Government demands action on harmful websites

The Government is calling for action from web giants and ISPs to restrict harmful content on the internet, the BBC reports.

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Google, BT and a number of other organisations have been put on notice by Culture Secretary Maria Miller, pictured below, to come up with plans to go further in restricting access to material such as child abuse images or content intended to incite terrorism.

The companies have been summoned to a meeting on 17 June to outline their plans. In a letter to the companies, Ms Miller highlights widespread public concern: "Whether these concerns focus on access to illegal pornographic content, the proliferation of extremist material which might incite racial or religious hatred, or the ongoing battle against online copyright theft, a common question emerges: what more can be done to prevent offensive online content potentially causing harm?"

In a press briefing, an aide says: "Woolwich is the latest catalyst. Enough is enough – concentrated effort is now needed by the whole industry."

However, it is not clear precisely what is expected of the companies. Child abuse images are illegal, and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) maintains a blacklist of such images which is updated twice a day, Its members agree to block them – although more pressure on the industry is anticipated in terms of IWF funding and hunting down offending sites.

The grey area is where sites are considered harmful but are still legal. It is expected that the companies will ask who decides what is harmful and may be unwilling to be perceived as censors.

The Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is suggesting various ideas to be discussed at the meeting, including "a set of industry-wide protocols around how they respond to concerns around content when they arise, a look at the extent to which filters can be used, looking further at the public wi-fi proposals beyond the pornography focus". The department cites the code of practice agreed by the mobile broadband companies restricting access to certain content on mobile devices.

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