Dishing the dirt

Head to head Should we censor the Net? Yes, says Adrian Rogers of the Conservative Family Institute. At your peril, says Simon Davies of civil rights group Privacy International
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Pro-censorship

"I call myself the prime minister of the nation's morality, because no one else is here to do the job. I spend 95 per cent of my working time practising medicine and the rest of the time doing this other work - and that includes campaigning for corrupting sites to be removed from the Internet. I think the Internet has wonderful capabilities and I look forward to it enhancing people's lives. But there are real dangers for the weak-willed and for those with the potential for addiction. And I don't just mean sex; there are many things which appeal to people who are into drugs and gambling. Before you know it there'll be fruit machines on the Internet that you'll pay for by credit card.

People are completely unaware of the dangers to them. If you're morally strong and mature with an IQ over 110 you can probably deal with anything and it won't affect you - though the potential still exists for all of us to be depraved and corrupted. Leaving aside homosexuality and paedophilia, all heterosexuals have a natural appetite for pornography. If you put a picture of a naked woman in front of a man his pupils dilate. They did a survey that showed businessmen commonly use the Internet for looking at hardcore pornography. They think, `Oh, I've got nothing to do at the moment, I'll have a quick look at that.'

All the people against censorship are the same ones who are for legalising drugs. And children are at risk. They can find corrupting sites very easily. If my children were young today I wouldn't let them use the Internet - certainly not in their bedroom. If I could, I'd quite happily remove all the corrupting things even if the majority of the population found them acceptable."

Adrian Rogers is director of the Conservative Family Institute (http://www.dradrianrogers.co.uk)

Anti-censorship

"When it comes to censoring things on the Internet, normally intelligent and rational people go completely mad. People just seem to agree with this sentiment that the Internet corrupts people - but where's the evidence? If you're easily offended and don't want to see pornographic sites, it's simple: don't spend hours putting keywords like `hardcore' and `bisexual gangbang' in the search engine. Though isn't that why lots of people use the Internet in the first place?

And it's not that easy for children to see most of the stuff. The hardcore sites tend to be subscription-only. It's true kids can put a few keywords in and find some sites but so can the police, so the harder stuff tends to be closed off. But the press go mad. There was the terrible case of the boss of the Demon Internet service provider who was `named and shamed' by the Observer even though he'd done absolutely nothing illegal - he simply refused to bow to pressure and censor the service. It's an appalling state of affairs. Internet providers are being bullied into censoring themselves under threat of having licence restrictions imposed on them if they don't.

The Internet is becoming a more and more important source of information. What's deeply worrying is that we're establishing the rules for our access to knowledge. These filter devices which allow you to block out certain things can be abused so that anything and everything, including educational or literary material, is blocked. And there's a fuzzy line between, say, hate speech and political debate, pornography and art. Do we really want a reactionary minority telling us what we can see and read? Do we really want the Disneyfication of the Internet? Because that's what we're going to get."

Simon Davies is director of Privacy International http://www.privacy.org/pi/

Interviews by Michael Day

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