Re: How can children be protected from obscene matter on the internet?
First published: 08th November 2008
As a parent, I adopt a two-fold approach to protecting my children from obscene matter on the internet: first, the computer is in the lounge, discouraging deliberate attempts to access such material; second, I have filtering software installed, preventing accidental access. Time and willingness to discuss what they have seen or read is also vital... one child-friendly website encouraged children to report "bad language", I had to explain this did not include misspellings.
However, we cannot blindly delegate our responsibilities to commercial companies, whether that is the developers of filtering software or ISPs. The software might be developed in, and therefore reflect the views of, a country that considers violence less damaging then sex, that has no gun control, and consequently a high level of gun crime and that fears other religious views. Hong Kong ISPs are already attempting to censor their customers: one ISP, Pacnet, in its terms and conditions prohibits content that "denounce religious or political beliefs". In a Democratic Society we have another phrase for that, "free speech, debate and discussion".
We need the technical expertise of software developers and ISPs to help us control harmful material, but the decisions about what is harmful is a matter for Society to decide. Therefore, the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance should establish a mechanism whereby the blocking lists used by ISPs and filtering software can be reviewed, challenged and modified in accordance with our standards of public decency.