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Is It Possible to Police the Internet?

Controlling the web is the holy grail for many individuals and organisations.

Google wants to achieve it, so that their advertising revenue reigns supreme. Manufacturers of devices long to accomplish it, for the same reason.

The EU Wants to ‘Patrol’ It

A new (leaked) EU Commission report is recommending that the actual police forces of member states should be authorised to ‘patrol’ Google, Facebook and Twitter for any posts that support terrorism.

Already sites are monitored by GCHQ for ‘chatter’ that is likely to be criminal or of terrorist support, but these proposals would force internet service providers of all sorts to implement semi-automatic detection systems and various flagging systems to allow others to raise concerns.

Data would be shared across the EU and apparently it would become illegal to set up internet accounts under false names.

Now if we are serious about combatting terrorism and crime, then it sounds reasonable. Does it?

All providers are united in opposition because not only is such a method totally impracticable, it changes the very nature of the free web and turns providers into spies.

Of course it is argued that already employers are unpaid tax collectors for the state and teachers and doctors are required to be social workers and report suspected abuse to the authorities. So how is this different?

It is totally different because this is allowing an unaccountable Big Brother snooping structure to manipulate, control and direct people’s lives in the name of anti-terrorism, but in reality for the purpose of masterminding power/control over individuals.

Grandparents Need to Police It

Vodafone commissioned a survey (Sept 2012) which led to a guide, the Vodafone Digital Parenting, arguing that grandparents should have lessons in web safety and security because so many now act as child-minders for several hours a week.

Many parents of children under 15 believe their own parents are unable to monitor or even know when the youngsters are accessing unsuitable material, gambling, losing sight of reality in games or making contact with undesirable people online.

It turns out that most grandparents questioned agreed. They accept that they are not sufficiently tech-savvy to spot the dangers and also think the children spend too long on the web anyway, and not enough interacting with other real people.

It is assumed that a number of youngsters deliberately take advantage of their grandparents’ ignorance to do a few risky things. In the same way some teachers in schools find they are outwitted by superior technology skills of teenagers particularly.

What is needed is a balance. Build confidence in parents and grandparents; encourage young people that boundaries are to protect them while they continue to explore the benefits of digital technology.

However, in the wider debate about policing the web, a sense of balance is a phrase you will rarely hear.

Policing the Web is Everyone’s Job

Blogger John Doherty wrote in April 2012 that on the subject of spam, internet litter, dubious advertising links, that we each and everyone of us must police it into submission.

He said ‘I want to call for a higher degree of activism online when it comes to spam. Algorithms and programs are not perfect, and therefore spam will still exist until Internet citizens – that includes you – rise up and police the web ourselves, deleting or flagging comments when they are obviously spam’.

He acknowledges part of web citizenship is allowing free speech, so don’t flag as spam something that you merely disagree with, but engage with the discussions. ‘With great power comes great responsibility…’

Join the conversation… this is one of our MBF blogs that is designed to stir up, be provocative, controversial and even outrageous about technology and life today and about all related matters.

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Also check out:

Good at Codes? Want a Job? Try GCHQ! 5 December 2011

Personal Data: Government Plans a Rich Harvest, 9 April 2012

Ben Hammersley: Facing the Digital Future Without Fear, 28 August 2012

Internet Safety for Children: Too Little Too Late? 9 July 2012

Schools Not Always in Front Line of Technology Teaching, 4 July 2012

The ‘Net Generation’ v ‘Silver Surfers’ Myth, 16 May 2012

‘Intelligence’ Demands Intelligent Handling, 1 May 2012

Digital Addictions Hook More People, 16 February 2012

‘Anonymous’ on the Web Is Now a Rare Breed, 6 February 2012

John Docherty, April 2012

Image: Les Chatfield