“This is not a campaign against free speech” said the UK’s Minister for Culture, as he made a call for all websites to carry a film-style parental rating. And for the sites to be taken offline if deemed offensive or violent. These are not just empty words: the UK government plans to negotiate with the Obama administration on this issue.
“The more we seek international solutions to this stuff–the UK and the US working together–the more that an international norm will set an industry norm,” said Minister Andy Burnham. Film-style website ratings are one solution, and so is timed content: with certain types of content being viewable at only certain times online, which parallels the UK’s “watershed” 9 p.m. timeslot for violent or explicitly sexual TV broadcasts. Take-down times are also being considered, with sites like YouTube being required by law to remove banned content within a particular time frame, once the video site is alerted to its presence.
Exactly how laws like these would be implemented, or what it would cost Internet companies or ISPs, and how they apply to the billions of webpages put online by individuals rather than large companies is unclear.
With Australia on the verge of implementing broad Internet censorship regulations, and China regularly restricting access to “contentious” global websites, it looks like Big Brother might actually rear its head in the UK of all places.
“If you look back at the people who created the Internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn’t reach […] I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now,” Burnham said in a newspaper interview.
It’s not a campaign against free speech at all, then–just a campaign against online international English-language content of any kind that faceless government officials deem inappropriate.