10 May, 2001
Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
The Home Secretary
The Home Office
50, Queen Anne's Gate
London SW1H 9AT
Cc: Lord Bassam of Brighton
Dear Mr. Straw,
Re: Internet and Children’s Safety issues
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) (http://www.cyber-rights.org) is a non profit organisation established to protect the interests of all honest, law abiding Internet users with the aim of promoting free speech and privacy on the Internet. It was founded in 1997 and has been actively involved with the Internet policy making process of the UK Government, the European Union, Council of Europe, OECD, and the United Nations.
The purpose of our letter to you is to raise concern about the setting up of the Task Force on Child Protection and the Internet (Home Office News Release, 29/03/2001), which will be chaired by Lord Bassam of Brighton.
The Home Office press release and related media coverage indicate that the taskforce will include "representatives of the Internet industry, child welfare organisations, the police and Government" and that its establishment was agreed at a meeting of "key representatives from these organisations, called by the Home Secretary as part of the Government response to the recent report by the Internet Crime Forum on child safety in Internet chatrooms." Furthermore, the Home Office press release indicates that "other important groups such as PC retailers will also be invited to participate."
We welcome, with two major reservations, the proposal for such a ‘new approach’ based on co-operation between Government and other "key organisations" as defined by the Home Office.
Our first reservation is that the activities of the proposed Task Force will need to be subject to clear lines of public accountability if they are to command the support and confidence of the UK public and respect the principles of good regulation as established by the Better Regulation Task Force of the Cabinet Office.
Our second reservation is that the Task Force on Child Protection and the Internet should be extended to include representation from consumer organisations, civil liberties and public policy review bodies and from lay members of the public. As far as can be seen, no attempt was made to consult or involve civil liberties or public interest organisations with the work of the Task Force or while the proposals for setting up such a body was discussed. Without such wider involvement, the Task Force may not fully address all concerns including issues related to human rights. The Home Office seems to persistently exclude public interest groups from consultation on important Internet related policy initiatives (e.g. the Government-Industry Forum on Encryption and Law Enforcement).
Furthermore, the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force in its Regulating Cyberspace: Better Regulation for E-Commerce report (December 2000) should be taken into account. The report emphasised the fact that government departments should "ensure that the interests of a cross-section of e-businesses, users and suppliers, large and smaller businesses, are represented on the industry groups with which government consults" in its recommendations.
We hence emphasise that our support for the approach now being advocated is conditional on changes being introduced to meet these concerns. In the form currently advocated we could never have confidence in the operation of the Task Force on Child Protection and the Internet.
Mr. Yaman Akdeniz
Director, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
Mailing Address: CyberLaw Research Unit, Centre for Criminal Justice Studies,
University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT.
Tel: 07798 865116
Mr. Nicholas Bohm
E-Commerce Policy Adviser,Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
Salkyns, Great Canfield, Takeley, Bishop’s Stortford CM22 6SX
Dr. Louise Ellison
Deputy Director, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
The University of Reading, Department of Law, Old Whiteknights House,
Whiteknights, PO Box 217, Reading RG6 6AH
Ps: This letter will be available through http://www.cyber-rights.org/reports from 11 May, 2001.