UK Censorship Policies and Their Motives

Sajjad Amin Bangash with a piece on censorship in the UK.  Sajjad Amin Bangash is a Lecturer in International Politics and Economics, Human Rights Activist and Political Activist for PTI (Imran Khan party- Freedom and Justice for All). He blogs at Sajjad Khan Bangash's blog.


According to UN Resolution 59 “Freedom of Information (FOI) can be defined as the right to access information held by public bodies. It is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

I read an article on UK policy about Social media censorship and it says ‘ Last summer in the wake of the London riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the government should have the power to censor social media and “stop [alleged rioters] from communicating via these websites”. But after Cameron’s plan was widely compared to the tactics of former Egypt President Hosni Mubarak – not to mention the same social media services were instrumental in helping organise post-riot cleanup – the proposal never materialised. Unfortunately, Cameron’s declaration that the “free flow of information” can sometimes be a problem, then an aberration, seems to have turned into a pillar of the UK government’s 2012 agenda.

Despite declaring early on in his term that internet freedom should be respected “in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square”, his government is now considering a series of laws that would dramatically restrict online privacy and freedom of speech.

Mass surveillance plan

The most controversial plan, strongly defended by Cameron, would allow the government to monitor every email, text message and phone call flowing throughout the country. Internet service providers (ISPs) would be forced to install hardware that would give law enforcement real time, on-demand access to every internet user’s IP address, email address books, when and to whom emails are sent and how frequently – as well as the same type of data for phone calls and text messages.

Because many popular services – like Google and Facebook – encrypt the transmission of user data, the government also would force social media sites and other online service providers to comply with any data request. Currently, according to their most recent Transparency Report, Google refused to comply with 37 per cent of user data requests they received from UK authorities in the first six months of 2011, because they didn’t comport with “the spirit or letter of the law”, likely indicating overly broad requests or that the authorities provided no reasonable suspicion of a crime occurred. Under the new proposal, Google could not refuse any requests – regardless of their validity – and would be forced to hand over all data. Cameron said his proposal was meant “to keep our country safe from serious and organised crime and also from terrorist threats that… that we still face in this country”.

But as Privacy International explained: “In a terrorism investigation, the police will already have access to all the data they could want. This is about other investigations.” The information gathered in this new programme would be available to local law enforcement for use in any investigation and would be available without any judicial oversight.


Parliament has also targeted Google and Facebook on the censorship front in recent weeks. As the Guardian reported, “A cross-party committee of MPs and peers has urged the government to consider introducing legislation that would force Google to censor its search results to block material that a court has found to be in breach of someone’s privacy.” By “privacy”, the committee meant so-called “super-injunctions” – censorship orders, usually taken out by celebrities or wealthy individuals, which ban a publisher from mentioning a topic or even the injunction.

In the last year, users on Twitter and Google have broken several super-injunctions. For example, a Scottish oil company obtained a super-injunction against Greenpeace to keep photographs of the environmental group’s protest off social media sites. Within hours, unaffiliated users posted hundreds of the pictures, effectively nullifying the order. If the recommendation by the MPs were followed, Google, Facebook and Twitter would have to proactively monitor and remove such results from their webpages.

The Prime Minister is also reportedly considering rules requiring websites playing music videos to install age verification systems, because some music videos produced by popular artists like Rihanna, Beyoncé and Madonna are allegedly “highly suggestive”. And if the government gets its way with its new copyright proposal, the only music video sites users would able to access at all would be those sanctioned by record-companies. Despite the enormous backlash over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US, the UK government is reportedly trying to broker a backroom deal between ISPs and content companies in which search engines would start “voluntarily” censoring sites accused of copyright infringement. The deal would force search engines to blacklist entire websites from search results merely upon an allegation of infringement, and artificially promote “approved” websites.

Now, let’s see the real intentions and applications of UK such policies from real time perspective what these policies mean and what are the hidden motivation behind such restrictive measures. My friends from Scotland were telling me that during our referendum campaigns, the Westminster policies were biased towards Scotland Independence Campaigns and the mainstream media aggressively demarcated our political movement. While, after referendum, their policies further intensified to keep the people of UK especially Scotland overly ignored and blackened from the happenings of political landscape, geo-political issues, socio-economic and development of Scotland. We can see the happenings around the world such as storms in Canada, live cricket or football matches in Dubai, South Africa or anywhere around the world but no coverage on the inside stories about Scotland Parliament, people’s miseries, problems and any developmental programs being undertaken in the streets of Scotland. Now, to get stories of Scotland, we have to turn on Russia today or Aljazeera.

Another friend of mine in Scotland updated my knowledge about how stringent tactics have been taken by Westminster against the people of Scotland and keep the flow of information under tight monitoring and filtering and undermining the spirits and motivation of people of Scotland. On such obvious example is, on Facebook, where people can’t write any specific word such VVS with their names and the Facebook has to remove this ‘tag’ with their login identity as according to the UK censorship policy ‘ Such words violate the laws of UK ethical sovereignty’ But this is a clear violation of Freedom of Speech and Right to Information.

Facebook and other social media websites were created on the general premise on ‘Freedom of Expression’ and a platform where the users have the liberty to assign or keep any name as their logins. So what’s the moral grounds of such social media stand now. The Western media buoyancy about ‘Freedom of Speech can narrated as ‘Ridiculing the religious wishes of others but when it comes to practically apply the philosophy of Freedom of Speech in their domestic arena, they’re negligently and bitterly failed.

Existing laws
According to a Cambridge University study, so people often settle out of fear of extraordinary cost of defence, even if innocent.

The UN Committee on Human Rights warned that the current system “served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work”. Beyond the domestic free speech issues, Britain is home to many of the companies exporting high tech surveillance equipment to authoritarian countries in the Middle East, where it is used to track journalists and democratic activists. The technology, which can be used to monitor a country’s emails and phone calls, is similar to what the UK government will have to install to implement its own mass surveillance programme.

The British government claims it is “actively looking at this issue” and “working within the EU to introduce new controls on surveillance”, but given its domestic censorship and surveillance proposals, maybe they should also exert some control at home as well. But now come the UK riots and the debate over what to do about them, raising these same issues in a new context — the street — with a new player: the government. The proper debate, I argue in Public Parts, should be held not in the specifics of these matters but instead as principles. Restricting speech cannot be done except in the context of free speech.

Whatever, the correlative objectives the UK censorship policy may derive one common notion can be visibly drawn from it is that ‘the censorship policy is simply to discourage, intimidate and dissuade the people of Scotland from accessing the truth and forming a political will for the expression of their democratic rights and participation in political liberty and also keep the international viewers ignored to the ground realities that are taking in UK.

There’s a global awakening and swarming against oppression, corruption, tyranny and deliberate territorial expansion. People of Palestine, Kashmir, Scotland, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. have the equal rights of -Freedom of Speech-rights to free information and democratic sovereignty. This is a clear violation of humanity to refrain and keep the people’s aspirations suppressed and sabotage their native rights. Due to lack of employment opportunities, the young generation is adversely effected.

The United Nations has filed a case against British government for lack of provision of adequate heating and protection by which so many people died due to severe cold in UK similarly, British government’s deliberated removal of old age benefits which has substantially effected the lives of elderly citizens who were benefiting from such benefits during their ailments. Such are the issues of grave concerns and utmost importance which needs attention and it’s the responsibility of every government and media to pinpoint and highlight them.

No comments