The contagion of disinformation

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By Ezinwa Awogu – BA philosophy graduate, GDL Law student at UWE Bristol and aspiring solicitor 

More connected than ever, information spreads instantaneously, and amongst that information, none seems to spread quite as viciously as disinformation. To be distinguished from misinformation, disinformation, as defined in 1952 by the great soviet encyclopaedia, is information deliberately designed to spread falsehoods for the deception of the public, usually with an underlining agenda for political, social, or economic gain. Disinformation is often more entertaining, and attention-grabbing than reality, and there it finds its strength over real news. Between the COVID-19 health crisis and the highly influential USA presidential election, we have seen myths, conspiracy theories, and disinformation erupt like wildfires. As the global pandemic has forced increased digitization, a higher rate of IT reliance, and an increased online presence, people are liking, sharing, re-tweeting, and subscribing more and more. The conditions are prime for the contagion of disinformation to spread within the algorithm networks of our social media and news provider outlets.

Battling disinformation in democratic countries is a delicate task, often fraught with debate and controversy. The right of freedom of expression under the common law was incorporated into domestic law in 1998 from the European convention, and the right to freedom of expression (subject to certain formalities, conditions, restrictions, and penalties) was ratified by Article 10 of the Human rights act (1998). Many of these restrictions, however, are intentionally broad and appear to have a high degree of subjectivity making them difficult to apply strictly. This broadness can make it hard to police media content, which on one hand rightly protects freedom of expression but on the other makes it more difficult to identify and combat disinformation. Section 127 of the communications Act (2003) criminalizes the use of an electronic communications network to put out messaging that is ‘grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character’. However, in practice, enforcement is largely absent, as we all know, offensive and obscene content has flooded electronic communication networks for a long time with few criminal actions brought forward.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the virus is part of an elaborate government plan to increase observations and curtail rights, started around January and has culminated in mass no-mask protests with many swearing that the pandemic is fake. Whilst true that the response to the virus has been confusing and unclear on many accounts, the deliberate efforts of some to persist in the spread of conspiracy disinformation works to distract from the reality of the inequalities that the virus had illuminated. Realities such as the disproportionate effect on BAME communities and the worldwide devastating disparities in social welfare and healthcare that the virus has exacerbated are therefore pushed to the wayside with attention-grabbing disinformation headlines taking the spotlight.

The efforts in the summer months by the outgoing Trump administration, amongst other world leaders, to spread disinformation, hailing hydroxychloroquine as a ‘miracle cure’ based on insufficient evidence and inadequate testing, served the political ulterior motive to use hope and optimism as a distraction from criticisms of poor handling of the pandemic. We can see similar attempts to capitalize on the pandemic when we observe the Russian disinformation campaign labelling the Oxford vaccine as the ‘monkey vaccine’ in favour of the Russian vaccine, conspicuously named Sputnik. Most recently, the current saga of electoral fraud claims during the recent USA elections attempts to delegitimize the incoming Biden presidency and stoke the fire for social and political upheaval.

In England and Wales, Law aiding the efficient battle of disinformation is scarce. Ofcom, established under the Communications Act (2003) is a regulatory body set up to enforce certain content standards across TV and radio broadcasting, ensuring accuracy and impartiality, but there is currently no regulatory body set up for social media and online content in the same way, which has become a major source of information communication. There have been proposals to change this, and introduce more regulation and accountability in online platforms, namely in the 2019 Cairncross Review report. Nothing concrete has amounted from this as of yet. Social media outlets have recently been taking it upon themselves, in response to public pressure, to internally implement regulations on the content published on their sights. During the ongoing voter election disinformation campaign, Twitter has been flagging up tweets from outgoing president Donald Trump as misleading. Other popular social media sights such as Facebook and Instagram have displayed instances of some resistance to disinformation, but this has been limited and certainly not widespread enough to effectively battle the contagion of disinformation.

A strong argument can be made in favour of social media giants exercising more of their social responsibility and offering more content regulation. However, constitutional protection of freedom of expression limits the allowance for online content restriction, and admittedly, the more content policing happens, the less freedom is available. Finding the delicate line between personal liberty and public interest is an age-old dilemma that has not appeared to be solved as of yet, so it would seem for the moment that the responsibility lies largely with us the audience. In an age where information is so easily weaponized, it is important to be conscientious consumers with regards to the plethora of information flooding our screens. More than ever, active engagement, independent research, and a degree of critical analysis must be essential activity when choosing which information to accept and which sources to trust. We can no longer afford to be passive recipients of information that may harbor active ulterior agendas.

Useful Reference links

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/technology/donald-trump-twitter.html
  2. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russians-spread-fake-news-over-oxford-coronavirus-vaccine-2nzpk8vrq
  3. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/social-media-disinformation/uk.php
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zyt282p/revision/2
  5. https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/15/fda-revokes-hydroxychloroquine/
  6. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/investigating-the-most-convincing-covid-19-conspiracy-theories
  7. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127

Don’t worry if stores aren’t accepting cash…

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You could always suggest Pokémon cards as a form of payment – say the Bank of England – if the store is willing, of course

By Dr Monica Vessio, Associate Lecturer, FBL; Research Associate Centre for Banking Law, University of Johannesburg

Through the ages, money has taken various forms, from feathers, cowrie shells, gold and silver to cash and bank deposits. While most of the money in the UK is held electronically as deposits (96%), a small proportion (4%) is still held in physical form as cash (banknotes and coins). Despite the relatively low percentage of cash compared to bank deposits, cash continues to be important. There are over 70 billion pounds of notes in circulation.

Most recently, and because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many store holders are refusing to accept cash. The immediate question that arises is – but cash is legal tender, so are stores not obliged to accept this form of payment?

