For Immediate Release, 11 November 1997
Media coverage by C/Net News.Com - U.K. group fights Net censorship, November 11, 1997.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) Report, Who Watches the Watchmen: Internet Content Rating Systems, and privatised censorship.
Leeds, United Kingdom - Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), a non profit civil liberties organisation launched a new report entitled, Who Watches the Watchmen, on the implications of the use and development of rating systems and filtering tools for the Internet content.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) insists that the debates on regulation of Internet-content should take place openly and with the involvement of public at large rather than at the hands of a few industry based private bodies.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) report suggests that:
There is no pressing need in fact for new national legislation for content regulation
National Legislation would be the wrong response
There is confusion between illegal and harmful content
Adults should not be treated like Children
A self-regulatory model for harmful content on the Internet may include the following levels and in this model self means as in individual without the state involvement :
User or Parental Responsibility
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) argue that a radical self-regulatory solution for the hybrid Internet content should not include any kind of rating systems and self-regulatory solutions should include minimum government and industry involvement.
According to the UK report, child pornography is often used as an excuse to regulate the Internet but there is no need to rate illegal content such as child pornography since it is forbidden for any conceivable audience and this kind of illegal content should be regulated by the enforcement of existing UK laws.
Yaman Akdeniz, head of the UK group stated that:
The current situation at the UK does not represent a self-regulatory solution as suggested by the Government. It is moving towards a form of censorship, a privatised and industry based one where there will be no space for dissent as it will be done by the use of private organisations, rating systems and at the entry level by putting pressure on the UK Internet Service Providers.
With rating systems and the moral panic behind the Internet content, the Internet could be transformed into a family friendly medium, just like the BBC. But it should be remembered that the Internet is not as intrusive as the TV and users seldom encounter illegal content such as child pornography. Like other historical forms of censorship, current attempts to define and ban objectionable content are vague and muddy, reaching out far beyond their reasonable targets to hurt the promise of open communication systems.
Government-imposed censorship, over-regulation, or service provider liability will do nothing to keep people from obtaining material the government does not like, as most of it will be on servers in another country (as happened recently with the availability of the JET Report in 37 different web sites on the Internet outside the UK).
Yaman Akdeniz also stated that:
If there is anyone who needs to be educated on Internet matters, it is the government officials, the police and MPs together with the media in the first place but not online users, parents and children. We do not need moral crusaders under the guise of industry based organisations to decide what is acceptable and not acceptable.
When censorship is implemented by government threat in the background, but run by private parties, legal action is nearly impossible, accountability difficult, and the system is not open and becomes undemocratic. These are sensitive issues and therefore, before introducing these systems there should be an open public debate possibly together with a consultation paper from the DTI.
Notes for the Media
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
Mr Yaman Akdeniz
Address: Centre For Criminal Justice Studies, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT.
Fax: 0113- 2335056
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) is a non-profit civil liberties organisation founded on January 10, 1997. Its main purpose is to promote free speech and privacy on the Internet and raise public awareness of these important issues. The Web pages have been online since July 1996. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) started to become involved with national Internet-related civil liberties issues following the release of the DTI white paper on encryption in June 1996 and the Metropolitan Police action to censor around 130 newsgroups in August 1996. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) recently criticised the attempts of the Nottinghamshire County Council to suppress the availability of the JET Report on the Internet.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) covers such important issues as the regulation of child pornography on the Internet and UK Governments encryption policy. The organisation provides up-to-date information related to free speech and privacy on the Internet. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) is a member of various action groups on the Internet and also a member of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (see <http://www.gilc.org>) which has over 30 member organisations world wide.