British relent on banned report

A local government in England, which had been fighting to stop the distribution of a banned government report on the Net, withdraws from the fight.

2 min read
Score a victory for the Internet: A local government in England, which had been fighting to stop the distribution of a banned government report on the Net, has withdrawn from the fight, leaving the other side to claim victory.

The Nottinghamshire County Council order is expected to be signed today or tomorrow, according to Yaman Akdeniz, head of the British cyberliberties organization Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties.

"I think that it's a complete victory," Akdeniz said. "They didn't realize the potential of the Internet."

The move proves what Netizens have long been arguing: that government censorship is much more difficult, if not impossible, when documents can be posted and disseminated almost instantaneously online.

The Nottinghamshire Council had been fighting since June to gain control of a banned report--called the JET report--that three British journalists published on their Internet site, hoping to bring the report's contents to the public. Ironically, the contents of the report, regarding a famous child abuse case in Nottinghamshire, were ultimately overshadowed by the cyberliberties battle.

This week's action will mean the journalists can once again post the report. To cyberlibertarians, the move also shows how powerful the Internet can be in fighting against restrictive government policies.

While the council had the legal jurisdiction to fight against Web sites in England, it was unclear whether it had any way to fight against the many Web sites outside its boundaries that picked up the report and put it on their own sites.

It had been sending out threatening letters to mirror sites around the globe, but it was unclear whether the council could legally force those sites to take down the report.

In the end, the council said the battle to ban the report from the Net was proving far too expensive. "We have been faced with a technology running at a pace that exceeds the law's ability to adapt to deal with it, and the best interests of Nottinghamshire people would not be served by running up large bills in difficult areas of law," said chairman of social services Tim Bell.

Akdeniz said the decision probably was influenced by the recent decision of the U.K. law enforcement officials to drop charges in an 18-month investigation involving the availability of a blasphemous poem by James Kirkup on the Internet.

"The issue in the availability of the JET Report is public interest and freedom of information," Akdeniz wrote in a statement today. "The wide availability of the JET Report on the Internet is just another example of this kind of collaboration by Netizens against nation-states and their local bodies. The global Internet does not recognize boundaries and will resist any attempts by individual governments and law enforcement bodies to suppress or censor information on it."