According to the Bank of England, a shop owner can choose what form of payment they are prepared to accept. If you want to pay for a pack of gum with a £50 note, it is perfectly legal for them to refuse to accept this payment type. It is, apparently, entirely, a matter of discretion. If your local corner shop decided to only accept payments in Pokémon cards, the Bank of England says that would be within their right to.

Legal tender takes on a narrow technical meaning and means that if you offer to fully pay off a debt to someone in legal tender, they cannot sue you for failing to repay.

As to what is classed as legal tender varies, depending where you are in the UK. In England and Wales, Royal Mint Coins and Bank of England notes are legal tender, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland it is only Royal Mint coins and not banknotes. There are further restrictions when using small coins. For example, 1p and 2p coins only count as legal tender for any amount up to 20p. Cheques, debit cards and contactless are not legal tender. Bank of England notes stop being legal tender, once withdrawn, but don’t worry the Bank of England will give plenty of warning before they retire any notes.

Kiyotaki & Wright (1993) tell us that the most important function of money is probably its role as a medium of exchange. While, Wicksell (1906) explained that a medium of exchange means “an object which is taken in exchange, not on its own account, . . . not to be consumed by the receiver or to be employed in technical production, but to be exchanged for something else within a longer or shorter period of time.” Thus, if you could talk a store into accepting Pokémon cards in exchange for bread and milk or other “essential” items, you would not be paying in legal tender but certainly a legal and valid transaction will have occurred. 

The Polluter Pays Principle: The only Principle that can limit aviation emissions (if we do it right)

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This blog was written by Mandy Beck, an LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development student at UWE Bristol.

Today, an airplane takes off approximately every 0.8 seconds somewhere around the globe.[1] The impact of the aviation sector on the climate is enormous. Stefan Gössling, professor for sustainable transport at Lund/Linnaeus University, Sweden, even states that ‘on an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation’.[2] Globally, the aviation sector contributes a total of 2.5%[3] to all anthropogenic[4] CO2 emissions, making it a significant contributor to global warming. Often undiscussed, however, are the non-CO2 effects, meaning those effects resulting from e.g. particles, water vapour, and nitrogen oxides. Together with these non-CO2 effects, aviation contributes to global warming by 5%.[5]

The International Air Transport Association estimates that the demand for flights is going to double by 2037.[6] The decision-makers in the aviation sector thereby face the challenge of making aviation climate-neutral. In 2012, former European Commissioner for Climate Action in the European Commission, Connie Hedegaard stated that the ‘Polluter pays is the only principle that can limit aviation emissions’.[7]

The Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) reflects an idea that is taught to us since our childhood: ‘Clean up after yourself’.[8] Due to this principle, the costs of pollution should be allocated to the actor who caused them.[9] The PPP is implemented by using market-based measures (MBMs), such as levies, emission trading (such as the EU Emission Trading System EU-ETS), and offsetting schemes. Implementing a MBM is necessary, as technical progress and operational measures alone will not be sufficient to limit climate emissions sufficiently in the aviation sector in the near future.[10]

The first international offsetting scheme for aviation, CORSIA[11], will be implemented step by step starting 2021. Doubts, however, remain as to the effectiveness of this MBM in the light of reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.[12] Overall, the PPP could hold more potential in curbing aviation-caused climate emissions. The following improvements must, however, be made:

Inclusion of non-CO2 effects and removal of subsidies

Climate damages resulting from non-CO2 effects must be included in a MBM. Despite the major importance of non-CO2 effects, these effects are not included in CORSIA nor the EU-ETS. Secondly, the subsidies in the billions granted to airlines must be removed (e.g. grants for Etihad Airlines by Abu Dhabi; grants by the European Commission to Air Malta). Subsidies have an opposite effect than the PPP, as they falsify the costs that must be borne.[13] Also, due to subsidies, aviation has a competitive advantage over other – more sustainable – means of transport.

Full payment for all environmental costs until 2050

The polluter must fully pay for all environmental costs by 2050 to reach the 1.5°C Goal (2085 at the latest for the 2°C Goal). The price for one ton of CO2 in 2019 including all climate costs (CO2 and non-CO2 effects) is 371 Euro/ton CO2.[14] The price set under the EU-ETS today is much lower at approx. 30 Euro/ton CO2.[15]To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the PPP can be implemented gradually (with increasing CO2 prices over time), however, the above-mentioned full payment to the given deadlines must be reached.

Implementation of the PPP at the beginning of the value chain

Currently, all MBMs that have been implemented address the airlines. However, making the fuel suppliers pay for subsequent environmental damages, holds one significant advantage: fossil fuel suppliers would lose their competitive advantage, due to not paying for climate damage, over renewable energy providers. If all suppliers include environmental damage in their pricing, the market conditions would be equal.


[1]Statista, ‘Number of flights performed by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2020’ (2020) <www.statista.com/statistics/564769/airline-industry-number-of-flights/> accessed 24 February 2020.

[2] Arthur Sullivan, ‘To fly or not to fly? The environmental cost of air travel‘ (2020) <https://www.dw.com/en/to-fly-or-not-to-fly-the-environmental-cost-of-air-travel/a-42090155> accessed 24 June 2020.

[3] Umweltbundesamt, Umweltschonender Luftverkehr: lokal – national – international (Umweltbundesamt Publikationen, 2019), 30.

[4] man-made.

[5] Malte Niklaß, Benjamin Lührs, Robin Ghosh, ‘A Note on How to Internalize Aviation’s Climate Impact of non-CO2 Effects’ <www.researchgate.net/publication/311788948_A_Note_on_How_to_Internalize_Aviation%27s_Climate_Impact_of_non-CO2_Effects> accessed 15 Mai 2020; equal conclusion reached in Jörg Larsson, Simon Matti, Jonas Nässén, ‘Public Support for aviation policy measures in Sweden‘ (2020) <https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2020.1759499> accessed 20 August 2020.

