Off-Topic: EU Internet Content Regulation

Grant Barrett gbarrett at AMERICANDIALECT.ORG
Mon Sep 13 13:51:34 UTC 1999

[Please accept my apologies for this off-topic message. This has
my hackles up, and I wanted to share with other thinking

The German publisher Bertelsmann recently hosted a conference of
international persons interested in discussing the subject of
Internet content regulation and the proposal before the European
Parliament. As I understand it, the proposal, if passed, would
require Internet site owners to rate their content so as to allow
automated filtering.

A large part of the problem I have with this proposal is that it
is not, as some would claim, set out to protect children. It is
clearly and specifically designed to allow Europeans governments
to prevent any citizen, including adults in their majority, from
viewing information the government has deemed harmful.

Any Internet rating system, by its very nature, will exclude a
specific and well-defined body of thought, art and politics that
has been historically and continuously under attack--unless it is
couched in the subtleties and vagaries of acceptable but
unattractive forms.

I personally tend to be a First Amendment purist: I believe
everything short of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater should be
allowed, and minors' viewing and reading habits should be
controlled by their parents, rather than by their government. Of course,
there's a lot of room for nuance here, and the Bertelsmann
proposal, in a best-case perspective, seems relatively honest.

But it isn't. I'm not going to launch a slippery-slope chain of
what-ifs  and if-thens, but I believe that Internet regulation
should not be a government enterprise, or a mandated commercial
enterprise, nor should it be "voluntary" (in the same way, as one
person put it, that here in the States jury duty and taxes are
"voluntary"). It should be an individual or parental decision.

Thanks for your time.

Grant Barrett

Here are some pertinent links:

Bertelsmann conference pages

New York Times article

CNET article

Comments of Nadine Strossen President ACLU, and Professor of Law
New York Law School

Comments of Esther Dyson

Bertelsmann Foundation "Memorandum on Self-Regulation"

Slashdot discussion

INCORE, Internet Content Rating for Europe, a pro-proposal group

ACLU White Paper: "Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning? How
Rating and Blocking Proposals May Torch Free Speech on the

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