Monday, November 08, 2004

Utility over Rights: Child Safety Manifesto

Internet filtering in the name of online children's safety tends to bring collateral damage for adults. For example, a default of access unless minor is often turned around to no access unless proven adult. In the UK the Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS) has published a digital manifesto: Child online safety (Report, Summary - PDFs). It contains some recommendations that show how a good cause can be easily overreached and how utility wins over rights:
  • 6. A cyber equivalent of the Indecent Displays Act of 1981 should be made law and consideration should be given to putting new duties on web publishers to rate their online content.
  • 9. The government should investigate the possibility of using tax incentives to encourage technology companies, computer manufacturers and retailers to develop new contributions to online safety.
  • 19. All computer manufacturers and retailers active in the domestic market should, on all new machines they sell, pre-install child protection software set to a high level of security.
  • 22. Clarification is needed of the civil liability of ISPs and other online service providers for legal minors who use their networks.
These recommendations reveal a tendency to increase the duties and liability of web publishers and ISPs, push the government to use financial bargaining power to stimulate the development of censoring techniques, mirror restrictive indecency law on the internet, and, less subtle, propose to mandate the pre-installation of filtering software on computers.

Over at BBC News Online analyst Bill Thompson has a subdued reaction to the manifesto, pointing out why government and industry should (not necessarily) give in to children's charities. I'm in a subdued mood, so let's go with that for now. Though, his recommendation to choose for net safety lessons on schools may bring some disadvantages of its own.

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