Why Is A British Baroness Drafting California Censorship Laws?

from the didn't-we-have-a-revolution-at-some-point dept

Would you be surprised to find out that the censorial, moral panic bill based on hype and nonsense, but very likely to pass in California and potentially change how the internet functions… was actually written by a British noble with a savior complex?

Yesterday I wrote about California’s AB 2273 bill and how it is impossible to comply with, censorial, and dangerous. From what I’ve heard it’s likely to pass today, and Governor Newsom may sign it soon. The bill seems to have taken many people by surprise, and at this late moment they’re asking how the hell such a bill could have come about. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself, and started digging — and am really confused. Because, as far as I can tell, THE BILL CAME FROM A UK BARONESS, and California politicians were like “ok, yeah, cool, we’ll just take your bill and make it law here.”

I know this sounds hyperbolic, but as far as I can tell, it’s exactly what happened — and it reveals something kind of insane about the California lawmaking process. If you look on the California legislature page about the bill, it includes a “bill analysis” prepared by lawyers working for the legislature. The most recent one, the “Senate Floor Analysis” from August 23rd (Tuesday of this week), lists organizations in favor of this law, two of which are listed as “co-source”. There’s a shockingly long list of organizations supporting this dreadful bill (including Roblox?!), but here is just the beginning of the list:

It’s fair to question why some of these are on the list. I mean, why is the City of Berkeley supporting a bill that will be harmful to kids and result in speech suppression? I guess it shouldn’t be at all surprising that the Privacy Law Section of the California Lawyers Association is in support. The only functional thing this bill does is increase demand (massively) for privacy lawyers. But, really, that does seem a bit unseemly.

But, I want to focus on that first organization, 5Rights Foundation. I hadn’t really heard of them before, but it turns out it’s a UK based organization with offices in London and Brussels. Just a couple months ago, they hired someone who had previously worked for the California legislature. It was founded by a Baroness with close ties to Hollywood (any time there’s an internet destructive law happening, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll find Hollywood somehow connected).

Baroness Beeban Kidron directed the second movie in the Bridget Jones’ series of movies, among a variety of other Hollywood projects. Then, somewhere along the way, she apparently decided to dedicate her attention to destroying the open internet… for the children.

Just about a week ago, the Telegraph in the UK had a fairly stunning profile on her seething hatred for the open internet. Basically, she saw that some kids liked being able to use social media to communicate with friends and have access to information and people around the world, and completely freaked out:

“All of those hundreds of hours I’d spent with them went backwards like in The Matrix. I realised that the problems they were having was because the experiences they were having assumed they could make adult discriminations, that they had the adult protection of age, maturity and so on.

“I realised that technology as a sector was pursuing a regressive set of ideas, which deprived children of rights, privileges and expectations. No one would listen and I was determined – and that was it, I ruined my career. I stopped making films and I started campaigning for children to be given a fair deal online. Cut to 10 years later, this is what I do.”

This is one of those things where the Hollywood-style narrative of the evil internet sounds good. The problem is that the actual data debunks it. Nirit Weiss-Blatt recently went through much of the research and found that the harms and risks are massively overstated. We also recently highlighted some research that suggests the claims that social media is increasing suicide rates among teens is not actually supported by the data. And, indeed, as we’ve noted countless times, the oft-quoted leaked research from Frances Haugen that showed that Instagram made some teen girls feel bad about themselves also showed that it made many more feel better about themselves. That’s not to say that this stuff shouldn’t be studied, or that companies shouldn’t be a lot more thoughtful in how their tools are to be used. But the facile narrative that social media is just bad for kids is nonsense.

The article notes that California is about to pass a law based on Kidron’s ideas, which starts to connect the dots a little bit. The UK passed a similarly named “Age Appropriate Design Code” — which the article notes was written by Kidron and her team.

Her children’s code – or Age Appropriate Design Code – was introduced through an amendment to data protection legislation in 2018 putting legal blocks on the ability of social media firms to “addict” children and extract their data. 

[….]

Hailed as pioneering and one of the most impactful examples of legislation ever to target technology firms, Kidron’s code is now being implemented globally. Later this year, a US version of it is set to become law in, of all places, California, the home of Silicon Valley. Australia, Canada and EU countries are following suit.

Okay. But here’s the thing. I started asking around about that “co-source” designation listed next to 5Rights, which is Kidron’s (again Europe-based) organization, and what I heard from two different people in Sacramento is that it almost certainly means that 5Rights is considered a “sponsor” of the bill language itself. I know this sounds insane — perhaps because it is — but California has a process in which organizations get to write their own bills and be considered official “sponsors.” As that article notes, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy, enabling organizations to effectively write bills for the California legislature officially. Sometimes it’s publicly explained, and sometimes it’s not.

Cooley is one of dozens of legislators who introduce “sponsored bills,” legislation instigated by outside groups. The term sounds benign, and it sometimes certainly is.

It’s also opaque. And optional. In fact, KQED News’ detailed review of thousands of pieces of legislation over the past three years shows relatively few sponsored bills — and staffers and lobbyists privately say that’s because legislators often refuse to publicly identify the groups involved.

[….]

