Be careful who you demonise

Co-operation, not confrontation, is the way to tackle the problem of Internet pornography, argues James Gardiner
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Far from sitting back and letting people misuse the Internet to distribute child pornography, Demon Internet has been actively looking at ways to combat the problem. We have been in regular contact with the DTI, the Home Office and the police since the beginning of the year.

We have adopted the new Platform for Internet Content Selection (Pics) standard, which makes it possible to rate every Web page according to its content. Demon Internet and Microsoft, along with the Recreation Software Advisory Committee (RSACi), is pioneering a new Internet standard for rating newsgroups. Unlike blanket bans, Pics allows the users to choose what is acceptable for them, locking these options with a password to protect their children. Demon Internet is the first company to ship Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0, which has RSACi ratings built-in.

Previous experience on the Internet shows that knee-jerk reactions don't work. Since anyone can post whatever he or she likes on the Net, wherever he or she likes, cutting off the places traditionally used to send pictures or messages is like using a dam to clear a polluted river; the rubbish will build up behind the dam, and finally spill out around it.

Take away the newsgroups used by those posting illegal material and they will simply post into a new newsgroup. Anyone can create new newsgroups and anyone can post to them. There is a real danger that these posts will land in the least expected places, such as rec.disney, which has a child readership.

Can we honestly say that any child has been protected? The solution, surely, has to be to target the people posting the material, stopping it happening in the first place.

The Internet is international; it is complex and hard to censor and, as Ian Taylor, the Trade Minister, says: "I do not want to see a situation where the only material on the Net would be that acceptable to the most restrictive government in the world. Would that be good for free speech?"

Our policies will require all of our users to RSACi-rate their Web pages by the end of the year and all the recommended software will be Pics-enabled as standard.

And what of those posting child pornography and other illegal material on the Internet? Pics can only prevent Internet users from seeing it, but we are determined to see that it is removed from circulation. We are actively involved in setting up a hot line for the public to report illegal pornography originating in the UK, allowing action to be taken against those who misuse the Net by distributing it. This model has been successfully used in the Netherlands to eliminate illegal pornography postings.

Cliff Stanford, the founder of Demon Internet, says: "Freedom demands responsibility. That is how the UK Internet community needs to behave: responsibly, constructively, helping to bring child pornographers to book."

James Gardiner is marketing manager of Demon Internet Ltd.

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