The UK is set to introduce a more draconian rating system for UK Websites and Internet services in an attempt to curb child pornography.
Only a week after the US Supreme Court judged the controversial Communications and Decency Act unconstitutional, the UK Criminal Justice Minister, Alun Michael, is meeting representatives from watchdog, The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), to discuss details of the proposed curbs.
The same concerns raised in the US about the Communications and Decency apply in the UK. Critics say that freedom of speech and civil liberties could be jeopardised by any form of censorship, particularly if the censorship is imposed by government rather than a voluntary monitoring process.
The proposed UK rating system is similar to film classifications, but the aspect that alarms some is the possible inclusion of warning screens or access blocking mechanisms.
A rating system like the Platform for Internet Content Selections (PICS), which is similar to V-chip technology for filtering television programmes, seems to have generated widespread support among pressure groups and ISVs.
Designed to censor computer games, it rates material according to degrees of sex, nudity, violence and bad language.
James Gardiner, marketing manager at Demon UK, says: "A voluntary rating scheme is something that we?ve argued for, It needs to be based on the R cube - somewhere to report, a rating standard and responsibility among the ISV community."
Gardiner believes that most ISVs want to rid the Internet of child pornography, but he emphasises that any rating and access system must be something which parents can understand as easily as their computer-literate offspring. He adds: "Historically, the Internet was very good at policing itself, but new users are more interested in what it can do rather than the technology itself, it has opened up to many new influences."
The Internet Watch Foundation was launched in September 1996 by Pipex founder Peter Dawe to address the issue of illegal material on the Internet, particularly child pornography. The IWF says: "The law on child p ornography is relatively clear and we are anxious to hear about any images of children, apparently under 16 years old, naked and involved in sexual activity or posed to be sexually provocative"
The IWF argues that rated pages and groups will help users control what they, and their families, wish to view. Like Gardiner, it argues that this is not censorship. "It increases individual freedom for users to decide for themselves what they will be able to see, according to their own standards."
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