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The government (UK) has unfortunately spelt out the degree of its Internet ignorance today with a knee-jerk political reaction to the Net baby adoption debacle.

Department of Health minister John Hutton - responsible for child protection, apparently - has started spouting nonsense about how ISPs will be criminally responsible if they allow UK residents access to adoption Web sites whose actions are banned under UK law.

In a worrying parallel to the French Yahoo!/Nazi argument, Mr Hutton - speaking for the government - has leapt onto what he thinks is an easy points winner as the controversy over Internet adoption grows. Unfortunately, he has failed to understand the Internet's make-up and made himself and the "Internet friendly" Labour government look foolish. And whereas Yahoo! is a company with a controlled service, ISPs are simply a conduit.

ISPs immediately started decrying the concept of them essentially logging and blocking any site that the government, in its wisdom, deems offensive. To say the "solution" is unworkable is to be kind to unworkable solutions. In essence, the only way a system as proposed could work is if we had government-run and monitored ISPs. Now, ole Jack Straw would love this (in fact, he's gone some way towards it) but we like to think that some people in government are still living in a democracy.

But this is more a case of a junior minister trying to hog the limelight and getting frazzled through idiocy. The ISP Association was as polite as it could be in a press release, just released, but it is clearly not impressed.

Titled "ISPA seeks clarification on the removal of illegal Internet content", it points out that ISPs follow the law and do everything they can to remove illegal content. It then draws to the situation at hand: "For other types of illegal content a Court Order is necessary in many if not all cases, as ISPs and Government Departments cannot act as the judiciary in deciding the often very complex question of whether material is legal. The Department of Health has not stated in what form, or by what process or mechanism an official notice of illegal content with regards to advertising for adoption will take if it is not a court order."

Basically: silly boy. But while this is just a daft example of political ignorance, it remains worrying that the comments have been taken so seriously. Clearly it is not only the politicians that fail to understand how the Internet works but the media too - or they would simply have laughed the minister's tales away. It would seem that the concept of people sharing information without going through either Parliament or dictatorial newspaper environments is too alien to comprehend. ®

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