Legal News

UK Committee Suggests Libel Rules For Websites

 by Steve McCaskill

A parliamentary committee suggests websites should be required to remove anonymous libels

A joint Parliamentary committee has said that websites should have protection from defamation cases if they respond swiftly to allegedly libellous comments from anonymous posters.

It says that websites which identify authors and publish complaints alongside comments should get legal protection.

Hidden identity

The recommendation is part of a wider review into the UK’s defamation laws aimed at promoting free speech and reducing the “unacceptably” high costs of libel cases. Currently, websites are liable for defamatory statements made by their users and if they fail to remove a comment which prompts a complaint, they risk becoming the “primary publisher” of the statement.

The committee proposes a “notice and takedown procedure” whereby complaints are displayed alongside the offending comments and the complainant can then apply for a takedown order at a court, as long as the author is identified. If a website does not comply, then they should be treated as the publisher of the comment.

However anonymous comments should still be immediately removed from the website unless the author volunteers their identity. Conversely, websites can apply for a “leave-up” order if they believe an anonymous comment is on a matter of “significant” public interest.

Anonymity “discourages responsibility”

The committee has criticised anonymous comments saying that although they may “encourage free speech”, they “discourage responsibility” and hopes that such reforms would lead to a general recognition that such posts are unreliable.

However Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts told the BBC that many of its users rely on using user names as opposed to their real name as it provides them with the freedom to speak honestly about difficult subjects.

The site currently receives about ten complaints a month, a figure it fears would increase should the committee’s recommendations be enforced.

The Committee has also proposed the introduction of a “single publication rule” which would give potential claimants only one year from the allegedly defamatory material’s date of publication to launch libel action. Currently, this year-long window of opportunity restarts every time an article is downloaded or accessed from the internet.

The report is published amid a backdrop of an ongoing debate about libel laws in the UK. In May, the British High Court issued an injunction to Facebook and Twitter that prevented them from publishing damaging information online and in August, Atos Healthcare, the company responsible for doling out government incapacity benefit, began threatening legal action against websites and forums which aggregated patient’s experiences, accusing them of libel.


Rising Energy Costs Boost Power Management

 by Steve McCaskill

Savings made by businesses could increase five-fold by 2015

The market for server and computer power management software is likely to grow as the cost of energy increases, according to a report by Pike Research. The group believes that by employing such software solutions, companies will save $18.6 billion (£11.8bn) per year by 2015.

PCs and servers account for a large portion of information technology emissions, yet much of their power consumption is wasted. The majority of corporate computers are left on at weekends and as many as 80 per cent are left on overnight so IT departments can apply patches during that time.

Managing PC power – too much trouble?

Servers use 60 per cent of their maximum power while doing nothing at all and typically only run at around 15 percent utilisation. However PC power management tools are rarely employed because IT departments are not responsible for power costs.

“Using power management settings on a single PC could save 746 kWh of electricity in just a year, which translates into savings of almost $77. Yet, in 2010 only a little over one-fifth of users employed management settings effectively,” said Pike Research senior analyst Eric Woods in a statement.

However as energy prices continue to rise and demand for computing power increases, this is likely to change as savings are central to power management software’s appeal. In 2009 AT&T saved $13m (£8.2m) a year in energy use from power management.

But as a 2009 survey revealed, the majority of businesses were unaware of the benefits of power management technology and that user attitudes were driving the adoption of such schemes, not companies.


Rats Causes Virgin Broadband Outage In Scotland

 by Tom Jowitt

Some Virgin Media customers in Scotland were briefly left without broadband when rats chewed cables

Virgin Media confirmed that some customers in Scotland experienced a broadband service outage earlier this week, after rats were found to have chewed through fibre optic cables.

Speaking to eWEEK Europe, a Virgin Media spokesperson confirmed that its services went offline for a couple of hours on Monday and then again on Tuesday. “Full service was resorted on Tuesday evening and customers are no longer affected,” said the spokesperson.

Dietary Fibre?

“We’re aware that a number of customers in the Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Leven areas may have experienced intermittent loss of their Virgin Media services from Monday morning until Tuesday evening,” said Virgin Media in a statement.

“The loss of service was due to rodent damage to some underground cabling,” it said. “On Monday morning our engineers were on site as soon as possible and worked at the highest priority to repair the damage, with service restored early evening on Monday.”

However it seems that the pesky rodents were not finished with just one snack upon the ‘tasty’ fibre optic cables, but also opted for dessert the next day.

