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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not comply with the new law will risk having their sites blocked for all UK users or risk having their payment services withdrawn.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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Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

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The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

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

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Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

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

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