A “sponsor” can be any group that pushes a legislator to introduce a bill. The designation dates back to at least the 1920s, but neither the Assembly nor Senate’s official FAQs include the term. Capitol veterans point out that’s probably because it was never meant for the public; rather, they say, it’s usually a way for political heavyweights to put a “Do Not Mess With This Bill” label on legislation that they care about.

Still, one definition seems to be universal: A bill’s sponsors are more than just supporters.

“In some cases, you’re drafting the legislation, you’re drafting talking points, you’re lobbying the bill,” said Shaudi Falamaki Fulp, a former Capitol lobbyist. “You are a partner along the way.”

What I heard from people in Sacramento is that this is the most likely connection 5Rights has to this bill: it helped draft the language.

And… while it appears that the California politicians pushing this law, Buffy Wicks and Jordan Cunningham, haven’t been willing to publicly state that they let a UK Baroness write their legislation for them, 5Rights has been kinda public about announcing that it absolutely is the “sponsor” of the bill:

The California Code is sponsored by children’s digital rights charity 5Rights Foundation, whose Chair Baroness Beeban Kidron is the architect of the UK Code.

So, what that means is that a UK Baroness with deep connections to Hollywood, a slightly creepy savior complex, and a facile but unsupported-by-the-data evil narrative of how the internet works, is literally writing legislation for California. And the California legislature is happy to run with it. For the children.

But, again, the bill will not protect children. It will create a massive headache for any website. It treats high schoolers as if they’re toddlers. It is literally impossible to fully comply with. It will create an astounding amount of busywork — with massive legal liability — for anyone operating a website. It will hand a powerful weapon to California’s Attorney General to shake down basically any company who he gets mad at.

But I guess it will make a Baroness feel good?

Why exactly are we doing this again?

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Companies: 5rights

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Comments on “Why Is A British Baroness Drafting California Censorship Laws?”

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40 Comments
spamvictim (profile) says:

Where are the tech giants?

Among the many strange things about this bill, where are Google, Facebook, and Apple? They’re the obvious targets.

It also would be interesting to contact a few of the listed sponsors, see if they are aware that they are listed as sponsors, and if so do they agree that it is a good idea for every web site to demand to know the age of every user.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re:

Among the many strange things about this bill, where are Google, Facebook, and Apple? They’re the obvious targets.

They’re likely staying silent for the same reason larger companies have jumped on board the anti-230 train: While bills like this will be a hassle for them it they are devastating to the smaller platforms and services that might compete with them, so it’s in their best short-term interests to support the bills(either from action or inaction) at least long enough for smaller sites to be driven under.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Possible I suppose but if a major company doesn’t have their lawyers keeping track of laws that could really screw them over then they need to get better lawyers and/or give them better direction .

If a site like TD was able to learn about something like this early enough to write several articles about it before a major company like Google/Facebook even learned about it something has gone seriously wonky.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The answer's quite simple

Because it helps them. Regulation is an incumbent tech company’s best friend because only THEY will be able to comply. Any potential competition to their market dominance will be burdened by red tape and bureaucracy who don’t have the legal teams Google, Meta, and Twitter have on retainer.

Stuff like this only cements and entrenches their dominance. Why do you think Facebook stumped for things like FOSTA? Because it would help them by crushing competition.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re:

Now watch FOSTA come back to bite Facebook in the butt. People put all sorts of personal ads on there, through which I got a whole bunch of DVDs for free, but if someone was to advertise sex services and the sex workers were trafficked, Section 230 won’t protect the site or its parent company. Even before FOSTA, sites hosting sex trafficking and other federal crimes have never enjoyed Section 230 protections whether or not the sites were directly responsible for posting the content.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Conflict of interest much?

‘Individuals, groups or companies are allowed to write and introduce bills but don’t have to have their names associated with said bills’ certainly seems like a pretty hefty conflict of interest with corruption built in and waiting.

If you think your ideas are so good that they should be legally binding for other people having your name attached should be the least that should be required.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

From the article… “the oft-quoted leaked research from Frances Haugen that showed that Instagram made some teen girls feel bad about themselves also showed that it made many more feel better about themselves.”

Basically, if this passes those that were made to feel bad about themselves will most likely find another reason to be made to feel bad about themselves while the those that felt better about themselves will still be feeling bad about themselves… a perfect win/win /s

Prune Faced Trolls, Worldwide, Inc. says:

Re:

Like the infiltration of journalism with British White Knights like Simon Jenkins-an actual low ranking knight–, and like the old white man meme’s, these prune faced, privileged old white women are the problem everyone, anywhere is having.

This all started with the chivalric code implemented as the gender biased Violence Against Women Act in the 90’s, and it hasn’t let up since. Are you surprised it has come to tone trolling ALL of social media now, not just the so-called “altRight?”

The story ends with “empowered women” ala Prohibition era morality crusades and the massive growth of private prisons built for everyone except them.

Dave W (profile) says:

Baroness and Erotic Award winner....

Don’t get too strung up on her using her title. She is a “life peer” – not a noble. These are temporary titles mostly given for “services to the nation” in a particular sphere.

IF she is using her title in California for non-UK government business she is not breaking any rules; but it is a bit over the top and says more about her self-opinion than anything else.

Fun Fact – Her project “Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns” won her an award for “Most Erotic TV Show”

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