Monday, December 29, 2008

More Bad News for the UK and the US on Internet Censorship

Read all the way down in this interview with UK culture secretary Andy Burnham and you'll find yet another disquieting note re the potential position of the Obama administration concerning 'net censorship:

Internet sites could be given 'cinema-style age ratings', Culture Secretary says

--Daily Telegraph

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Mr Burnham replies: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”

ISPs, such as BT, Tiscali, AOL or Sky could also be forced to offer internet services where the only websites accessible are those deemed suitable for children.

Mr Burnham also uses the interview to indicate that he will allocate money raised from the BBC’s commercial activities to fund other public-service broadcasting such as Channel Four. He effectively rules out sharing the BBC licence fee between broadcasters as others have recommended.

His plans to rein in the internet, and censor some websites, are likely to trigger a major row with online advocates who ferociously guard the freedom of the world wide web.

However, Mr Burnham said: “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.

“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

Mr Burnham reveals that he is currently considering a range of new safeguards. Initially, as with copyright violations, these could be policed by internet providers. However, new laws may be threatened if the initial approach is not successful.

“I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online,” he said. “More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?”

He points to the success of the 9pm television watershed at protecting children. The minister also backs a new age classification system on video games to stop children buying certain products.

Mr Burnham, himself a parent of three young children, says his goal is for internet providers to offer “child-safe” web services.

“It worries me - like anybody with children,” he says. “Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do. This isn’t about turning the clock back. The internet has been empowering and democratising in many ways but we haven’t yet got the stakes in the ground to help people navigate their way safely around…what can be a very, very complex and quite dangerous world.”

Mr Burnham also wants new industry-wide “take down times”. This means that if websites such as YouTube or Facebook are alerted to offensive or harmful content they will have to remove it within a specified time once it is brought to their attention.

He also says that the Government is considering changing libel laws to give people access to cheap low-cost legal recourse if they are defamed online. The legal proposals are being drawn up by the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Burnham admits that his plans may be interpreted by some as “heavy-handed” but says the new standards drive is “utterly crucial”. Mr Burnham also believes that the inauguration of Barack Obama, the President-Elect, presents an opportunity to implement the major changes necessary for the web.

“The change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause,” he says. “The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry about the delete. I was rambling a bit.

    "“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it;"

    I think Mr. Burnham needs a clearer definition of "free speech".

    "“Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do."

    Never mind, that is something that SHOULD NOT be done anyway. Don't parents raise children anymore? Good Goddess, they might as well grow on trees for all the help some of these parents are.

    "“The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together "

    International...the both of us, huh? *eye roll*

  3. Good God – I swear, the resemblance between New Labor and Ingsoc gets greater every day. Its bad enough what they're doing to the UK – now they're trying to drag the US down too? As if we haven't been through enough over the last 8 years with the last idiot in charge. Hopefully a little thing called the First Amendment might stand in the way of this move in the US, but it would be really nice if we could nip this thing in the bud in all the countries its being proposed in – US, UK, and Australia.

  4. Oh, please.

    Seriously, to use a title of a classic Olivia Newton-John song: Please, Mister, Please.

    Andy Burnham may think that his brand of censorship may fly with radfems and New Laborite censors in the UK....but he going to find out pretty quick that that nonsense that he's proposing simply won't wash here.

    For starters, unlike the UK, we here in these United States have this thing we call The Constitution of the United States, which includes this paragraph called Article 1 (aka, the First Amendment):

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Last time I read, there was no exemptions for the law meant NO LAW.

    OK, so the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to allow for some exceptions. Yeah, but nowhere do those exceptions say that the government would have the right to impose on any person or group the power to control what is spoken or written (other than through traditional redress for libel or slander or obscenity).

    RIAA-like ratings for the Internet?? Yeah, right, Mr. do remember what happened with the "xxx dot com" domain, do you??? That last attempt to mark and reign in adult content?? And who exactly will be the arbiteurs for what triggers the ratings, for that matter??

    Oh...and how also do you plan on regulating the content of sites from outside the country?? Adopting China's style of direct governmental censorship?? Simply blocking access to foreign sites?? Gee, that would be a wonderful means of promoting democracy, wouldn't it??

    And what about those "child-safe" web services, Mr. Burnham?? Would they be just as safe from corporate spamming and advertising?? From propaganda campaigns of the government??

    Been there, tried that....major FAIL then, bigger FAIL now.

    Too bad for Britain that this is the norm....but I don't think that even Obama's falling for this one.