Letter: Perils on the Net

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The Independent Culture
Sir: It is probable that a number of factors led to the tragic events in Columbine High School, in the USA, but the availability of information - by whatever medium - is unlikely to be the prime cause. It is important that this is remembered as the United States and the world ask themselves how an incident as shocking as this can have occurred.

The majority of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the UK already "regulate" content, and will remove articles or entire websites, following notification by the police or the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). However, the nature of the Internet makes it impossible to prevent such material being placed online initially, and there are no globally agreed standards by which ISPs act.

"Filtering" software can go some way towards preventing access to "undesirable" material, but it is at best a blunt sword, blocking some sites erroneously, failing to block others, and subject to the moral philosophy of the software producers and their agents.

I suggest that the best approach is a combination of the content rating system being proposed by the IWF (which allows parents and guardians to make their own judgements), and co-operation between agencies to apprehend individuals who publish illegal material, regardless of whether it appears on the Net.

ALAN STEVENS

Editor, "Which? Online"

The Consumers Association

London NW1

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