January 7, 2014

It is a long time since I had such a wealth of material to choose from when deciding which articles to include in an issue. Of course we have predictions – although there are even more on the web site – and these feature very strongly. But it is an unusual issue because we have two long articles. I do usually try and avoid that, mainly for fear that the busy lives of SCL readers will see them intimidated by the prospect of reading an article of five or six pages but also because long articles push a number of other worthy contenders out of the print edition.

But I am pleased that we have managed to find room for Jane Seager’s long article on domain names and the data protection article from Paul Motion and Laura Irvine. You should make the effort to read these. In Jane’s case, the article’s length is a concomitant of its being a thorough review of the community domain names topic and it seems likely to me to be an article that many will want to refer to over a long period. Paul Motion and Laura Irvine’s piece raises a series of fascinating and important legal questions about the true legal classification for monetary penalties imposed by the ICO which require to be addressed by the Upper Tribunal and which should be carefully considered by the ICO when reviewing their current practice in relation to monetary penalties. (Note that their Cake or Death? article, available online and as a bonus track in the e-pub version, amplifies this coverage of monetary penalties.)

I see a gradual shift to include more long articles as being the result of IT law edging towards mainstream practice. The idea that the long-established legal publications would cover IT law topics was once fanciful (OK, that is a long time ago) but now it is not unusual. I don’t want to repeat such articles but always want this magazine to offer something extra. One way to do that is to make sure that we give space to the esoteric and the detailed, while steering well clear of turning into a publication that is read only by academics.


As I write this, it seems that the Internet filters ‘voluntarily’ put in place by some ISPs are blocking access to a range of sites that have no conceivable connection to porn. Early evidence suggests that these filters may well have been lifted from the culture that rules in some parts of the USA (references to ‘bathroom humour’ are a bit of a give-away – unless that’s someone with a toe stuck in a tap) and anecdotal evidence suggest that the blocks can be set much too widely. The idea that our Internet might be filtered by those who don’t even know what ‘naked’ means is indeed frightening. It is hard to not to smile when one sees that ChildLine might be blocked but I abhor the idea that children might be denied access to educational material because of a puritanical set of attitudes that has little support in the wider British community. Yet I worry too about the initial reactions to such revelations.

Let’s face it: those who want to see ‘porn filters’ simply swept away because of their inaccuracies are going to lose out. ‘I told you so’ has never been a good way to get an attitude to change and it has been said too often in this context without constructive suggestions for improvement. Anyone who thinks that public attitudes will be changed by the current approach is delusional.

I seem to have spent centuries arguing with Internet scaremongers (it’s actually just decades): terrorists and criminals communicated before the Internet but we did not need to sniff everyone’s letters; people bullied others before social media and we failed the bullied on most occasions long before Facebook was a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye and so on and so on. There is not much new and the desire of young people to view pornography, and the disapproval of their elders, is certainly not new.

What is new and required a response was the absence of formal restraints on access to the wide range of pornographic material available online. But of course that response has to be nuanced and effective. (For example, the age limits are just silly). We don’t see campaigners pushing for the abolition of the rule that requires pornographic magazines to be on the top shelf simply because children understand how to use step-ladders (and some teenage boys are very tall). We accept that such restrictions as we have in place have their inadequacies. In the context of Internet porn filters, while the inadequacies are glaring and some can never be addressed, the focus should be on improving them and educating about their use and, more generally, about the Internet and porn. Clamouring for complete freedom on the Internet will not chime a chord with the British public – they want limits.

Of course, if the pessimists are right and the ‘porn filters’ are part of a grand plan to scupper all our freedoms, we are in trouble. If this pessimism proves to be justified, I will happily join the enlightened few on the barricade.