News Roundup 14 February 2017

UK government proposes controversial anti-whistleblower law

Last year, the UK government introduced the highly controversial Snoopers’ Charter, officially, the Investigatory Powers Act, what the Open Rights Group called “the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy”. Now, under the cover of more pressing news, namely the heat surrounding “Brexit”, Prime Minister Theresa May plans to target whistleblowers with proposed changes to how law enforcement agencies and the laws surrounding government secrets operate.

A recent report in The Guardian said the following:

“The [UK] government’s legal advisers have been accused of launching a “full-frontal attack” on whistleblowers over proposals to radically increase prison sentences for revealing state secrets and prosecute journalists.”

Suggestions from the government’s legal advisers argue that the maximum prison sentence for whistleblowers who leak confidential data should be increased from 2 to 14 years, while also proposing a change to the definition of espionage to include the transfer of sensitive information. Experts have suggested that the changes hope to prevent future Snowden/Guardian type partnerships as was the case with the NSA revelations in 2013.

UK anti-whistleblower law
The UK government plans to introduce new anti-whistleblower laws. Source: Pixabay

Although changes may be beneficial in terms of updating the old Official Secrets Act in line with the digital age, what’s most concerning is the fundamental and potentially hardline change proposed by the government vis-à-vis prison sentences:

“Reporters, as well as the whistleblowers whose stories they tell, would be under threat of sentences of up to 14 years, regardless of the public interest and even if there were no likelihood of damage”.

In response to the announcement, a government spokesperson said:

“I’ve seen the way this has been reported and it is fundamentally wrong. It is not, never has been and never will be the policy of the government to restrict the freedom of investigative journalism or public whistleblowing”.

The spokesperson does not deny, however, that journalists as well as whistleblowers could face up to 14 years in prison for handling leaked documents.

Canada remains a “safe haven” for online piracy according to rightsholders

The MPAA, RIAA and other entertainment industry groups have called Canada a “safe haven” for copyright infringers and pirate sites.

The new “notice and notice” system is ineffective, the groups argue, adding that their legal copyright regime fails to deter piracy in the country. The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) recently released a 301 ‘watch list’ submission to the US government.

“For a number of years, extending well into the current decade, Canada had a well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for some of the most massive and flagrant Internet sites dedicated to the online theft of copyright material,” IIPA writes.

According to the group, some progress has been made, however.

“Nonetheless, major online piracy operations still find a home in Canada. These include leading BitTorrent sites such as Sumotorrent.sx and Seedpeer.eu, and hybrid cloud storage services utilizing BitTorrents, such as cloudload.com.”

IIPA reported the emergence of stand-alone BitTorrent applications that facilitate the streaming of content through a user-friendly interface reminiscent of Popcorn Time.

“In a growing and problematic trend, sites selling circumvention devices that have been subject to DMCA takedown notices from right holders in the U.S. are moving to Canadian ISPs for hosting, to evade enforcement action under U.S. law. Canadian hosting services such as Hawk Host and Crocweb are particularly popular with such sites.”

The MPAA, RIAA and other entertainment industry groups have called Canada a “safe haven” for copyright infringers and pirate sites. Source: OpenClipArt.org

Cloudflare places pirate sites on new IP addresses to bypass Cogent block

Following the decision by major Internet backbone provider Cogent Communications to block torrent sites, including The Pirate Bay (TPB), DNS service Cloudflare has moved the sites in question to new IP addresses.

People across the world were affected by the block and were unable to access popular download and streaming portals. The intervention by Cloudflare is fairly controversial since the IP addresses in question do not belong to the sites themselves but instead to the popular CDN provider Cloudflare. The company transferred TPB and others, including Primewire, Popcorn-Time.se and Torrentz.cd to new IP addresses. The sites have been moved to IPs 104.31.16.3 and 104.31.17.3.

cloudflare torrent sites
Numerous torrent sites, including The Pirate Bay, have been made accessible again by Cloudflare following block by Internet backbone provider Cogent. Source: Cloudflare.com

Cloudflare hasn’t commented publicly on the intervention though it has a reputation for fighting against overreach and keeping access open for users. Whether Cogent has plans to block the new addresses is yet unknown.

Glancing back at the curve.

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