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Paradise Lost

“To you by lot this course is given, charge and strict watch over this happy place that no evil thing approach or enter in”.
John Milton – Pardise Lost

With good reason and a gathering sense of public outrage, there’s a call from many different quarters to tighten-up the Internet. More accurately, there’s a clamour from across a political spectrum which includes both the Sun and the BBC for greater controls on the Internet and to re-engineer the inadequate legislation which is quite incapable of protecting children from the perversity that has made a comfortable home in the anonymity of the World Wide Web.

Reading through the editorials of the last week, it is clear, that those responsible for framing or voting for any changes in legislation possess a dangerously limited understanding of both the Internet and the threat that it can represent.

Proposals for new legislation and suggestions for new safeguards have an almost ‘Dunblane’ like feeling to them. After Thomas Hamilton and the horror of Dunblane, you may remember, that government promised an end to gun crime. If you remove all the licensed firearms, the reasoning suggested, criminals will stop using guns too! Well not quite, because of course you can’t simply legislate social problems out of existence. Instead we now have record gun crime month in July and machine guns being used to resolve arguments in every major city.

The Internet thrives on anonymity and the vague nature of its jurisdictional geography encourages perversity to thrive. The Web empowers groups who would never have been to congregate in the real world and even the best written legislation can only have a minimal impact on the more dangerous, whether it be Al Qaeda or an international paedophile ring.

Most recently, the FBI, in a ‘Sting’, collected the credit card details of 7,000 men in this country who had accessed a bogus Russian paedophile site. These were passed over to the UK authorities but appear to represent a small drop in the ocean, leading one person I asked, to remark that “Paedophilia appears to be a very British perversion, in much the same way as the evidence suggests that many East German men prefer Czech prostitutes to be pregnant”.

If you are ever unfortunate enough to visit any of the thousands of sites operating from what was once the old Soviet Union, then the images of savage abuse they contain will remain with you for a very long time. And there’s the problem. The route that often leads to more dangerous fantasies is easily fuelled by by a £15.95 Internet access connection and a few pounds on a Visa card each month paid to the Russian Mafia. Better legislation, although well overdue, will do little more than catch and deter a small percentage of the less intelligent offenders, the Gary Glitters’ of this world, while the Internet will continue to protect the brutal fantasies of potential Hannibal Lecters.

But while politicians and judges continue to talk uninformed rubbish there’s very little chance of making any real progress. When we embraced the idea of the World Wide Web, we simultaneously opened a Pandora’s Box of enormous power and unless society is prepared to confront the darker side of the Internet, there’s a very real danger of being overwhelmed by its unrestricted content.

Can or indeed, should the darker side of the Internet be controlled or has it made any conventional sense of morality an irrelevance in the 21st century?

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