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 Posted Wednesday, September 16, 1998


BBC News

British Home Secretary's Promise to Censor the Internet
[ Originally posted by the BBC Online Network ]

Tuesday, September 15, 1998. Published at 10:28 GMT

Crackdown on Internet racism

The UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a crackdown on racist material published on the Internet.

He has asked governments across the world to work together to remove illegal Websites and prosecute those responsible.

Speaking to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mr Straw revealed that the National Criminal Intelligence Service would act against threatening, abusive and racist material.

Mr Straw said: "The Internet offers exciting opportunities for global communication, but it is vulnerable to abuse, because Websites and newsgroups are accessible from across international borders." An expert in the subject has warned that groups were not only using the Internet for publicity but also for planning terrorist activity.

Racism was identified in a report compiled by the NCIS early in 1998 as one of the principal areas in which the Internet was abused.

Porn is already an NCIS target The NCIS has already been co-operating with other police agencies around the world to target child pornography rings, and intelligence reports suggest that similar co-operation will be required to combat racism

Net experts agree that the majority of right wing, neo-Nazi and fascist Websites that publish racist material are concentrated in North America, Germany and Scandinavia

An NCIS spokesman said: "We have identified racism as a potential problem and made recommendations for a strategy for law enforcement on the Internet.

"When information is passed to us about material published on the Net, what we can do is identify what jurisdiction it comes from, identify the service provider and alert the relevant authorities."

Offensive material

The Board of Deputies echoed Mr Straw's comments.

Spokesman Michael Whine[1] said: "There is now an acceptance by law enforcement agencies and governments within Europe that in addition to pornography, there is also a problem of racism online." New EU legislation has been introduced which Mr Whine was certain was being used across the continent

He said much of the offensive material was produced in the US: "The problem is whose jurisdiction does it come under? "Not the Americans, because they don't have laws against it - the First Amendment of the Constitution overwhelms everything." Action can be taken in the UK if material from abroad is distributed more widely, and it is believed there are prosecutions pending under existing UK public order legislation

Mr Whine was not surprised to see Mr Straw taking a lead.

"British police seem more adapt at dealing with it," he said, but warned that many groups were also using the Web for planning terrorist activity.

Holocaust denial

Mr Straw singled out groups that tried to deny the genocide of Jews in World War II

But although this was offensive, he was unwilling to make it a criminal offence because it might infringe on freedom of speech.

"There is danger that, by introducing legislation, we would play into the hands of those who peddle these lies by giving them a public platform," he said

Mr Straw confirmed that ministers would continue to monitor the situation and said no final decision had been taken.

Our opinion
CLEARLY THERE is a need to control the flow of Schmutz and Schund through the Internet. In our opinion however the proper place for police action is at the transmitting or the receiving end, not by interfering with the fabric of the Internet itself: the latter action lends itself too readily to the censorship of ideas by governments or self-appointed authorities like the Board of Deputies of British Jews.


[1]   For the views of Michael Whine, Director of the Defence and Group Relations Department at the Board of Deputies of British Jews since 1986, on the need to censor the Internet for political views expressed on it, see his position paper.

We shall publish in a few days a detailed survey of the insidious current attempts by the Board and the ADL to censor or infiltrate political filtering software onto the Internet.

Free Speech
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