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ISPs baffled by Gordo's 'plans' for web terror talks

Invite's in the post is it?

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Internet providers have reacted with confusion at Gordon Brown's announcement that the Home Office will summon them to Westminster for anti-terror discussions.

The PM unveiled wide-ranging measures in Parliament this week (full speech here).

Slipped into the middle of the long list of jihad-squashing pledges was news that "the Home Secretary is inviting the largest global technology and internet companies to work together to ensure that our best technical expertise is galvanised to counter online incitement to hatred".

We asked a senior ISP industry policy source what reaction had been to the summons. He said bluntly: "That depends on what it actually means. Right now, I've no idea, and I don't think anyone else in the industry does."

ISPA, the industry trade association was more diplomatic, but made it clear that its members have not been contacted by the Home Office.

It told the Reg: "ISPA has worked closely and engaged with the Home Office to work out an effective notice and take down process... for terrorist activities online as well as for race and religious hatred.

"ISPA has been leading discussions with officials on the enforcement of the Terrorism Act online for the last year and looks forward to hearing further details about this additional dialogue and how ISPA can help inform the debate."

The govenment hasn't released any further details as to what arrangements it envisages, but Home Office invitation (apparently en route) may worry ISPs as a first step towards the implementing the EU's online extremism proposals.

They propose "forbidding internet service providers to give access to material aiming at public provocation to commit terrorist offences, recruitment or training for terrorism".

Like any industry, ISPs resist attempts to impose new legislation on them. They prefer voluntary schemes such as the effective anti-child porn collaboration the Internet Watch Foundation. Libel takedowns are usually dealt with on a similarly quasi-formal basis, and the industry is currently trying to negotiate away from new online copyright protection laws, threatened by Lord Triesman in October.

Compliance departments at the big providers will be shuddering at the thought of being asked to judge whether a website "glorifies terrorism", and the appetite for search filtering at Google and Yahoo! is likely much reduced of late.

Added to that, when it comes to any battle over online anti-terror censorship, ISPs will garner vocal support from civil liberties groups. Emotive comparisons with Chinese, Iranian and Burmese attempts to censor the net are readily available to campaigners.

ISPA closed its statement with a gentle suggestion that the government establish the procedures for implementing existing laws online before considering new ones.

It said: "There is no guidance for the standards to be applied for religious and race hatred following the introduction of the Religious and Race Hatred Act in October. ISPA would like to see more guidance... other than the notice and takedown procedure which is currently in place." ®

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