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nettime: Felipe Rodriquez/Conference report-Policing the Internet
Geert Lovink on Tue, 18 Feb 97 13:59 MET


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nettime: Felipe Rodriquez/Conference report-Policing the Internet


From: Felipe Rodriquez <felipe {AT} xs4all.nl>

Conference report - Policing the Internet

London 13, 14 feb

The conference was organized by the Association of London Government.
The aim of the conference was to define a European approach to
combating pornography and violence on the Internet. I was invited by a
friend, Prof. A. Dirkzwager, who was attending the conference for the
Dutch digital citizens movement, and thought I would also be interested
in attending.

The speakers of the conference included five radical feminist
activists, three police officers, representatives from the European
parliament, British Telecom and the British Internet Watch foundation;
an organization that is supposed to start regulating providers.

Here is a short report of some of the content at the conference, the
report is by no means complete but gives an indication of the 
color and tone of this conference.

The agenda of the radical feminist speakers at the conference was a
protest against pornography in general. These respected women activists
argued for a complete ban on pornography inside and outside the
Internet, referring to the damage that pornography causes to women. An
endless amount of examples of pornography, child-pornography and other
adult content was made, usually making no distinction between them.
Most called for tough controls on the Internet, to prevent the
distribution of adult material, even if this material would be legal in
the non-digital society. It was said that Internet technology will lead
to an escalation of violations of womens rights, and that free-speech
absolutism is setting the standard on the Net. The argument of
censorship on the Net was countered by speaker Nel van Dijk, member of
the European parliament. She gave a pro-speech and anti-censorship
lecture, defending democratic values and civil liberties and noting
that England lacked a constitution and legal guarantees that protect
freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

Martin Jauch, superintendent of the metropolitan police, clubs and
vice, gave the most revealing lecture of the conference. He explained
how British providers where threatened by his unit, in order to censor
their newsfeed. The providers where assembled and where told that if
they would not comply with the demands of Jauchs unit, their offices
would be raided, and essential equipment would be confiscated as
evidence. This is the British interpretation of industry
self-regulation, if the providers do not comply with the demands of the
police, theyll be prosecuted.These methods resulted in a removal of a
number of adult newsgroups, like alt.sex.anal, on the servers of
British providers. It did not matter that most of the articles in these
groups would not be considered a violation of British law, the groups
had to be completely removed.

Martin Jauch went on to stress the importance of rating and labeling
systems, and the need for filtering information that would be
considered offensive to some. An important justification against all
forms of pornography in Martins speech seemed to be that this material
is being used to desensitize children before theyre being abused by
child-abusers. And that women where often used against their will to
produce pornography. An argument that was repeatedly stressed at the
conference was that kids use the Internet, and that they may be
confronted with al this harmful content.  Martin made it very clear
that  any information on the Internet that was illegal under British
Law would not be allowed by him on the Net and must be banned by
self-regulation of providers. Martin did not say what would be done
about information thats illegal in Britain, but not in other countries,
like Holland and Sweden. If providers do not comply with the demands of
Martins unit, they may be liable for prosecution, and his unit will
bust their offices and take away their equipment. Under these threats
providers have not much choice, other than comply with everything that
theyre told. This is what is supposedly called selfregulation in
England and Germany. At the start of his speech Martin said he was no
expert about the Internet, and that in his opinion this did not matter;
hed force the internet providers to comply with his demands and British
law.

Karlhein Moewes of the Munich police designed his speech to have a high
impact. Without speaking much he showed slide after slide of
child-pornography. His speech was obviously designed to arouse a
feeling of disgust. After about 20 minutes of pictures of abused
children and other violence he was requested by the conference chair to
refrain from showing any further slides.  Anyone that does not know
anything about the Internet would believe it was full of these kind of
pictures, and would not hesitate to immediately call for tough
repression on the Net.

Glyn Ford, member of the european parliament, gave a lecture about
the current developments in the european parliament. Currently a
draft report is being made about policing the Net, this report will
be finished in a few months and then most certainly implemented
as european law. Policy will mostly be based upon a previously
published paper, Illegal and harmful content on the Internet. 
Glyn Ford can be emailed for information about how to receive the
latest draft-policy report, his email address is
glynford.euromp {AT} zen.co.uk. 

Overall the conference seemed to stress the importance of policing the
Internet, although most speakers where not very experienced Net users.
It seems clear that the British want to implement a policy of industry
selfregulation and content labelling and filtering. To ensure the
effectiveness of this policy the British want to implement these
policies in a European context. It seems that this goal is being
heavily promoted in the european parliament, and a substantial
British lobby is going on to pursue the british agenda regarding
the Internet.

Some of the attendees courageously tried to defend the argument of
free-speech, but where agressively countered by the chair of the
conference with the words; but you cannot mean that you want to allow
child pornography and smut on the Net ?!

The chair of the conference, Sue Cameron, optimistically concluded that
there was an obvious consensus that something had to be done about the
smut on the Internet. I may have missed this process of consensus;
three of the speakers where absolutely not prepared to endorse
censorship of the Net, and none of the attendees I spoke to was
prepared to endorse this so called consensus. In a private conversation
with Ms. Cameron after the conference she admitted to hardly ever
having used the Net.

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