“Further damage was incurred on Tuesday afternoon and our engineers returned to repair the damage,” said Virgin Media. “We’ve now put additional measures in place to prevent further damage to our cables to avoid further disruption for our customers. We’re extremely sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

It is thought that at least 100 customers were affected by the cable damage caused by the rat attack, which must be an inherent risk when your cabling infrastructure is based in underground ducts.

However it is worth remembering that this Virgin Media outage is nowhere near the scale of the recent outage experienced by thousands of BT customers. A major power failure at a BT exchange in Birmingham was blamed for causing connectivity problems for broadband  customers across the UK.

Business Growth

Meanwhile Virgin Media Business has published research that shows that investment in internet technologies does help businesses drive growth – presumably so long as rats arekep ta bay.

The research revealed that over two thirds of British companies believe that advances in technology are vital to the success of their business.

The Virgin Media Business study was compiled after a survey of 5,000 UK businesses. It found that cloud computing and e-Commerce technologies are the most valued, with 32 percent citing cloud computing investments as significantly benefitting their company. This was closely followed by e-Commerce solutions, at 27 percent.

The study also found that more and more staff are demanding to use their own devices (smartphones etc) in the workplace. Virgin Media said that this worker demand for consumer gadgets in the workplace has now reached a tipping point, going from nice-to-have to must-have.

The study found that 70 percent of smartphone owners would rather give up alcohol than be without their phone.

And it seems as though businesses are taking this demand in hand, with 23 percent letting staff members choose whatever kind of device will suit them best for work.

“With more organisations embracing new technologies, the business world is clearly showing it’s open to change,” said Virgin Media Business’ director, corporate sector, Andy Marshall. “New technologies such as cloud computing are helping smaller players to compete on the same stage as massive corporates because of economies of scale.”

Marshall said that computing cloud also helps businesses become far more responsive, besides the usual cost benefits.

“This can help companies to make huge productivity gains, with workers being able to access corporate information on the go, or by working from home, which has been proven to improve morale by addressing employee’s work and life balance,” said Marshall.


Dutch ISP Hits Spamhaus With Police Complaints

 by Tom Jowitt

A Dutch ISP has filed two police complaints against Spamhaus, telling eWEEK Europe that its CEO is “nuts”

A Dutch Internet Service Provider, A2B, has filed two complaints with the police against anti-spam outfit the Spamhaus project, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Spamhaus touts itself as an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to track the Internet’s spam operations and sources. Some ISPs use its blacklisting services to reduce the amount of spam they have to deal with.

Meanwhile, A2B is a Dutch ISP that provides the upstream connection for a number of data centres.

Blackmail Allegation

Speaking to eWEEK Europe UK, the director and owner of A2B, explained why he had decided to file two complaints with the Dutch police about Spamhaus, accusing it of “blackmail”, after it added all of A2B’s IP addresses to its SBL blacklist.

The problem began after Spamhaus asked A2B to block all the data traffic from the German ISP Cyberbunker, claiming the latter had been engaged in spamming. But A2B told eWEEK Europe that it decided to block only the particular IP address that Spamhaus had identified as a source of spam.

But this cut little ice with Spamhaus, which promptly added all of A2B’s IP addresses (for all of its customers) to its blacklist. After about 24 hours, A2B gave in and blocked all of Cyberbunker’s traffic, after which the blacklist entry was removed.

A2B sees this as proof it had been extorted and that the listing was not based on the ISP being involved in spamming. It claims Spamhaus’s actions were unfair and illegal.

“We are an ISP that provides upstream connections to our clients (mostly data centres),” explained A2B owner Erik Bais. “One of our data centre clients had another client, who was the original target of this problem.”

“Basically what happened is that instead of asking us to deal with it (by removing the offending IP address), Spamhaus told us that it wants that particular customer off the Internet, or we list all your customer’ IP addresses on our blacklist,” Bais said.

“This forced us to drop this particular customer’s IP address, but this IP address had nothing to do with where the spam message had originated from,” said Bais. “Suddenly all of our innocent customers were asking us what is going on, as their email connections were suddenly not working.”

No Legal Reason

“Spamhaus is blackmailing us because they forced us to do something for no legal reasons,” insisted Bais. “We checked and that customer had not violated our strict abuse policy, and it was absolutely not doing anything illegal.

“However Spamhaus said to us ‘you must do this or your customers will not have any email service’,” said Bais. “They deliberately denied email services to those that had absolutely nothing to do with spam.

“Consequently I filed two complaints with the Dutch police. The first complaint is a blackmail complaint against Spamhaus. And the second complaint is that Spamhaus has denied services to our customers, and denied them to have regular email traffic.”

