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'Happy slapping' vids prompt Brown to push net filters

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The availability of gore and violence on the internet has prompted the UK Government to consider backing a campaign to encourage wider awareness and use of net-filtering software.

Gordon Brown has ordered ministers to work with ISPs and media watchdog Ofcom to devise a strategy to regulate access to smut and violence online. Early ideas include plans to educate parents about the use of net-filtering software (aka censorware). Ofcom has been asked to develop a kite-mark scheme to certify net-filtering products, The Sun reports. There will also be a review on whether new rules are needed about the marketing of some products to youngsters.

"We will be looking to see what can be done to help regulate access to inappropriate material," Prime Minster Brown said in a speech to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations in London on Monday.

The scheme is likely to play well in Middle England. However, the idea that net-filtering software can act as a panacea is surely mistaken. Use of the software is highly political and often more attuned to the sensibilities of Bible Belt America than European values. Leaving aside questions of the effectiveness of net-nanny software, of which there are many, UK kids might be restricted from accessing sexual health websites or campaigning groups such as Amnesty International as well as violent content.

The Sun suggests that the availability of everything from happy-slapping videos to beheading in Iraq has spurred the net violence crackdown initiative. The review is part of Brown's wider citizens' jury plans. Citizens' jury involve groups of ordinary punters thrashing out specific issues and passing on findings to government departments. This might sound like a focus group - but it isn't - though how the scheme would work in practice is still a bit vague, at least judging from the responses of the prime minister's spokesman to reporters.

The first citizens' jury will meet later this week on the "subject of children", which will certainly give the participants plenty to discuss. Helping to keep inappropriate material away from sensitive eyes is expected to form part of this discussion. ®

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