British government pulled report on Internet censorship

A British government report on censorship of the Internet was apparently suppressed last month and its recommendations ignored by the police.

A government report on censorship of the Internet was apparently suppressed last month and its recommendations ignored by the British police. The report entitled Information Superhighway: A Report On the Ethical Issues was prepared by the government's IT advisory agency, the Central Computer & Telecommunications Agency.

The report was completed in January by CCTA and was in the process of being typeset in April when it was withdrawn from publication, according to sources cited in a report by the UK-based magazine PC Advisor. However, a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry, which commissioned the CCTA report, says that the report's findings may be included at a later date in another report. He declined to give further details.

The report was commissioned in response to questions in the British Parliament on pornography and the Internet in March 1995. The CCTA gathered evidence from Christian groups, industry figures and the police and advised against asking Internet service providers to act as censors.

However, in August British police asked ISPs to remove access to 133 specific Internet newsgroups from their servers or face the risk of prosecution. While the list included newsgroups that are generally regarded as distasteful such as alt.paedophilia it also included newsgroups such as alt.homosexuality and alt.sex and thus sparked off a censorship controversy in the UK.

"Any network that is excessively regulated risks being killed off by the burden of bureaucracy," says the report. It also stated, "For the vision of the information society to be realised fully there must be near-universal opportunity of access. Superhighways must become as commonplace as the telephone or television."

In another report produced for the Department of Trade and Industry, the London law firm Denton Hall recommended that the British government take some action to curtail the amount of distasteful material on the Internet. "We argued that since the broadcasting and telecommunications industries are regulated we don't see why the Internet should be an exception," says Nick Higham, partner in Denton Hall, and author of the report.

"But we did not recommend censorship," says Higham. "We made a number of recommendations including: that people who want to receive pornography over the Internet should have to put a request in writing to the ISP."

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