[6] IATA, ‘Annual review 2019’ (2019) <https://www.iata.org/contentassets/c81222d96c9a4e0bb4ff6ced0126f0bb/iata-annual-review-2019.pdf> accessed 11 February 2020,16.

[7] The Guardian, ‘Polluter pays’ is the only principle that can limit aviation emissions’ (2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/apr/04/polluter-pays-aviation-emissions> accessed 15 February 2020.

[8] David Boyd, ‘Clean up after yourself’ <www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/clean-up-after-yourself/article773567/> accessed 10 February 2020.

[9] Philippe Sands, Jacqueline Peel, Adriana Fabra, Ruth MacKenzie, Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 2018) 240.

[10] ICAO, Environmental Report 2019 – Chapter: Climate Change Mitigation: CORSIA (ICAO Publications 2019) 236.

[11] Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.

[12] That is holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

[13] Stefan Gössling, Frank Fichert, Peter Forsyth, ‘Subsidies in Aviation’ (2017) 9(8) Sustainability 1295, 1295.

[14] Umweltbundesamt, Methodenkonvention 3.0 zur Ermittlung von Umweltkosten Kostensätze Stand 02/2019 (Umweltbundesamt Publikationen, 2019). UBA recommends the use of a multiplier of 2.0 for the transfer of the CO2 price to aviation emissions to include the non-CO2 effects.

[15] Michael Holder, ‘EU carbon prices surge to 14-year high’ <www.businessgreen.com/news/4017770/eu-carbon-prices-surge-14> accessed 23 July 2020.         

Cryptoassets, social media platforms and terrorism financing: a step into the regulatory unknown

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In his new article that will be published in the Journal of Business Law later this year, Professor Nicholas Ryder investigates the link between terrorism financing, cryptoassets and social media platforms.

Terrorism financing was propelled to the top of the international community’s financial crime agenda following the al Qaeda terrorist attacks in the United States of America (US) on September 11 2001 (9/11).  Until these terrorist attacks, the international community largely focused its efforts on tackling the illegal sale and distribution of narcotic substances and related money laundering.  As a result, a global anti-money laundering (AML) policy was developed by the United Nations (UN), the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the European Union (EU).  Following the terrorist attacks in 2001, the international community, led by the UN, and heavily influenced by the actions of then US President George Bush, implemented the ‘Financial War on Terrorism’.  As a result of the Financial War on Terrorism, terrorism financiers were forced to modify their funding strategies. Traditionally, terrorists relied on two sources of funding: state and private sponsors. State sponsored terrorism involves government’s providing logistical and financial support to terrorists, or governments even conducting acts of terrorism against their own citizens. However, since the instigation of the Financial War on Terrorism, there has been a decline in state sponsored terrorism and it is more likely that terrorists will receive funding from private sponsors or donors. These sources used by terrorism financiers include drug trafficking, extortion, organised retail theft, fraud, misapplied charitable donations, the sale of conflict diamonds, precious metals, robbery and theft, kidnappings for ransom, counterfeit currencies, oil refining, smuggling artefacts, the abuse of natural resources, piracy, slavery and human trafficking.  The flexibility, creativity, simplicity and sophistication of the terrorism financing models represent an unprecedented threat and risk. 

Cryptoassets

The link between cryptoassets and terrorism financing is evident following several terrorism financing related convictions.  For example, in August 2015, Ali Shukri Amin, was convicted and sentenced to 11 years and four months imprisonment for using the “internet to provide material support and resources” to ISIL.  Amin pleaded guilty and admitted to using his Twitter handle ‘@Amreekiwitness’ to “provide instruction [to ISIL] on how to use Bitcoin … to mask the provision of funds to ISIL.  Another example of terrorism financiers exploiting cryptoassets was Zoobia Shahnaz, who was arrested by the FBI after attempting to transfer $62,000 worth of Bitcoin to ISIL.  The Department of Justice (DoJ) stated that Shahnaz had entered into a number of financial transactions designed to circumvent the transaction reporting obligations imposed by the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act 1970.  In March 2020, Shahnaz was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment.  Clearly, then, modern forms of technology, especially social media platforms are used by terrorism financiers.  More often than not, the payments made over the internet, the Dark Web or social media platforms involve small amounts of funding which do not raise suspicion.

Social Media Platforms

The anonymity and speed provided by the Internet is an appealing tool for terrorists to solicit financial donors.  In evidence presented to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation, and Trade Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa) the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated that some of terrorism fundraising was carried out in plain sight on online social media platforms. The evidence referred to a video uploaded to YouTube in October 2016 by Abd Allah al-Muhaysini who “thanked Gulf donors for supporting jihadists in Syria: ‘As for the businessmen, and I will mention some of them, the ones who prepared these hundred rockets, may Allah reward them … I tell all the businessmen of the Muslims, this is your money now, fighting in the path of Allah’”. Further evidence of the association between social media platforms and terrorism financing is illustrated by the US Department of the Treasury, which in 2014 imposed sanctions on three terrorism financiers for “fundraising appeals on social media”.  Here, the US Department of the Treasury stated that, “Al-Ajmi operates regular social media campaigns seeking donations for Syrian fighters and is one of the most active Kuwaiti fundraisers for Al-Nusra Front.  In July 2014, Al-Ajmi publicly admitted that he collected money under the auspices of charity and delivered the funds in person”.  Further sanctions were imposed on Abdul MohsenAbdullah Ibrahim al-Sharikh, who “is a senior ANF leader and al-Qaida facilitator based in Syria … in this role, al-Sharikh has used social media posts to demonstrate his aspiration to target Americans and U.S. interests”.  Furthermore, in March 2019, Gregory Lepsky was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment after pleading guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation.  Here, law enforcement authorities were able to determine that Lepsky had used several social media platforms to plan his terrorist attack.  In September 2019, the US Department of Treasury stated that “HAMAS solicit[ed] Bitcoin donations via social media, using two Bitcoin addressed.  As of late March 2019, those two known addressed had received at least $5,000 worth of Bitcoin”.  These instances illustrate that terrorism financiers are using several social media platforms in an attempt either to solicit donations or to transfer funds to proscribed terrorist groups. 

