A `Wild West' beyond control
Thursday 04 February 1999
It guarantees freedom of speech, except for obscenity, which means that not liking somebody's views or dirty pictures is insufficient reason to prevent their showing them off. But at the same time, yesterday's judgment on the anti-abortion website is part of a pattern in which people have discovered that, while speech may be free on the Net, the consequences can be expensive.
In the UK the first Net libel case was in 1994, when Phillip Hallam- Baker, a researcher at Cern (Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire), on the Franco-Swiss border, was sued by Laurence Godfrey, a physicist based in London. At issue were seven articles posted on the Net. In June 1995 he settled out of court.
Few would try to bring such a case now. It is increasingly easy to cover one's tracks in cyberspace. And, as soon as a message is posted or a web page created, it will be copied and every word indexed by search engines around the Net. Wiping away data once it has been released to the network becomes an endless task.
The problem worsens if you try to ban such publication, as Nottingham County Council did over a report criticising its handling of child-abuse cases. When it barred three British journalists from publishing the report, they put it on the Net; when the council sought an injunction, activists overseas copied the page and displayed it. They ignored Nottingham's legal posturings until it gave in: the Net had won.
Nowadays, if you have something to say, or a picture to show off, finding space on the web costs almost nothing. Since September, "free" Internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK (users pay the cost of a local call for connection) have offered five megabytes of space free. Free software makes creating a web page simple. "People should remember they are personally responsible for what they publish. Defamation and other laws do apply," said Tim Pearson, chairman of the UK ISP Association said.
But attempts to impose censorship externally - a sort of "prior restraint", like that used in publishing - will fail. "The Internet sees censorship as damage, and routes around it," said John Gilmore, a founder member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Details from the anti-abortion website are almost certainly still out there somewhere, and anyone determined enough to find them will. The real battle, though, is to educate people to act responsibly.
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 4 Zayn Malik on Israel-Gaza: One Direction singer bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
Sally Farmiloe dead: Howards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, dies aged 60
Women in Turkey have a laugh in public at the deputy Prime Minister's expense
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
Australian model Robyn Lawley stages naked protest against huge coal mine seven times the size of Sydney Harbour
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- < Previous
- Next >
£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...
£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...
£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...