside of China are reeling in the short term.

The new rules not only target for-profit tutoring. They also prohibit most foreign investment into the Chinese education market, bar foreign curriculums, and ban most foreign teachers working in China, effectively shutting off large segments of the worldwide education industry, which catered to sending teachers to China.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Financial Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem

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The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.


Instulting the Anthem

Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.

The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.

The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.

Concerns for Freedom of Speech

The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.

They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”

Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.

This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.

Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.

See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

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Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse

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The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.


Priest Sparks Outrage

Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.

Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.

To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.

Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.

“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.

Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”

Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.

Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims

Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.

Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.

The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.

While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”

With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.

The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.

See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)

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