Conclusion

Terrorism financiers have continued to vary their funding activities.  Terrorism financing has moved away from its traditional funding mechanisms towards exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity provided by the Internet and Dark Web.  In particular, this paper has identified several examples of terrorism financiers using cryptoassets, such as Bitcoin, and a wide range of social media platforms. There is no doubt that terrorism financing via social media platforms, the ‘Dark Web’ and heavily encrypted mobile devices is an unprecedented problem. 

Twitter Bitcoin Scam

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By Henry Hillman, Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol.

On 15 July 2020, numerous high profile Twitter users’ accounts were hijacked to display messages promising to return double the Bitcoin sent to a published Bitcoin address. Compromised accounts included Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and Kim Kardashian,[1] as well as accounts linked to high profile cryptocurrency service providers such as Coindesk and Binance.[2] The nature of the compromised accounts meant that the incident very quickly became headline news, and Twitter acknowledged the issue publicly through its CEO[3] and support pages.[4] Needless to say, nobody who sent the Bitcoins to the scam address received any Bitcoins in return. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by ‘Cryptoforhealth’ which was registered on Instagram at the same time as the scam tweets. The account posted a statement claiming the attack was for charity and that the “money will find its way to the right place.”[5]

As further details have emerged, Twitter has revealed that 130 accounts were targeted, 45 had their passwords reset, and the account information for 8 accounts was downloaded.[6] While the identities of the compromised accounts is clear from the accounts the scam address was tweeted from, it is not known whose data has been downloaded. Twitter has stated that no ‘verified’ accounts have had their data downloaded, meaning no account with the blue tick, assigned to high profile assure the account is genuine,[7] and, understandably, Twitter will not reveal any further details on who has had their data downloaded.

The claims purporting the charitable nature of the attack cannot be corroborated, and the real identity of the perpetrators is still not known. The ‘CryptoForHealth.com’ domain name was created on 15 July,[8] the same day of the scam tweets, using a fake address and phone number.[9]  The name ‘Anthony Elias’ was used to register the website, but no genuine identity can be traced.[10]

How?

The exact methods employed by the perpetrators of the scam will likely never be known, as it is not likely an organisation would want to provide the details of how to breach its security, for fear of similar attacks. Twitter has been relatively open in recognising the security breach so quickly, and providing a public update on 18 July 2020 stating that “attackers targeted certain Twitter employees through a social engineering scheme.”[11] Social engineering is a broad term, which refers to obtaining sensitive information from an individual or group of people in possession of the information, or with access to it.[12] This could be as simple as phishing, or more complex by duping an individual using other relevant information to gain trust. Twitter state that the “attackers successfully manipulated a small number of employees and used their credentials to access Twitter’s internal systems,”[13] in order to post tweets from high profile accounts. Given the number of affected accounts, and the complexity of two-factor authentication,[14] it is likely to have been a complex operation, but it cannot be ruled out that the perpetrators were the benefactors of a slice of good fortune in obtaining their ‘all access pass’ to twitter accounts.

Analysis

While such a scam has not made headline news before, the nature of it has many similarities to previous scams, both in Bitcoin and wider internet scams. There are issues with the term hacking, the simplicity of the scam proposition, and the behaviour of the Bitcoin address in the scam being similar to that of ransomware attacks, such as Wannacry.

While a technical point, it should be acknowledged that this is not a hack, Twitter’s security infrastructure was not breached due to a weakness exploited by the attackers. The reason the attackers were able to post tweets from compromised accounts was due to human error, if Twitter’s statements are to be believed.

The scam was a very simple one, which relied upon the fame of the account holders, and the influence they may have on their followers, to provide veracity to the address and encourage victims to send Bitcoins. If the aim was to make money then the tactics used once the attackers had access appear unsophisticated. The premise should not cause many to believe they will get their sent Bitcoins doubled, and only 12.8652 Bitcoins were sent to the address, equating to around £94,000 based on the value of Bitcoin around the time of the attack. The simplicity of the tweets may be why only 44 incoming transactions can be seen for the Bitcoin address published.[15] The second way in which the attack was crude was in the victim twitter accounts chosen, and the tweets being posted in short order. By selecting high profile victims, and tweeting from all of their accounts on the same day, the attackers were always going to be detected quickly. The attackers would have been naïve in the extreme not to realise their attack would be detected very quickly, this has led to the attack being described as a “smash and grab” exercise.[16] The crudeness of the tactics suggest acquiring Bitcoins could have been a secondary aim for the attack, with publicity being the main goal.

The behaviour of the Bitcoin address published in the tweets follows a predictable path. The Bitcoins received were not kept in the address for very long, quickly being moved to various addresses, which in turn moved the Bitcoins on again. With patience the Bitcoins can be traced, as distributed ledger technology means all transactions are published on the blockchain, but the owners of the addresses remain unknown. These practices are similar to those employed by ransomware attackers once the ransoms are paid to their respective addresses. The biggest weakness from publishing a criminal Bitcoin address is that investigators have a starting point from which to follow transactions. This issue can be addressed by using ‘mixer’ services. These services allow users to disguise which addresses Bitcoins are being sent to by completing the transaction as part of a group of transactions. Bitcoin transactions can have numerous input address and numerous output addresses, a mixer service will gather large numbers of inputs and send them all in one transaction to the outputs, but it will not be possible for investigators to know which senders correlate to which recipients.

Conclusions

This incident will fade out of the public consciousness very quickly, and it is unlikely the full details of how the attack was conducted will ever be made public. It is also unlikely that any Bitcoins sent to the scam address will be retrieved, and equally unlikely that the attack was a charitable one. For investigators, it provides an opportunity to view the behaviour of the attackers and it also serves as a very public lesson in basic financial intelligence; do not send your money to random locations on the internet, and if a deal sounds too good to be true, in invariably is.


