An obsession with child protection in the UK and throughout the EU is encouraging a cavalier approach to law-making, which less democratic regimes are using to justify much broader repression on any speech seen as extreme or dangerous.
That was the accusation made by academic and online legal expert, Dr Yaman Akdeniz, at last week’s Onscenity Conference in London. Dr Akdeniz, now an Associate Professor of Law with Istanbul's Bilgi University, was concerned with what he saw as a "domino effect".
He said: "The UK and EU are supporting measures that allow for websites to be censored on the basis of purely administrative processes, without need for judicial oversight."
He went on to explain that even though the EU endorses very high principles when it comes to censorship, its practice often falls far short, with different working groups facing both ways on this issue.
He said: "Several countries within the EU operate secret block lists, which makes it even harder for individuals to know what is going on or for due process of law to be carried out."
Dr Akdeniz, who also runs the cyberlaw site, prefaced his remarks by looking at censorship in Turkey. He noted that hundreds of sites were permanently blocked, and although the excuse given was often couched in moral terms, the actual targets for blocking appeared to depend as much on considerations of politics and commerce.
He highlighted sites including blogs critical of government, that had been blocked on grounds of being pornographic, even though their content was far softer than other mainstream pornography still freely available.
Also relevant is the saga of YouTube, banned in its entirety after it carried a clip allegedly implying that Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, was effeminate. Shortly after one court reinstated YouTube’s right to be viewed in Turkey, a subsequent court ordered it blocked again because it allegedly carried a clip of the former chairman of the opposition, Deniz Baykal, in a bedroom with a female aide.
According to international anti-censorship lobby Reporters sans Frontieres, Turkey continues to be one of the biggest banners in Europe, with some 5,000 different sites banned in their entirety at last count, including geocities.com, myspace.com and dailymotion.com.
Dr Akdeniz claimed that trends visible today in Turkey are equally applicable across the Middle East.
Meanwhile, in a further sign of how UK censorship techniques are being exported around the world, three prominent UK experts were addressing a conference in Turkey this week to provide further insights into the UK model of net “safeguarding”.
The programme for Turkish Internet Safety Day, included a stellar cast of Turkish speakers, plus three Brits: Prof Dr Sonia Livingstone, who lectures at the LSE and is Director of EUKids Online; Facebook’s European Political Director Lord Richard Allan; and John Carr, a United Kingdom government adviser on Internet safety policy for children, who also works with European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online (eNACSO) and Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety (CHIS).
According to Dr Akdeniz, "John Carr will be exporting the British 'way of protecting children' from harmful content on the Internet and will probably welcome the Turkish efforts to block access to thousands of websites".
Dr Livingstone will be looking at studies of the experiences of children and young people in in the context of new technologies. John Carr is examining self-regulatory practices and the role of NGOs in social sharing sites. ®