Non-Civil Response

Bais also went on to accuse Spamhaus of responding to his emails on the subject in a “non-civil manner.”

“I emailed Spamhaus CEO Steve Linford,” said Bais. “He responded by actually stating that ‘our policies are our policies we don’t care about your local laws’”.

According to Bais, Linford then told A2B that it must either follow the Spamhaus abuse policy or find itself on the blacklist.

“There are very strict rules about spam in the Netherlands, and indeed in Europe. Internally we also have very strict abuse policies, but I was very shocked at his response, as he (Linford) thinks he is above the law. This has to stop, as the guy is nuts,” said Bais.

“I actually stated in my email correspondence with Spamhaus that I was not trying to shut you down, or seeking financial compensation, as I want it resolved between us, but you need to adjust your policy because using a blacklist is all about your reputation,” said Bais. “By doing this, Spamhaus is ruining its own reputation, not mine.”

Bais said that at the end of this month he will be addressing an anti-abuse workgroup in Vienna (Austria) about this incident. “We are going to address this to the whole IT community and ask them to decide who is right and who is wrong. We are going to ask the IT community if Spamhaus is out of line, or if they need to limit themselves to just the offending ISP address in this case. This needs public discussion, but I am pretty sure which way it will go, as the community will say that Spamhaus is out of line here.”

Spamhaus did not respond to eWEEK Europe at the time of writing.

Updated: Spamhaus has responded to eWEEK Europe’s request, dismissing A2B’s claims as “rubbish”.

“If The Netherlands had penalties for wasting police time, Dutch ISP ‘A2B Internet’ would be looking at a hefty fine,” said Linford in an email.


British Man Impaled By Laptop

 by Tom Jowitt

A Briton living in New Zealand has suffered a bizarre injury after he was impaled by his laptop computer

A British man in New Zealand is recovering after suffering a freak injury caused by his laptop computer.

According to the New Zealand Herald newspaper, 52 year old William Warner suffered a horrendous hand injury after the DVD drive of his Toshiba laptop fired out a piece of metal which impaled his palm.

According to the newspaper report, Warner works as a driver in the Whangaparaoa area near Auckland. The Briton said that he had placed a disc on the DVD tray of his laptop, and was in the process of closing the drawer when a sharp piece of metal shot out and pierced his right palm.

Metal Spike

“I looked at my palm and I was wondering, God what just happened?” he is quoted as saying. “Then the pain … became excruciating and I had to be rushed to hospital.”

Warner was apparently taken to North Shore Hospital, where the 11cm metal spike was removed. His treatment included having a bone fused as well as stitches.

It seems that the metal spoke was part of the track holder of the DVD tray.

The accident reportedly happened a year ago, and Warner has been seeking compensation from Toshiba for the injury, after discovering from his doctors that the after effects may be permanent.

Warner states that he is struggling to complete simple chores.

“I’ve been told I can no longer fish or play golf, and even writing for me now is a struggle,” Warner reportedly said.

“I can’t believe that trying to play a DVD on the laptop would land me with injuries that ended the use of my right hand as I know it,” he said.

Replacement Laptop

Warner had first complained to the store where he purchased the laptop. He was asked to email the details so the problem could be raised with Toshiba.

Toshiba’s first response was apparently to offer Warner a replacement laptop, but he has since been negotiating for financial compensation.

The New Zealand Herald quoted Toshiba’s marketing communications manager, Mariana Thomas as saying that the company was aware of the case but would not make any further comment as it was in discussions with Mr Warner.

“Toshiba does not believe that the circumstances of the case raise any general safety issue with its products and stands behind their safety,” Thomas reportedly said. “We are not aware of any incident with a Toshiba product resulting in a person suffering injuries of a similar nature in New Zealand or elsewhere in the world.”

Hard To Verify

Of course incidents like this can be very hard to independently verify. Most injuries associated with laptops tend to be physical burns.

In June for example HP recalled 162,000 lithium-ion laptop batteries after a number of people reported incidents of injuries and burns affecting batteries that hadn’t been included in an earlier recall.

Prior to that, HP announced a recall programme in May 2010 affecting about 54,000 batteries, which itself followed on from a May 2009 recall affecting about 70,000 batteries, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Acer, Toshiba and Sony have also previously issued recalls for overheating machines.

In September 2010, 59-year-old Eileen Visser, a former school inspector sued her former employer Ofsted in the High Court for breaching safety regulations. Visser blamed her company’s laptop for causing a fire at her thatched cottage that resulted in more than £350,000 damages.

eWEEK Europe was unable to contact Toshiba UK for comment at the time of writing.