A United Kingdom cyberliberties group today was among the first to make itself heard in the early stages of a debate in Ireland over how to control smut on the Internet.
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties U.K., an activist group concerned with protecting freedom of speech and other rights for Internet users, hopes that its comments will help lay the foundation for a Net regulation policy that is being mounted by the Irish government's Working Group on Illegal and Harmful Use of the Internet.
The report was endorsed as the Global Internet Liberty Campaign submission to the irish government and was endorsed by 14 members including Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Organization, and others.
The Irish debate over Net regulation follows the defeat of the Communications Decency Act in the United States, which was rejected by the Supreme Court at the end of June. In addition, recent statistics show that Ireland is fast becoming a high-tech hot spot: Close to half of the computers sold on the continent come from Ireland, and observers don't expect a slowdown.
Coincidentally or not, the group's recommendations would avoid many of the glitches that U.S. lawmakers encountered in trying to justify the CDA. In its comments, Cyber-Liberties U.K. asks the government working group to refrain from prosecuting service providers for material on the Internet or requiring them to monitor or control content; to rely on existing laws to prosecute crimes on the Internet (such as the distribution of child pornography or copyright infringement) rather than pass new laws or regulations treating the new medium specially; and to avoid censorship but advise on the use of filtering or blocking software.
"Government-imposed censorship, overregulation, or service provider liability will do nothing to keep people from obtaining material the government does not like, as most of it will be on servers in another country," the policy statement says. "Such restrictions would, however, make Ireland, like any other jurisdiction that goes too far, a very hostile place for network development or any other high-tech industry and investment. Ireland should be looking to empower Irish people for the future as the country enters the 21st century, not turning back to the censorship and closed-mindedness of the 19th century."
The Irish Working Group on Illegal and Harmful Use of the Internet was established by the Irish government to identify the nature and extent of detrimental use of the Internet and to prioritize Net issues with particular reference to child pornography in the short term. Today is the last day it will accept comments on these issues.
The issues Ireland faces are hardly new. In Germany, for example, the parliament just passed legislation that sets standards regarding child pornography on the Internet. The so-called Information and Communications Services Act is set to take effect there on August 1.
Other countries have chosen to censor information completely. Since last summer, Singapore has required operators of Internet companies--including service providers, cybercafes, and organizations with sites that provide political and religious information about Singapore--must register with the government. Last September, Chinese officials issued a blanket ban on about 100 Web sites ranging from U.S. newspapers and sexually explicit sites to services offering information on Taiwan and Hong Kong.