[1] BBC News, ‘Major US Twitter accounts hacked in Bitcoin scam’ (16 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53425822> accessed 20 July 2020.

[2] Cameron Winklevoss, ‘Twitter Status’ (Twitter, 21:18 BST 15 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/winklevoss/status/1283493640287989760?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[3] Jack Dorsey, ‘Thread’ (Twitter, 02:18 BST 16 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/jack/status/1283571658339397632?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[4] Twitter Support, ‘Thread’ (22:45 15 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/TwitterSupport/status/1283518038445223936?s=20> accessed 20 July 2020.

[5] BBC News, ‘Twitter hack: FBI investigates major Twitter attack’ (17 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53439585> accessed 21 July 2020.

[6] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[7] Twitter, ‘About verified accounts’ <https://help.twitter.com/en/managing-your-account/about-twitter-verified-accounts> accessed 20 July 2020.

[8] Whois Domain Tools, ‘Whois Record for CryptoForHealth.com’ (created 15 July 2020, last updated 21 July 2020) <https://whois.domaintools.com/cryptoforhealth.com> accessed 21 July 2020.

[9] Samuel Haig, ‘Who Owns the ‘CryptoForHealth’ Domain Behind the Twitter Hacks?’ (CoinTelegraph, 16 July 2020) <https://cointelegraph.com/news/who-owns-the-cryptoforhealth-domain-behind-the-twitter-hacks> accessed 21 July 2020

[10] BBC News, ‘Twitter hack: FBI investigates major Twitter attack’ (17 July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53439585> accessed 21 July 2020.

[11] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[12] F. Mouton, L. Leenen, and H.S. Venter, ‘Social engineering attack examples, templates and scenarios’ (2016) 59 Computers & Security 186 at p187.

[13] Twitter, ‘An update on our security incident’ (18 July 2020) <https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/an-update-on-our-security-incident.html> accessed 20 July 2020.

[14] Twitter, ‘How to use two-factor authentication’ <https://help.twitter.com/en/managing-your-account/two-factor-authentication> accessed 20 July 2020.

[15] BitInfoCharts, ‘Bitcoin Address bc1qxy2kgdygjrsqtzq2n0yrf2493p83kkfjhx0wlh’  <https://bitinfocharts.com/bitcoin/address/bc1qxy2kgdygjrsqtzq2n0yrf2493p83kkfjhx0wlh> accessed 21 July 2020.

[16] Joe Tidy, ‘Major US Twitter accounts hacked in Bitcoin scam’ (BBC News, 16July 2020) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53425822> accessed 21 July 2020.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

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By Professor Nicholas Ryder, Head of Research, Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group

In its 2018 Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) of the United Kingdom’s (UK) level of compliance with its Recommendations, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded that the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regimes were “effective”. In order to implement the FATF Recommendations and achieve this unprecedented endorsement, the UK has adopted an aggressive and, at times, holistic strategy towards tackling financial crime. For example, the UK Government has published two National Risk Assessments (NRA), one in 2015 and the second in 2017. These were followed by the publication of the Economic Crime Plan, which outlined seven strategic priorities and 52 action points. Collectively, these measures have gone some way to address the shortfalls identified in the FATF 2007-2008 MER and they have contributed towards the highest rating ever provided by the FATF. 

In particular, the MER praised the aggressive stance towards investigating and prosecuting money laundering cases, the adoption of Unexplained Wealth Orders, how the UK disrupts terrorism financing, preventing the misuse of companies and trusts and how it works with its international partners. John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and City Minister said, “I am incredibly proud that today’s report confirms that the UK has one of the strongest regimes in the world for deterring these criminals”. Ben Wallace, Minister for Security and Economic Crime said, “I’m delighted with today’s report which shows our efforts are being recognised, and sends a strong message to criminals that we will come for them, their assets and their money”. However, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) stated that “in PR terms at least, the government’s efforts [to tackle financial crime] seem to have paid off, with the UK receiving the highest aggregate scorings under the revised FATF evaluation methodology to date”.  RUSI added that “the UK has achieved top-of-the-class marks from the FATF – government officials will be both surprised and relieved.  However, the fact that the UK remains central to global money laundering schemes brings into question the relevance of this evaluation”. 

These sixth leaked published by the ICIJ since 2012/2013 (Offshore leaks; Luxembourg, Swiss, Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers), alleges that HSBC, JP Morgan, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered were involved in a variety of related transactions. The FinCEN leaked reports suggest several of the world’s largest banks allowed criminals to move approximately $2tn via illegal financial transactions. The report also suggests that the UK is a ‘higher risk jurisdiction’ and compared to Cyprus. This is due to the number of UK registered companies (over 3,000 according to the BBC) that appears in the suspicious activity reports submitted to FinCEN. If the leaked reports are accurate, they represent a significant blow to the UK’s efforts to tackle financial crime, especially since the ‘glowing’ end of term report from the FATF. The leaked report tells us that despite the rhetoric from the UK government that very little has changed in how the global financial operates.

In the short-term, ‘profound apologies’ will follow, there will be condemnation, the accused financial institutions will receive the customary bad media coverage and share prices will be affected. Financial regulatory agencies will insist that the financial sector improves its levels of compliance, and fines could follow. Prosecutions? Unlikely if previous efforts are anything to go by. In the long term, nothing will change, it never changes.

Superfast Scout software could put more cyber criminals into jail

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Experts at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are working with a technology company to develop software that is set to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to identify financial crime. The two-year project, which is co-funded by the UK’s Innovation agency, Innovate UK, could help tackle money laundering and financing of criminal activities, as well as potentially lead to more convictions.

