Letter: Keen Internet gags

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I share Chris Gulker's alarm ("Beware of barriers to free speech", 3 August) at the legislation sponsored by Senator Dan Coats and Senator John McCain that is going through the US Senate. The implementation of these Bills will effectively place the same restrictions on freedom of expression on the Net that the Communications Decency Act would have done had it not been rejected by the Supreme Court.

Although this legislation is alarming, what is even more disturbing is the level of self censorship that occurs on the Net. Internet service providers are only too willing to impose terms and conditions on their customers. The aim of these conditions is to avoid the display of material that may "offend" certain groups. The recent case where AOL ordered the removal of material deemed offensive to Muslims springs to mind. Net users are being denied the chance to decide for themselves what material is valid, what is offensive and then choosing what they wish to view.

ISPs already go way beyond what current law requires in defining what they see as offensive material and then ordering its removal. To my mind they need no further encouragement from legislators. If anything, the legislators may have a job on their hands keeping up with ISPs who are only too happy to censor!


Stanford le Hope