Plan to police Web won't work, say internet service providers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am

The government's proposal to tighten control over indecent material on the internet was branded a lose-lose preposition by local internet experts, who say it places the burden of responsibility on service providers.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau made 11 suggestions to curb access to obscene and indecent materials on the Web, as part of its review of the laws on publishing such material.

The suggestions drew severe criticism from the ISP industry, which objected specifically to the idea they be forced to offer filtering software to subscribers.

According to the paper, the server-end software would enable filtering of content from both local and overseas websites and it would work better than what parents use now.

Another suggestion was including in the service contract specific clauses prohibiting Web users from publishing obscene or indecent articles.

It also put forward a control system that would use credit-card data to authenticate the age of Web users who wanted to enter sites with indecent content that are hosted in Hong Kong.

Greg So Kam-leung, the undersecretary for commerce and economic development, conceded that the government would not be able to enforce such a requirement on overseas websites.

Mr So said the filtering software was less likely to be circumvented by youngsters, while the updates to the list of blocked websites could be carried out automatically.

'It will be up to the parents or subscribers to decide whether they want to install the software,' said Mr So, noting it was the parents' responsibility to safeguard their children against harmful online materials.

Charles Mok, chairman of the Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter, said it would be impossible to filter out all the offending websites.

'ISPs may withdraw from business with unbearable legal responsibilities and the parents may be misled that their children can no longer see the harmful materials. It will be a disaster for the government,' Mr Mok said.

The chairman of the Internet Service Providers Association, York Mok Sui-wah, said the suggestion would add an enormous financial burden to local ISPs, with some of them struggling as it was.

'It is also impossible to give us the power to screen which websites are to be blocked or censored. There must be a central database established by the government or whatever authorities for us to follow if the proposal is to work,' he said.

Samson Tam Wai-ho, newly elected lawmaker for the information technology constituency, said most of the suggestions were aimed at the wrong target.

'The proposal is outdated as it misses the current trend where most indecent materials are shared through platforms like internet forums, where you cannot block the whole website,' Mr Tam said.