UWE Bristol’s Professor Nicholas Ryder, an expert in financial crime, Dr Phil Legg, who specialises in cybersecurity, and Henry Hillman (cryptocurrency) are working with the team at Synalogik, an SME based in Tewkesbury that develops systems that automate intelligence-gathering and investigation.

Together they are developing Scout™, a system that can detect suspicious online money transfer activity extremely fast and therefore potentially save hours of laborious police work. The program locates financial activity that could be fraudulent, scores it in terms of risk, and does all this in minutes rather than the hours or even days it could take police analysts to sift through data.

The subsequent effect is creating an environment where investigators or analysts have more capacity to conduct immediate lines of enquiries and are significantly more productive than when operating previous obsolete criminal investigation procedures manually.

Professor Ryder said: “This is an exciting project to be involved in and is ground breaking when it comes to tackling activist financing as it will massively speed things up and will therefore save valuable time in tracking down criminals or activists. It has never been done before in this way and the quicker the intelligence comes through, the better.”

He explained that previously it was compulsory for financial institutions to provide data around potentially fraudulent activity to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and this could cause delay in identifying cyber criminals because, in many cases, these were false leads.

“One of the major problems of reporting allegations of financial crime has been that financial institutions have been obligated to report it. That system is flawed because people feel they have to report allegations of money laundering, even when there is no evidence. This has led to too much reporting that’s not necessarily accurate,” said Professor Ryder.

Scott Coughtrie, who is Head of Strategic Operations at Synalogik, said: “Our innovative software is disruptive because the operational capabilities and applications in the differing investigative sectors in which Scout is deployed provide real time investigation and live analysis opportunities which never existed until very recently.”

“The expertise provided by UWE Bristol’s Research and Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group is essential to understanding criminal methodology, processes, operational practices and patterns of behaviour to enable a complete insight into the risk associated with criminal activity and how we predict, identify, prevent and, in the cases of prosecution, evidence all material and actions.”

Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation. For more information visit www.innovateuk.ukri.org

Pre-trial detention decision-making during the COVID-19 crisis: the urgent need for open justice

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In April 2020, Tom Smith, Senior Lecturer in Law at UWE Bristol, published a short article for criminal justice NGO Fair Trials, discussing the use of pre-trial detention during the Covid-19 emergency. The full post was written by Tom Smith and was first published on the Fair Trials website.

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has the majority of the world confined to their homes on lockdown, vital public services – most visibly healthcare – continue to operate in very difficult and risky circumstances. The criminal justice system is one such public service. Whilst most jurisdictions have made significant changes to their working practices in response to the pandemic, work must continue to ensure that justice is delivered fairly and effectively. An essential element of doing so is ensuring justice is seen to be done; this principle of open justice is crucial to a fair and effective justice system, but is currently under threat. In England and Wales (E&W), this is particularly so in relation to cases involving pre-trial detention (PTD), which are, at present, the main work of the criminal courts. The vast majority of cases deemed non-vital are currently not being heard, most notably in magistrates courts (in which all cases start and most cases conclude). HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), which has been publishing daily operational updates, identifies ‘overnight custody cases from police stations’, ‘productions from prisons’, and ‘applications to extend custody time limits’ as the only work currently being conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service (which prosecutes most criminal cases). All involve PTD. Overnight custody cases are, in effect, the first appearance at court of someone charged with an offence. If detained by the police after charge, this must happen the next working day. Productions from prisons will also normally relate to a relevant time limit on PTD, such as the requirement for a defendant to be returned to court within 8 clear days after their first detention. Custody Time Limits (CTLs) apply to all cases involving PTD, and vary depending on the seriousness of the charge. If the limit expires, the defendant must be released on bail – hence the need to return them to court to extend a limit (which courts have the power to do). Other work is identified as continuing in magistrates courts, but the above will be the main case load currently being dealt with – and all involve, exclusively, PTD decision making. 

This is important for several reasons. There are no new jury trials; the Crown Court (the higher criminal trial court) will only cover urgent work. The senior courts, such as the Court of Appeal (which cover a fraction of the cases dealt with in trial courts) are similar. Therefore, dealing with PTD decisions are and will represent the primary day-to-day activity of the criminal courts system as a whole for the foreseeable future. This makes sense in the current situation, but raises questions about pre-existing issues related to PTD. For example, concerns have been raised about the brevity of PTD decision-making, lasting on average a few minutes. Set against a general atmosphere of ‘urgency’ both outside of and within the courts, this may be exacerbated. Similarly, previous concerns about limited reasoning for PTD decisions may be affected by the desire to work swiftly in the current circumstances. Both of the above may also be impacted by the now pervasive use of video link technology (VLT) to avoid the attendance of all parties at court. This is clearly justifiable for public health reasons and the safety of all involved; but this has also been implemented very quickly. VLT has been criticised in the past for not facilitating proceedings adequately in terms of quality, reliability and engagement of all parties involved (particularly defendants). In terms of speed and reasoning, one would hope that more time would be taken over VLT to ensure decisions are thorough and clear. But it might be argued that technology tends to enable and encourage us to do things more quickly. There is a risk this could deepen the problems above. 

The same might be said of disclosure of information and evidence in advance of PTD hearings. Defendants and their lawyers have previously reported consistently failing to be given full information prior to consultation and representation before a court on PTD matters. Lawyers would often receive such information shortly before or even during hearings, sometimes by physically being shown material in court. This may be even more problematic in the current circumstances if none of the parties are actually present in the same room. One must wonder whether remote conduct of PTD hearings will help or hinder defence lawyers in this regard; after all, sharing of evidence prior to the pandemic was done entirely electronically, and yet has consistently been a problem. It is also worth noting that it appears that most PTD decision making in the courts is currently being made by District Judges (DJs, professional judges) rather than a bench of lay magistrates (ordinary, legally untrained citizens). Previous research  has suggested distinct modes of practice depending on the decision-maker, with DJs tending to be quicker, but better in terms of reasoning. Some research has also shown a tendency of DJs to be more willing to detain defendants, though this has varied. Again, this factor could have some impact on PTD decision-making over the coming months. 

