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3rd Story

Governments play big brother on the net

The Internet was once like the Wild West. There were few laws. Now governments are trying to lasso web content that is not deemed
appropriate for all, especially young people.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority announced July 16 that a "Conduct Service Code" had been approved. Websites originating Down Under now will be subject to a ratings system. Service providers must provide access controls in order to host material deemed MA+15 (for mature audiences over age 15) or R18+ (content for people over 18 years of age). The system will only apply to websites originating in Australia.

In the United States, cable companies are banding together with other organizations to stop child pornography. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) have come to an agreement. NCMEC will provide a list of active sites containing child pornography to NCTA operators, who are responsible for 87 per cent of the Internet in homes in America. The cable companies will then make sure the sites are not hosted on a server belonging to them. They also agreed to report instances of child pornography back to the NCMEC so that appropriate action can be taken.

While most of the efforts in the U.S. and Australia have been received positively, Internet regulations in Turkey and China are being seen as going too far. In China, the censorship seemed to be escalating as this month's Olympics approached.

"My observation is that during this year the Internet police became much more efficient in terms of surveillance of the Internet activities to suppress freedom of expression," said Zhang Yu, a Chinese citizen living in Sweden and a member Independent Chinese PEN Centre, a branch of International PEN, a writers' association. For an example of the restrictions, Zhang pointed to how Chinese authorities have started requiring identification to use Internet cafes.

In 2007, the Turkish government created a law listing under which circumstances websites could be blocked by the courts. Among the listed reasons were sites "encouraging suicide," featuring "obscenity," and "the sexual exploitation of children." The last one, at least, seems to follow the same idea that the U.S. cable companies and their partners had. However, critics say the law is being applied by the courts to sites the government does not approve of, according to a July 19 story on the Eurasia Daily Monitor website. For example, the Independent News Network website was shut down because the courts stated its site featured stories that were detrimental to national interest. The injunction was eventually lifted.

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