The UK Initiative

The UK was one of the first European Union(EU) nations to promote censorship of the Internet. This was accomplished by a government backed foundation that was introduced in September 1996, the Internet Watch Foundation(IWF). The initial goal of the IWF was to help the government in regulating illegal content, namely child pornography.

UK law defines what content is illegal. The IWF acts as a service that Internet users can contact through email, telephone, and fax when they encounter content that is either illegal or indecent. When illegal content is reported, the IWF relays that to British Internet Service Providers(ISPs). From there, it is the responsibility of the ISPs to block access from all UK citizens to sites hosting that content. If indecent content is reported, some independent authority will decide whether or not those host(s) should be blocked or not. If British ISPs do not follow through, then the UK police are allowed to take legal actions against those ISPs.

It is difficult for the British government to set a standard of what is indecent. What one may consider obscene, someone else may not have a problem with at all. Therefore, the IWF also promotes the use of PICS, Platform for Internet Content Selections. PICS is a rating system that allows anyone to rate content on a website. The rating is embedded in the content of the website and is made known when trying to access that website. In addition to showing the severity, ratings can also categorize content, such as political or religious. With the rating system in place, ISPs or software on the computers can regulate what content is accessible.

With the rating system, it is important to note that there will never be content that is rated in such a manner that no one can view it; otherwise, it'd be illegal. The point of the system is to mimic regulation that has been used in other forms of media. For example, television and movie content already have rating systems that restrict when or how the content can be viewed.