It appears that the UK government is considering forcing ISPs to turn into its content coppers.
The UK government Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, wants to set up a new “Mediation Service” that would allow ISPs to censor third party content on the internet, without court intervention.
All that would have to happen is a public complaint and the ISP could delete copy from a user’s website.
Looking through what Vaizey is suggesting is that internet users could use the “service” to request that any material deemed to be inaccurate or privacy infringing is removed.
Of course it could also mean that commercial firms could use the system to shut down magazines and blogs that happen to say nasty things about them. It could also enable B list celebs or politicians silencing discussion on who they are sleeping with or which chum they gave a multi-million pound contract to.
We were looking at what Vaizey said at a House of Commons Debate on Internet Privacy.
He claimed that Nominet, the charity that is responsible for internet domain names, runs an extremely effective mediation service.
This means that people who are disputing the ownership of an internet domain name may be involved in a low-cost process to discuss how to resolve that dispute.
However it seems that Vaizey is flirting with the idea of privatised outsourced censorship. If anyone can complain then so can the government, but the people doing the censorship will be reluctant private companies and they will cop all the flack.
Vaizey says that he wants to give the great unwashed the same power that they would have if a newspaper had inadvertently published that information.
Technologically it will not work, but that has not stopped governments in the past coming up with stupid similar ideas.
Nominet’s dispute system is easy but asking an ISP to investigate any old gripe against something deemed by another to be “inaccurate” is something else.
Vaizey gave the example of a women’s refuge centre whose address was put online, and it was then unable to persuade the organisation that was carrying that information to remove it. He admitted that the take down might have been difficult because the information might have been placed somewhere else on the World Wide Wibble.
An ISP can only switch off an entire website and it is easier to do so than get into arguments about who is really right.
What we don’t understand is why politicians believe that there is any need to regulate the World Wide Wibble. True, one of the biggest problems with the World Wide Wibble is that someone can print defamation sites online and there is no avenue for the great unwashed to take them down. But the cost of shutting up the nutters is often a lot bigger than the results.