Opinion: Unchecked by the law, racists run riot online

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There has a been a great deal of concern expressed about the availability of child pornography on the Internet over the past few weeks. Governments in different parts of the world are taking seriously the threat of easy access to pornography and racist material on the Net.

The Singapore government has established a system to bar computer users from access to sites deemed inappropriate. Here in Europe, the German authorities are investigating AOL, the American service provider, which, like CompuServe earlier this year, has been accused of transmitting pornographic and racially offensive material. And in November, the French government will announce details of how it intends to curb the dissemination of racial hatred and pornography on the Net to French citizens.

In America, the Clinton administration has had its attempt to pass laws limiting the nature of the material carried online rejected by the American courts. And in Britain the police have been liaising with Internet service providers (ISPs) to find ways to curb the accessibility of child pornography on the Net.

Britain is most concerned with pornography, apparently ignoring those newsgroups that routinely incite racial hatred. These newsgroups - which include alt.politics.nationalism.white, alt.politics.white-power and the most notorious, alt.flame.niggers - carry material that is equally illegal in Britain.

There appears to be either a high degree of ignorance or complacency about this problem. Indeed, the now famous list of illegal newsgroups, produced by the Metropolitan Police's Clubs and Vice Unit, does not contain one single racist group and is indicative of the priorities of the police.

The media's recognition of child pornography and paedophilia as being of principal concern among ordinary citizens only partially explains the focus on this practice on the Net. The inadequacy of British law with regard to the incitement to racial hatred online is the main problem. Even if the police were to act proactively, the Public Order Act (under which the incitement offence can be evoked) is ill-equipped to deal with offensive material of this kind or with the offenders, most of whom are either German or American.

The people most at risk from "CyberRacism", Britain's black and minority ethnic communities, are least aware of the problem. Until they begin to exploit this new medium, pressure for more effective legislation will remain muted.

OSSIE STUART

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