Skip to main content
Howard's Way

Today, I was invited to meeting called by Opposition leader, Michael Howard (MP) at Conservative Central Office, to examine the issues surrounding the protection of children on the Internet.



Chaired by Theresa May (MP) the gathering included the ‘usual suspects’, John Carr, from the Internet Watch Foundation, several MPs, ISPs, Telco’s, Police and representative’s from children’s groups, all confronted with a grave problem that defies every attempt to legislate it out of existence.

Michael Howard opened the meeting with a short speech that congratulated the Government for establishing an Internet Task Force in 2001 and paid tribute to the work of the National Hi-tech Crime Unit and what he described as the responsible example set by the UK’s own Internet industries in fighting paedophile behaviour. However, Howard expressed his dismay at the “Terrifying growth of child pornography”, which he said represents “A terrible stain on our society.”

“We need”, says Michael Howard, “To investigate whether the industry is doing everything it can to tackle the problem. “I don’t “, said the Leader of the Opposition, “want to follow the route of some countries, where Internet censorship is imposed by a state-controlled central (proxy) server but as an industry, we do need to constantly explore new ways to stop child pornography making its way onto computer screens.”

The fact that the Opposition are now actively seeking opinions on the connection between paedophilia and the a wider socio-economic consequences of serious and organised crime on the Internet has to be good news and Theresa May commented that a real challenge lies in determining what the position of the state should be in respect to content. While Government shouldn’t be indifferent to the dangers presented by the World Wide Web, it’s unclear what its role should be in what is increasingly a ‘nanny society’ and there is a thin line between a ‘laudable’ intention to address a serious criminal challenge and a ‘laughable’ consequence of any programme or legislation that misses the mark.

What appears clear from such a meeting is that existing legislation, such as the ‘Obscene Publications Act’, might be a useful tool against Lady Chatterley’s Lover but has little or no relevance in a society where the existence of ‘depraved and corrupting’ images are an unpleasant and increasingly pervasive fact of life. One imaginative suggestion was to rewrite the Act to embrace minors and not adults, which would appear to solve the problem at a stroke but the Shadow Attorney General pointed out that this would raise The sword of Damocles” over the heads of ISPs or even parents and would be very difficult in practise.

“Perhaps”, said Tim Loughton (MP), stressing the need for greater cooperation from the United States “We should re-classify such crimes as terrorism against children” but he concurred like his Shadow ministerial colleague, Jim Paice (MP) that the exploitation of children is only one manifestation of a much wider problem that embraces many different examples of serious and organised crime on the Internet.

Was anything achieved then in a meeting that was looking for answers rather than objections from industry? Without a doubt, ISPs, telcos such as BT and NTL and even Microsoft, are investing heavily and working hard to find practical solutions to better protect society’s most vulnerable surfers but drawing the analogy with seatbelt legislation, Tim Loughton pointed-out that better domestic education holds much of the answer and in the absence of any ‘magic bullet’ and with the source of the problem often lying with the Americans with their first amendment freedom of speech or with the Russians with little or no framework of legislation, there is very little that Britain can achieve alone, other than offer an example of moral leadership and hope that others follow.

After all is said and done then a hell of a lot more is said than done but that is, after all, the story of politics and the Internet.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…