Internet should be 'Wild West', not 'Digital Somalia'

Industry needs to ensure that the internet follows the frontier principles of the "Wild West" rather than "Digital Somalia", where anarchy and lawlessness reigns supreme.

This was the imagery conjured up by Richard Mollett, director of public affairs at the BPI, speaking at the Westminster eForum in Whitehall, London today. He was part of a panel discussing online content regulation that included figures from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), Childnet International, and AOL.

Mollett said that the internet Wild West metaphor worked as it was a frontier where new things occurred, was a little bit glamorous, but most importantly where the law was ultimately successful. The internet had to avoid being Digital Somalia, a troubled state where anarchy existed and the law couldn't take hold.

The message was that self-regulation of the internet was working, particularly with the efforts of the IWF, which was a body dealing with illegal internet content such as the obscene images of children.

The IWF was recently in the headlines due to it having to make a U-turn over a Scorpions album cover of a naked pre-pubescent girl that it helped ban from Wikipedia. This incident was said to be the exception rather than the norm, with it being described as "one mistake in twelve years".

The police are often powerless when it comes to child pornography because much of the content is held on servers out of the UK's jurisdiction, but the IWF's work in association with the internet industry has ensured it was very difficult to access child pornography on the web.

Ex-policeman Peter Robbins, chief executive of the IWF, said that the incident had the unfortunate effect of the group being criticised as 'self-indulgent' and 'unelected'.

He said: "There are a lot of very credible people on our board, and we want to give assurance that there is independent oversight on what we do.

"Nobody in the years that we have been operating had any real reason to complain, but in regards to the wiki incident, that particular matter came about as the result of a judgement made about a pre-pubescent girl who was depicted on a page on a website.

"At the time the decision was made, supported by independent and legal opinion, it was considered to be indecent."

He said that the page was added to a list which was given to internet service providers, who voluntarily agreed to block access to it.

He added: "There were a lot of factors involved which resulted in a lot of unfair criticism about our organisation. The lessons we have learned about that particular incident will be taken forward."