Internet censorship: Who decides?

Should we be left to our own devices when it comes to browsing the internet or should our viewing be controlled?

Jennifer Scott

COMMENT: With stories coming through on a daily basis about bans across the internet a question goes round and round my head: Who should decide what we can or cannot see - if anyone at all?

This year saw the 20th birthday of the internet, created with an ethos of openness and freedom by Tim Berners-Lee. But we all have watched the years pass and the battle between control and freedom rage from website to website.

I am sure you encounter this in your daily lives too. There are most probably sites you can or cannot look at in your offices. At home, you may understandably chose to have parental control on your PC to stop your children accessing sites you do not deem appropriate.

But it will always stick in my head the slightly ironic time I was researching a politics project at school but was blocked from websites referring to "Anarchists."

Today has seen yet another ban, though of a lot more serious political nature than my school report. Iran's government has stopped its residents accessing Facebook. It is a less than subtle attempt to stop supporters campaigning for the candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the upcoming elections, according to local news reports and residents.

This is an extreme example that many countries in the world may not tolerate but look at the smaller examples as well. Apple has just banned Eucalyptus, an ebook reader, from its iPhones because some books mention sex. Is the freedom to read some literary classics going to warp our little minds too?

There are of course a number of sites that many would find disgusting, me included, when it comes to encouraging extremists or exhibiting abuse. It is understandable that we want to protect our own eyes, as well as those more vulnerable than ourselves, from accessing this kind of material as well as it being made in the first place.

But those sites are a matter of law, not discretion. Surely a line must be drawn between the two?

As an adult I expect to be treated as one, deciding what I want to read online. I feel I am able to use my own mind to pick what I would like to look at and also assess what I find offensive. I do not expect my government, or my phone maker for that matter, to make that decision for me. If I am offended I can click on that little cross at the top of my browser and all will be well again.

There are those in the world who abuse this freedom that the likes of Berners-Lee gave to us. I can understand the need for a task force to deal with this area of law breaking but common sense needs to be brought in more to this discussion.

If it was, the conclusion would be very clear. The majority of cases that just involve personal choice should not be judged on the law breaking acts of the minority.

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