Monday, 27 June 2011

On the internet, everyone has got a name

What’s in a name?
If you want to circumvent a so-called ‘super-injection’ - a UK gagging order to prevent certain information from becoming public - it seems the internet has become the place to be. Many legal experts, judges and lawmakers are struggling with this dilemma after a confusing month in which a former model and a well-known football player made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

On 29 May, The Sunday Times reported that only six hours after football player Ryan Giggs had obtained a super injection - to prevent his extra-marital affair from becoming public - a bank worker named James Webley had tweeted ‘so if Ryan Giggs wanted to cover up a hypothetical affair with Big Brother’s Imogen Thomas would that be a super-injunction or a regular one’. Within hours, this was ‘re-tweeted’ by thousands and the footballer’s name was out.

Theoretically, Webley can be accused of contempt of court. He could be fined, his assets seized or even face jail time, but more than seven weeks after he tweeted his message, on 14 April, officers have still not knocked on his door and experts believe it is not likely that is going to happen. Thousands of Twitter users - among them famous names like journalist Piers Morgan and singer Boy George - have mentioned the footballer in their online messages and it would be an impossible task to prosecute them all. On top of that, Member of Parliament John Hemming mentioned Giggs in Parliament and it did not really come as a surprise when Prime Minister Cameron said he felt ‘uneasy’ about super-injunctions and believed judges were developing a privacy law without Parliament's say so.

But it works both ways. While hiding your dirty laundry might have become nearly impossible, remaining anonymous on the net is also increasingly difficult. The Superior Court of California recently forced Twitter to hand over the personal details of a number of its account holders who had allegedly posted libellous statements about South Tyneside Council. The UK Council went to the California Court - who has jurisdiction over US-based Twitter - to find out who was behind an account called ‘Mr Monkey’.

Apart from the question whether tax money should be spent on defending the reputation of a few local councillors, the ruling has paved the way for many from outside the US to identify anonymous bloggers. Experts believe this ruling can have huge implications for users of social networking sites and many wonder whether this verdict signals the end of anonymous blogging, because if it works with Twitter, why not with (US-based) Facebook, Blogspot, MySpace or any other website where people can publish public messages on a daily basis under a fake name. Experts fear many US lawyers will try to find out the names behind anonymous posts so they can sue the bloggers on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. 

When the internet emerged, many praised - and feared - the new medium for the fact that on the web ‘no one knows who or where you are’. This no longer seems to apply. Whether you are a famous ‘adulterous’ footballer or just a critical voter in a sleepy town, everyone’s got a name.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in the June issue of a London based magazine. Copyrights apply at all times. Image 1: Image 2:

Monday, 20 June 2011

Modern Britain: fame-obsessed?

In the UK, more people vote in TV talent shows than for their country's leaders, perhaps a symptom of Britain's growing obsession with fame and celebrity. In London's thriving creative industry, many of those so-called celebrities base their fame on little more than the ability to sing a jolly tune, look good in tight trousers or kick a ball, often not even in the right direction.

Has Modern Britain become a nation obsessed with celebrity and fame? How tacky and raunchy is the UK?

My radio 1 broadcast from last week - in Dutch. The item starts straight away.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Pippa Middleton

A recent item about Pippa Middleton, for Radio 1 in Holland. If you click on the link HERE my item starts straight away - in Dutch.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

California Court orders Twitter to hand over data to local UK council

The UK Council of South Tyneside confirmed it has received personal data from the social networking website Twitter after the Superior Court of California ordered the website on 30 May to identify five of its users who had allegedly posted libelous statements about several South Tyneside Council Members.

Twitter has handed over names, IP and email addresses as well as phone numbers. Although “these proceedings have become routine in the US, this is the first time somebody from this country has actually gone to America to force Twitter to release the identities of individuals”, said Mark Stephens, Partner at Finers Stephens Innocent (left). “Given the outcome of this case I definitely expect others to follow.” Ashley Hurst, Senior Associate at Olswang, agreed with that: “[this case] may well encourage others to bring similar actions”.

The lawyers for Ryan Giggs, the footballer who was recently exposed on Twitter despite having taken out a court order to prevent an extra-marital affair from becoming public “could now go to the courts in California to get the identities of the persons behind the Twitter accounts that exposed him”, Stephens said. He does not think the (British) bloggers who exposed Giggs will be prosecuted in the UK since “no one has the stomach for it”. Stephens added that “anonymous blogging is still possible, but has certainly become much more difficult if you are not a web professional”. Hurst added: “This case demonstrates how anonymous internet users are not always as anonymous as they think.”

