Hotline to beat Net child porn wins approval

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The Independent Online
Internet companies received government blessing yesterday for a self- regulation system to help them police the network and stamp out illegal material such as child pornography.

The proposals include a telephone hotline to which Internet users can report material which they think is illegal, and "blocking" software which censors sites from view, so that adults can let children use the system without supervision.

But there were warnings that the response may simply be to move the problem beyond the reach of police in Europe, while creating an atmosphere which is dangerously close to censorship by proxy. "When film was a new medium it was self-regulated," said Malcolm Hetty, who runs the Campaign against Censorship of the Internet in Britain. "But it didn't take long for the Government to create a quango and make censorship by it mandatory. I feel worried if there's a single censor here."

Ian Taylor, the science and technology minister, insisted that he was not trying to legislate on the Internet. "That would be impossible." But equally, he said, "its benefits shouldn't be undermined by the actions of a few perverts".

The proposals, called "Safety Net", mean that any user of the Internet could ring the hotline - being funded by pounds 500,000 from Peter Dawe, formerly head of the Internet connection company Pipex - and report material that they think is illegal. If the information originated in the UK, and is reckoned to be against the law, then Safety Net will contact its Internet service provider, which will contact the person who put the information on the network and ask them to remove it. In the case of material on foreign computers, British police could contact the owner of the computer.

All companies offering connection to the Internet will offer filtering software which allows children to access only the parts of the World Wide Web - the part of the Internet offering millions of "pages" of text, video and sound - that the parents deem suitable.

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