Government Pressures Tech Firms To Censor More ‘Harmful’ Sites

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Maria Miller asks Google, Facebook and BT to meet on blocking illegal content… something they already do

Culture secretary Maria Miller has written to telecoms companies and service providers, including BT, Google and Facebook, demanding they talk about how to better censor “harmful content on the Internet”.

Miller believes recent “horrific events” have led to greater concern about access to “extremist material” or “illegal pornographic content”. She was most likely pointing to the murders of soldier Lee Rigby and five-year-old April Jones. Copyright theft was also cited as a worry for Miller.

Censor ‘dangerous material’

Censorship © - Fotolia.com“It is clear that dangerous, highly offensive, unlawful and illegal material is available through basic search functions and I believe that many popular search engines, websites and ISPs could do more to prevent the dissemination of such material,” Miller wrote.

“Effective technological solutions have to be developed – and deployed –to minimise the harm done to businesses and consumers.

“A relatively small number of organisations wield a great deal of online power – and I believe that with that power comes a great responsibility.”

She has called for a meeting on 17 June to discuss what the companies are doing and what they could do in the future.

‘Gov don’t get it’

Many are already involved in taking down harmful material. The Internet Watch Foundation, of which Google is a part, brings together a number of technology companies and interested parties to censor illegal content.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said if Miller wanted to tackle child abuse sites, it would require “international government efforts against criminal gangs far more than blame games”.

“Terrorist material has to be thought about much more carefully. It can and is already taken down in many circumstances. Blocking it, however, would largely be cosmetic and a way for politicians to say they’ve achieved something,” Killock said.

“We are very worried that Maria Miller may hand a propaganda victory to terrorists while reducing our own freedom to choose what we look at.”

Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers’ Association, said he welcomed the meeting as the government “needs to fully understand and appreciate what is already being done by industry”.

“We continually look at ways to make the Internet a safe place and already take part in government consultations on this issue. We will be happy to meet with the Secretary of State to discuss matters further,” a BT spokesperson added.

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