What you see is what you get..,
but who decides what you get? Controlling
information has always been an issue of dispute
between establishments and citizens. The
goalposts change every time there is a change in
the regime, controlling authority or the set of
very liquid variables we call ethics. There
comes a point when common sense drives us to
enforce a ban against something despicable.
Presently the world over,
majority of the countries irrespective of their
religion or culture, are concerned that the
Internet and other mobile technologies must not
be allowed to become a safe haven for sexual
child abuse and its related imagery.
Advent of the Internet into the
lives of common people resulted in an
uncontrollable freedom not only to the access of
information but its publication as well. When
the initial fever on realizing a long-awaited
dream passed, we found ourselves faced with a
dilemma about how to make this new source of
information suitable for everyone. While people
are working towards making the Internet
accessible to all parts of the world, a huge
responsibility is also emerging that points
towards delivering quality information that is
free from objectionable and offensive content.
The scope of this article doesn't question the
rules that qualify information to be
objectionable or not, but looks at various
techniques that have evolved over the years and
some of the recent developments in making the
Internet a safe place for its users.
The basic technique that Internet
Service Providers use to control content acts at
two levels: Application level and Packet Level.
Both methods have their pros and cons, but none
outweighs the others.
In application level blocking,
ISPs control the access of certain Internet
services or protocols like http or ftp by
channeling them through "proxy" servers where
the filtering is performed. In such a case, if a
user is trying to access a site which is
blocked, he will receive a pre-configured error
message. Though this method is very popular
among ISPs, it is not 100% reliable, and can be
bypassed in more than one way.
Packet level blocking is more of
a hardware-based solution where the router
checks the address of the computer sending the
information and compares it against a list of
blocked addresses. It discards information that
seems to be coming from any of the blocked
addresses. This method is more effectively
implemented at the backbone service providers
than at individual ISPs.
In the second quarter of 2002,
the EU parliament voted that the ISPs cannot be
forced to block content of objectionable nature
as a way of regulating content on the Internet.
They re-iterated the importance of
self-regulation, and other rating systems.
An example of what ISPs can do in
order to make the content safer is that of BT
(British Telecom). British Telecom has taken
a bold step of blocking all such illegal
websites, in a Project called CleanFeed. The
process involves both the hardware and software
level filtering techniques using the block lists
produced by an independent industry watchdog-the
Internet Watch Foundation. The project is all
set to go live in July 2004.
The Internet Watch Foundation in
UK is involved in InHoPE Association (internet
Hotline Providers in Europe) internationally
providing 20 hotline services to report illegal
content mostly across Europe, Australia and USA.
Due to absence of similar infrastructure in the
major part of the Asian market it is taking a
while before such an organized effort can be put
into practice. At present Taiwan and South Korea
are member and associate member of the
IWF and InHope control the access
of the Black lists through a strong trust system
of organizations that obtain their membership
under the scrutiny of the government and other
law enforcing authorities.
In market driven economies like
the US and the UK, trend is developing for
controlled Internet access. Companies are
providing clients the option of having access to
"clean Internet service" or "best effort
service" which either allows access to a few
safe sites or stop the access to a few black
listed sites accordingly, to provide safer
options for families. The added cost of setup if
borne on the ISP's end can give them an
additional advantage over their competitors and
hence fuel the drive for a safer Internet.
There is no doubt that it is our
responsibility to provide a fair chance to our
children to develop in an environment where they
can grow up to be balanced citizens and be able
to make the right decision when it comes to
surfing the Internet. It is also our
responsibility to not enter into such rules and
regulations that will take away our right to
freedom of information.