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While the protection of children from inappropriate content when they are online has been a key focus for many for some time, bullying tactics increasingly used by pupils against their teachers online is leading to claims that ISP’s should be responsible for policing Internet use.

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

The recent announcement by the UK government that it is planning to crack down on online defamation is the result of mounting pressure from teachers about the growing tendency for children to use the Internet to attack them. This is undoubtedly a serious problem. We have heard of cases where students have set up facebook sites in their teachers’ names with the sole purpose of providing a platform for defamation of character and where pupils and even parents have discussed teachers in a derogatory nature online.

Such incidences show just how easy it is now for children to start using the Internet as a way of abusing teachers. A recent survey suggests as many as one in ten teachers have fallen victim to cyberbullying.

This of course is not just a problem in education – it is a massive issue in business as well. There have been many documented cases of email bullying and libellous statements being made via emails and IM. With the use of ‘social’ networking sites such as twitter also growing in business the prospect of individuals spreading inaccurate or malicious material about their competitors is very real.

The question at the heart of all these issues is who controls and is responsible for content? This is a massive issue because, by default, if you restrict what can be done on the Internet or with messaging, you will also restrict the freedom of the users. In any event, the Internet is almost impossible to monitor and control.

You may be able to prevent users or schoolchildren from accessing web sites with inappropriate content by using blacklists or white-lists, for example. However, savvy users will usually find ways around these and, while kids can be controlled inside a school, there is no way of knowing or managing what they do at home. The subject of parental monitoring and control of Internet usage is far from new. Surveys have regularly shown that parents are often unaware of their children’s true online activities despite their best attempts to monitor and control their usage.

Monitoring emails is not simple either and the law here is complex. If you are going to monitor everyone’s emails you need to make sure that employees know you are going to monitor them. They need to sign up to the policy and it needs to be applied to everyone, including senior management. Implementing appropriate processes and security to manage all this will potentially be expensive and a real drain on resources. How will you make sure this information is kept secure and who will you make responsible for the monitoring?

Faced with these dilemmas, some people will point to the ISPs and say that they should be monitoring content and ensuring that nothing unsavoury either gets through or can be created. ISPs also have a dilemma though. They cannot simply start monitoring every bit of content that is carried across their network or start scanning emails for content that might be considered inappropriate. Putting in systems to do that also requires massive investment in new technologies and systems and that is going to take time and add to the ISPs’ costs.

If ISPs were forced to monitor all content, the impact on performance (and probably prices) would be dramatic and likely to draw such an outcry from business users and consumers that restrictions would soon have to be relaxed to some degree, thus creating holes in the system that allow undesirable content to get though again. In addition there is the obvious concern over privacy and security of data. As we have asked in some of our previous articles, where does protection end and censorship begin? Would you want an ISP to have access to all the data you send across the Internet?

This is not a simple issue to address and we don’t pretend to have the answers as yet at Entanet. What we are certain of is that, if the responsibility for content monitoring is imposed on ISPs, service performance may be affected while price undoubtedly will be. We are not convinced the market will stand for that.

What do you think?

We want to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please leave us a comment below. If you are an ISP or a reseller, how would this issue affect you? If you are an end user customer, what is your view on how content should be policed?

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One Response to “ISP – Internet Service Provider or Police?”

  1. A supervised community is not something I support.

    The Internet is perhaps the most effective we have ever managed to create when it opened up huge opportunities for our people and businesses. But as with everything else it has its bad sides as it also leaves room for those who do not act and behave morally and ethically, both large and small scale.

    In general, I believe that everyone should contribute to a nice internet, users must take responsibility by acting in a proper manner and also tough, but on this issue should also ISP’s and authorities to find a cooperation to the extent possible.
    People who do not do anything wrong and use the internet in a sensible way to be allowed to maintain their freedom and integrity, but those who abuse it through criminal acts and violate other people will obviously not have access to this world.
    Perhaps this can be regarded as a utopia.

    But as mentioned in the article so I do not think it is ISP’s responsibility to monitor the content which can be accessed with their services.
    Is it about inappropriate but legal content as it is the parents and other adults to ensure that they get out what they use the internet and then get into a discussion about this. However, if the material published is a pure act of unlawful interference, it is obvious authorities to combat this, and here, every person and business have a responsibility to help authorities by giving them information (just like they do in society at large).

    Finally, my opinion is that everyone must start taking responsibility!

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