Aside from aggravating existing problems in PTD practice, the current situation creates new issues. It has been pointed out by many that it is imperative to reduce the use of detention generally (including PTD) for public health reasons. Keeping defendants out of custody where possible and lawful should be a priority. As such, decisions need to be well considered and not relapse into habitual ways of approaching cases. Previous research has shown PTD practice stubbornly resistant to change in many respects (with some exceptions); we must therefore hope that the long-term issues highlighted above do not restrict this important need to think differently about detention in light of Covid-19. It is hard to say how much of a problem the issues above will be; these suggestions are purely speculative, but that is for good reason. At present, in E&W, it is almost impossible for a researcher or the public to observe PTD decision-making in the courts: they are effectively inaccessible. HMCTS has announced ‘a range of measures to support the principle of open justice’, including: 

  1. access to open hearings if a public gallery is available 
  2. remote access for a third party 
  3. transcripts (if available) for any party or interested person 
  4. audio recording which can be listened to in a court building 
  5. notes of a hearing to be made available on request 
  6. access for accredited media  

On paper, this looks to be a good range of access to PTD decision making in the current difficult circumstances. In reality, they are arguably unfeasible. Numbers 1 and 4 are almost impossible in light of strong guidance to the public not to leave home unless it is essential. Number 2 will, effectively, depend on the goodwill and engagement of particular court staff to facilitate such access. Transcripts may not, in fact, be made and if requested, will depend on definitions such as ‘interested party’. Number 5 may not provide useful information to an observer since notes will not necessarily be comprehensive or reflect their interests. It is also worth noting that for none of the above is further information available on how one might pursue these routes of access. 

Number 6 is the only route that appears to be currently operational, but only to some extent. Some journalists have reported good access to proceedings via remote links. For example, Tristan Cork of the London Evening Standard reported on the bail hearing of Julian Assange (who had a bail request denied on the basis he might flee – a questionable decision in light of the extreme travel restrictions presently in place in the UK). However, this was a high profile case, likely to attract attention – unlike most PTD hearings. Moreover, most of the journalists reporting good access are London-based. It might also be added that many – including Cork – will now be on furlough due to Covid-19, like many members of the working public, and will therefore not be reporting on cases. As such, at present, it is unclear how accessible PTD decision-making is to the media, the public, or researchers. We might therefore ask – beyond the lawyers involved in cases, who is checking current practice? PTD decision-making directly affects the liberty of unconvicted persons and this will (and should) continue despite the various restrictions currently in place. However, the latter fact creates potential for lengthy delays to trials since none are being listed, and therefore much longer periods of detention for unconvicted defendants. It is very important to be able to properly scrutinise such decision making; a lack of scrutiny in any discipline enables (and in some cases encourages) poor practice to flourish.

All the above might be dubbed an overreaction, but the conviction of Marie Dinou has already proven the risks to be real. Dinou was approached by police at Newcastle Central train station and asked to account for her presence. She did not do so and was arrested on suspicion of an offence under the new Coronavirus Act 2020. She spent two days in custody before being brought to a court hearing; after failing to confirm her personal details, she was returned to the court cells, and was convicted in her absence without a lawyer. Dinou allegedly did not say a word on arrest; to her lawyer at the police station; or at court. It appears no mental health assessment was made of her, nor was it confirmed whether she spoke English. After persistent inquiry by journalists and lawyers via social media, it transpired that Dinou had been charged with a non-existent offence under the legislation, and therefore wrongfully convicted. This has now been set aside. As has been pointed out by lawyer Robin Murray, there appear to have been a catalogue of breaches of the Criminal Procedure Rules (which govern criminal court proceedings) and legislation relating to disclosure, compounded by a lack of legal representation and failure to confirm the defendant’s ability to comprehend proceedings. This case, however, bucks the trend of invisibility for most; it was a minor offence dealt with in a lower court, which are generally paid little attention. Yet Dinou spent two days in PTD, to be convicted incorrectly. This raises the very real possibility that this may already be happening across E&W (a jurisdiction with a comparatively robust PTD framework), and beyond; and with very limited access to the courts for external observers to scrutinise and question poor practice, there is real risk of not only unnecessary and excessive detention of unconvicted persons, but wrongful convictions. It is therefore imperative that access to external observation be realistically operationalised as soon as possible; and that practitioners ensure that thoroughness and care is taken in PTD decision-making in the admittedly very difficult – but, equally, medium-term – circumstances in which criminal justice now functions. 

From prisoner to paralegal: Morris Kaberia tells his story

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Lawyer and activist, Morris Kaberia, recently came to visit students at UWE Bristol to speak about his story of justice. After suffering an unwarranted 13 years, 5 of which were spent on death row, in Kamiti High prison, Morris was set free. With help from African Prisons Project, a programme that UWE Bristol Law students support through our Pro Bono unit, Morris studied for a Law degree whilst he was in prison and was able to use his newly learnt knowledge to fight his case for which he was wrongly accused.

Morris visited the University on Monday 10 February 2020 to deliver a talk to our students about his journey, experiences and advice. You can listen to the full talk recorded as a podcast.

Kathy Brown, Senior Law Lecturer, oversees the student participation in the African Prisons Project programme. She said: “Studying for a law degree has enabled the prisoners to gain a higher level of education, act as paralegals for other inmates and represent themselves in court. Many of them are given extreme sentences for relatively small crimes, such as being given death penalty for aggravated burglary, and are on remand for several years.”

In his impactful visit to UWE Bristol, Morris spoke about the importance of the project and how it inspired a new lease of life within himself and his fellow prisoners. He greeted current Law students to enforce the need for students to continue working with this project, and he also reconnected with students who helped him whilst he was in prison which was extremely powerful and emotional.

