Privatised Censorship? A Critique of the Rating & Filtering Systems for the Internet Content in Europe

By Yaman Akdeniz, LLB, MA

Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, Law Faculty,
University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.

Fax: +44 (0) 113 2335056

A speech for the "Filters, PICS, the Internet and the First Amendment" Conference organised by Freedom Forum

Tuesday, June 9, 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. EDT

Copyright 1998-2001 Yaman Akdeniz



After much recent publicity concerning the availability of materials on the Internet that are offensive to many people (e.g. racist and Nazi propaganda, bomb making instructions, and sexually explicit content), and the difficulties created by the enforceability of national laws, Internet content rating systems and filtering software are developing, with broad support by the government agencies, by the Internet industry and by the European Union. These new technologies are introduced and presented as a means to avoid heavy handed public regulation of Internet content by governments but there are many problems, however, associated with rating and filtering systems as will be explained in this paper.

The paper will include a description and a critique of the development of these systems within both national and international level. These will include the current initiatives within both United Kingdom and the European Union. The rating systems and filtering software are defective and in most cases they are used for the exclusion of socially useful web sites and information. The general excuse remains as the protection of children from harmful content and also the duty of the industry to give more choices to the consumers.

The paper will conclude that with rating systems and the moral panic surrounding Internet content, the Internet could be transformed into a “family friendly” medium, no more adventurous than the likes of the BBC. Thus, a situation of “Disney Dilemma” will be witnessed, where only anodyne Internet content, probably generated by international media corporations, will be allowed to circulate. The chance to create a virtual market-place of ideas, including the challenging and offensive, will be lost.