“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Attorney General Ramsey Clark,1975.

UK government ministers will order internet service providers to block websites that publish extremist views, despite the misgivings of broadband companies.

James Brokenshire, minister for crime and security, said that proposals for censoring such content would be made public in the near future. His comments come a few months after Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government intended to implement new measures to “counter the extremist narrative”. Such measures, he said, would include “blocking online sites.”

The measures that the government has in mind are unclear at this time though The Guardian reports that it plans to “empower a specialist unit to identify and report content deemed too dangerous for online publication.” According to The Guardian’s article, the government are hoping such measures will achieve a similar level of success to that which was obtained when it forced ISPs to block adult orientated content with network level filters.

The decision to block extremist sites comes after the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich which led the government to set up the Extremist Task Force. That group have, according to James Brokenshire, met four times so far with an emphasis on planning disruption to all forms of extremism, to be accomplished in the following ways:

  • disrupting extremist activity
  • challenging extremist narratives
  • tackling radicalisation in institutions such as schools, universities, mosques and prisons
  • supporting faith and community leadership to build strong, integrated communities.

Now, whilst that all sounds good in theory, there are several possible concerns surrounding any new measures that the government may wish to propose.

Broadband companies may well be wary of blocking sites, citing freedom of speech concerns. The way in which the government presents the sites to be blocked will be key here. Without involvement of the judicial process, should ISPs block certain content on the internet just because the politicians of the day think they should?

I’m sure there are many people who think that should indeed be the case but who can define exactly what extremism is? Sure, a group using the web to orchestrate a plan to kill and maim people should be stopped by any means foul or fair. But what about political movements who have an idealogy that is in contrast to the government of the day? Should they be denied a place on the web in the name of freedom and democracy?

If there are no clear plans on how extremism will be defined, and no independent body in charge of making case by case decisions then I can see no good coming from such proposals.

Besides, I’m sure we all know that blocking content on the internet is not wholly effective anyway. If someone wants to read blocked content then they are going to find a way to do it somehow or another.

Do you agree that the government shouldn’t be influencing ISPs to block certain types of content or do you think the spread of extremist content around the web should be stemmed in any way possible?

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