Morris was interviewed after his talk which you can watch below. Please note: Morris went to Kamiti prison, not community prison as mentioned in the subtitles.

If you would like to know more about our Pro Bono Unit please contact fblclinic@uwe.ac.uk.

Using as the Starting Point the Article ‘WTO Rules against EU “Anti-Dumping” Duties on Indonesian Biofuel’ by Natasha Burton in New Economy on 26 January 2018, Discuss the Use of Anti-dumping Measures by the EU on Biofuels

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Written by Chloe Barratt

This post (edited for publication) is published on our blog as part of a series of work produced by students for assessment within the module ‘Public International Law’. Following the blogging success over the last couple of years, we decided to publish our students’ excellent work in this area again in this way. The module is an option in the second year of Bristol Law School’s LLB programme. It continues to be led by Associate Professor Dr Noëlle Quénivet. Using innovative learning and teaching methods, Noëlle developed this module to include the use of online portfolios within a partly student led curriculum. The posts in this series show the outstanding research and analytical abilities of students on our programmes. Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author only who consents to the publication.

Anti-dumping duties are additional charges imposed by a state in response to the dumping of products into the ‘commerce of another country at less than the normal value of the products’ (Article VI GATT). They are a means of neutralising unfair trade practice, allowing states to protect their domestic industry if the dumping is having a negative effect on their economy. This blog will discuss how the European Union (EU) imposes anti-dumping measures on biofuels, a renewable source of energy that until recently was seen as an attractive alternative to fossil fuels. I will discuss how the issue that lies at the heart of the dispute with anti-dumping measures is, as Burton’s article highlights, how the extent of dumping is calculated. After examining the implications of anti-dumping measures, I will conclude that they are necessarily used to neutralise unfair trade practice and maintain economic and social stability within the EU.

Process of Bringing an Anti-dumping Measure

To ensure anti-dumping duties are imposed to counteract unfair trade practice, the process of imposing duties is heavily regulated. Accordingly, Article 1 of the  Agreement on Implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (ADA) requires all investigations to be initiated and conducted in accordance with the provisions of the ADA. Whilst the World Trade Organisation (WTO) does not regulate the initial act of dumping, it is responsible for regulating the process a state must follow when initiating an anti-dumping measure. If, for example, the EU believes products are being dumped into its market it must first be able to show that the dumping is taking place. In doing so it must be able to calculate how much lower the export price is in comparison to the home market price and show that it is causing injury or threatening to do so. The high threshold for establishing the injurious effect of the dumping accompanied by an investigation (see Article 5 ADA) seeks to ensure that anti-dumping duties are used productively.

Why Calculations of Anti-dumping Measures Have Proven Problematic

Whilst the process of imposing an anti-dumping measure is well regulated, the element of calculating the extent of dumping was highlighted as problematic in Burton’s article. As the EU explains in the Commission Implementing Regulation 2018/1570, following the rulings in Indonesia and Argentina (see para 8), the method of calculation has now been clarified in light of the ADA (for the original reports of the dispute settlement body, see Indonesia (DS480) and Argentina (DS473)). 

The dispute between the EU on the one hand and Argentina and Indonesia on the other (see history here) follows a number of WTO challenges to anti-dumping measures (see discussion in Crowley and Hillman, ‘Slamming the Door on Trade Policy Discretion? The WTO Appellate Body’s Ruling on Market Distortions and Production Costs in EU-Biodiesel (Argentina) (2018) 17 World Trade Review 195-213) where the underlying issue was how authorities adjusted the prices of exporting producers. For example, when constructing a home market price for Argentine biodiesel, that is the price of which biodiesel was sold in Argentina, the European Commission chose to alter the price of soybeans to compensate for the distortion in soybean prices, caused by an export tax imposed by the Argentine government (see Crowley and Hillman, at 2).  The price was adjusted based on the fact that soybeans, the primary input of biodiesel, were considerably below the international price and the Commission reasoned the adjustment was what ‘would have been the price paid… in the absence of the export tax system’.

The dispute with Indonesia was similar in the sense that it also involved a problem with  calculations: the EU had replaced the actual price of crude palm oil that was within the producers’ records with an international reference price. The price of the palm oil was lower than international prices, which meant the EU imposed higher duties on Indonesia in response to what they calculated the extent of dumping to be. When deciding on the trade disputes in the cases of Indonesia and Argentina, the Dispute Settlement Body for the WTO found the EU had indeed acted inconsistently with both GATT 1994 and ADA.

Therefore, whilst there has been a period of uncertainty in calculating the extent of dumping, this imperfection has now been clarified by the WTO. The clear guidance now states that countries are not legally permitted to take government manipulated price control into account.

Social and Economic Stability 

Since the WTO cannot regulate the act of dumping, the ability for a state to impose ‘remedial and not punitive’ measures in response to dumping are essential to nullify unfair trade practice. The measures imposed by the EU on biofuels have been used to counteract the great harm that dumping poses to the economic and social stability of the EU. 

Biofuels being dumped into the commerce of the EU not only disrupts the trading of the fuels but also distorts the standard value of the commodity. EU producers are faced with unfair competition and in considering the vast difference in Indonesia’s access to the raw materials used for biofuels (i.e. palm oil) in comparison to the EU’s access,  the EU could not physically be expected to meet the competitors’ low price without a substantial economic loss. The subsequent effect on the domestic economy could see a closure in business and vast unemployment, which the EU is able to avoid with anti-dumping measures.

Conclusion

In summary, anti-dumping measures by the EU have been imposed to minimise the economic disruption caused by the dumping of biofuels. Whilst the EU was found to have miscalculated the extent of dumping, this was recognised and rectified by the WTO dispute settlement mechanism which in turn acknowledged the lawfulness of anti-dumping measures as such. Overall, these measures have been used productively to counteract unfair competition.