LETTERS: How not to police the Internet

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The Independent Online
From Mr Jim Moody

Sir: The attempts by German prosecutors to censor the Internet via CompuServe (report, 30 December) are misguided and dangerous. Quite apart from the effect of their actions impinging on citizens in countries outside Germany, their partially successful pressure in getting CompuServe to drop 200 newsgroups sets a precedent for unrepresentative and irresponsible censorship by the state authorities.

The Internet is not a children's toy and should only ever be used by minors under adult supervision. By forcing this company to boycott certain newsgroups, a state authority has usurped the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents within and without its territory.

While the state authorities everywhere have a duty to uphold their own countries' laws on paedophilia and child pornography, this concern has been utilised to obscure the real issues around freedom of use of the Internet. Despite media huff and puff, the Internet can no more be described as anarchic than the telephone system or the postal service or a bag of apples. It is a communications medium through which individuals talk over, argue, or laugh about what interests them. It is not a publisher.

Those who post inappropriate material are dealt with expeditiously by their peers, their fellow-users in each news group. And, by all accounts, the anti-paedophile squads of the British police keep a careful watch on what is being posted in some discussions with a view to tracing criminals here, with some success.

Moves to destroy parental guidance and responsibility should be condemned, especially when they lead to infringement of all adults' rights. Technical help for parents already exists; CompuServe is due to bring in a software filter in the near future to allow parents to make the choices that the German authorities have, for the moment, forced upon the company.

Other such filters are already on the market. And of course there is always the off switch. What is unacceptable, and highly undemocratic, is for adults to be refused the right to decide for themselves by state authorities who presume to determine what is best for them.

Yours faithfully,

Jim Moody

Director, Media Watch

London, N22

31 December