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based magazine. Copyrights apply at al times. Pictures: South Tyneside Council and BBC news website.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Holland about to go 'net neutral'

The Netherlands is about to pass a Bill that would guarantee its citizens net neutrality. On 24 May, the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Maxime Verhagen, announced in the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch House of Representatives, that he would amend the Dutch Telecoms Act, as proposed by a Member of Parliament a week earlier.

Under the new Telecoms Bill, internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile phone companies would be barred from limiting heavy-bandwith applications and would not be allowed to charge users extra to use online voice applications - such as Skype or Whatsupp - which has been common practice in Holland. The Bill would also prevent ISPs or mobile operators from selectively blocking or slowing certain applications.

If the legislation passes, which is considered a formality because of the Dutch coalition government structure, the Netherlands would become the first country in Europe - and the second in the world after Chile - to arrange net neutrality by law. The concept of net neutrality means that all internet traffic should be treated equally by ISPs and telecom operators. Although the final text is still being discussed, most lawmakers have already given their support for the new Bill.

“It might prove difficult to properly scope the proposed legal ban”, said Peter Eijsvoogel, Partner at Allen & Overy. “If we call the emergency services, we do not want our lines to be blocked by teenagers calling a game show.”

The proposals “may have a significant impact on the way in which mobile operators can deal with the effects of over-the-top apps like What's App and Skype, which have been eating away their core revenues substantially”, said Quinten Kroes, Partner at Brinkhof. “Indirectly, it may impact their ability and willingness to invest in new infrastructure, like 4G.”

Minister Verhagen is in talks with the European Commission (EC) to “ensure that the amendment does not interfere with EU regulations”, said Ministry Spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg.

Matthijs van Bergen, a legal advisor at ICT Recht thinks “it really is a shame that [the EC] has not lived up to its task to adequately implement net neutrality into the regulatory framework and to effectively harmonise Member States' laws”. Van Bergen does, however, expect other European countries to follow soon: “Politicians in Belgium are also working on a law of their own”.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based magazine. Copyrights apply at all times.

Monday, 6 June 2011

China tightens grip on the internet

New agency to monitor the net

China has set up a new agency that is going to monitor and regulate the country’s internet traffic. State-controlled news agency Xinhua quoted on June 5 a government statement, saying that the powers of different ministries have been brought together to form the State Internet Information Office (SIIO), which ‘will direct, coordinate and supervise online content management and handle administrative approval of businesses related to online news reporting’.

Xinhua added that the SIIO will ‘direct the development’ of online gaming, online video and audio businesses and online publication industries. The SIIO will also actively promote state-approved news websites, and has been assigned powers to investigate and punish websites that violate Chinese internet and telecommunications laws. The SIIO will control internet service providers to ‘improve the management of registration of domain names, distribution of IP addresses, registration of websites and internet access’.

Fighting pornography

The Chinese Government has also introduced new requirements to set up a website. New registrations will only be successful if the website owners identify themselves and justify the content of the proposed website to regulators. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the measures are designed to fight pornography, but many consider the move as the latest attempt to tighten control over China's online community, which, with its 380 million users, is the largest and fastest growing online market in the world. Since December, tens of thousands of websites have been shut down, while the registration of new websites has been suspended.

Under the new plans,

websites without government records

will be made inaccessible by the end of September. It is hard to believe this move is merely designed to tackle online pornography, unless the Chinese Government considers hundreds of thousands of consumer, informative and chat pages as too exciting for its people.

Online gambling

The Chinese Government has also announced it is planning another major crackdown on online gambling and gaming websites, hugely popular in the country."Legalisation of gambling in China will have a long way to go", said Natasha Xie, Partner at Jun He Law Offices in Hong Kong. "Some people hope to see the government's intention to speed up, by this type of crackdown, the legalisation process of gambling, but they would probably be disappointed."

One of the reasons why China is stepping up its efforts to close down online gambling operations is the vast amount of money flowing out of the country. With the development of the internet, the online gambling market has grown significantly in the last few years. "My opinion is that this law is focused on money, transporting illegal proceeds across the border," said a Xi'an based lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Copyrights apply. Pictures (1), myself (2), myself (3) and (4).