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Porn, abuse, depravity - and how they plan to stop it

Part one: Strangling content

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Unfortunately, no.

Back in January, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith appeared keen to hitch the War on Terror to the IWF bandwagon by claiming that there were specific examples of websites that "clearly fall under the category of gratifying terrorism", and talking about how terrorists "groomed" potential recruits.

A significant development in this war on terror material is that the Home Office has since declared itself to be working with partners in an effort to "take down" terror material. The problem is, there is no such thing - individuals may be prosecuted for assembling material with the intention of using it to support terrorism. In theory, however, the material remained neutral. Not any more.

Similarly, in September the Ministry of Justice announced a forthcoming review of the Suicide Law, observing: "UK ISPs already take down any websites under their control when notified that they contain illegal material and are free to restrict access to harmful or tasteless material in accordance with their 'acceptable use' policies."

For YouTube and Google, "standards" are the way in which the once unbridled freedom of the internet is being corralled. Thus, in Germany, Google is being pushed to block all foreign porn websites that don't conform to German mandated age verification schemes. Expect more of the same to come.

Meanwhile, YouTube has bowed to US government pressure, updating community guidelines to encourage users to steer clear of posting material that might be considered to incite violence.

The scariest is yet to come. Forget the Scottish Parliament, calling for an end to all violent images of women. Or Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker pushing for all UK ISPs to run a blocking system akin to that created for the IWF.

The child protection lobby again appears to be acting as a Trojan Horse for far greater censorship. The Byron Review (pdf) reported to general government approval earlier this year, and one of its first fruits, to be launched this autumn, will be the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). Threaded through its role of making the internet "safer for children" will be a remit to bring forward new regulation, or suggest legislation where appropriate, to control online content.

Another serious policy extension may be found within the first releases from the UKCCIS. While Byron spoke about working to prevent children accessing content that was "inappropriate to children", the UKCCIS has very quickly pushed that out to talk of blocking "inappropriate content". The first aim is about monitoring people: the second is very much about dumbing down - or infantilising - the internet.

Hard on the heels of Byron came the 10th report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, looking at "Harmful Content on the Internet". It too believes that there is just too much nasty content out there - although at time of writing, it is in two minds as to whether the right way forward is more law or greater industry self-regulation.

A government response to its recommendations is due to be published when parliament returns in October. Anyone looking for a return to the good old days of internet free-for-all would be well advised not to hold their breath. They are gone - and aren't coming back. ®

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