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MPs declare their ignorance on the web

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Audible, too, was a grinding of gears as speeches shifted from laissez-faire, to "the need for self-regulation", then onward to standards, and finally hints that some legislation might after all be necessary to prod these standards into line. The mood was summed splendidly by another Conservative MP, John Hayes, who opined: "I hope that we will not hear the tired old argument about freedom."

So what did we learn? The internet is a huge and scary place where sex, suicide and guns are all too available. Video games can be pretty scary too.

There should be faster take-down, with easier access on the part of the public to an ISP’s take-down process: a league table of take-down times, backed by "name and shame" for those ISP’s who are slowest to respond.

The government is going to encourage a self-regulatory body for the internet – and if that doesn’t prove itself, then government reserves the right to wield a large stick.

Something must be done

There was some debate as to whether BBFC ratings, provided by the British Board of Film Classification or PEGI, the pan-European games industry system, would be more effective as a means to classify video games. But make no mistake, statutory classification is coming, almost certainly accompanied by some form of online age verification.

However, if the internet is scary, scariest of all is the emerging consensus between a bunch of serious people with very little empathy for new technology. That much surfaced in an odd little side-debate on the nature of bad taste video game "Kaboom" which, according to Conservative MP Edward Vaizey, was not legitimate because "it was created by an individual in his bedroom".

In much the same way, government has indigestion every time it tries to grapple with concepts such as web 2.0 or open source, because they are about individuals sharing freely, openly and often amateurishly. The value of such a culture is not measured by abstract notions of freedom – though those are important – but by the dynamism that such freedom introduces to technological development.

Select committees ought to be challenging government thinking on key issues. Not so here, where the committee welcomed government plans to corral the internet into a highly corporate legislative framework while simultaneously nodding approvingly at the Minister’s plans "to teach children the dangers of the internet".

Last word to a committee member who did not speak in the debate, but who did speak to The Register. Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders said: "Government – of whatever stripe – is happiest with traditional models of topdown publishing run by properly constituted enterprises that it can control and regulate.

"It finds the conversational anarchy on the web difficult to understand and definitely very difficult to deal with. Hence the authoritarian tendency in government thinking on the internet, which is never that far from the surface."

That is a lesson that Paul Flynn has learnt to his personal cost. ®

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