Memorandum submitted by THUS Plc
1.1 THUS plc is a leading provider of Internet,
data and telecoms services in the United Kingdom. Our Internet
services are principally offered under the "Demon" brand
in the UK. We do not operate in the (we acquired a mobile reseller
business from YC) video games market, so our submission focuses
purely on Internet content.
1.2 Although our primary focus is on business
users we do have some residential dial-up and broadband customers.
Businesses will have concerns about their employees accessing
harmful content on the Internet, but the way they approach these
risks are different from how residential consumers use the Internet.
1.3 THUS tackles the management of Internet
content issues in a number of ways:
Our Acceptable Use Policies
set out what we feel are acceptable uses of the services we provide.
They incorporate use of the Internet as well as the use of our
hosting services, so it is clear to our customers what may happen
if someone complains about content they place on our web or Usenet
As well as a Network Abuse team
who enforce the Acceptable Use Policies, we have a team who specialise
in dealing with Internet content issues. This means that any concerns
about content hosted on our servers are dealt with effectively
We are founding members of the
Internet Watch Foundation and take their database of illegal child
abuse sites hosted outside the UK to block our customers' access
to these sites.
We engage with government, law
enforcement and other agencies via numerous forums including the
Internet Crime Forum and the Home Secretary's Task Force on the
Protection of Children Online. We also work with government departments
such as BERR and the Home Office to discuss issues and legislation.
We believe education and awareness
is an appropriate way to address concerns about inappropriate
content. To this end we have for a number of years participated
in Junior Citizen Events organised by Surrey Police delivering
a "how to be safe online" message to 10 and 11 year
old school children. We have also delivered Internet awareness
presentations to parents, foster carers and teachers.
1.4 The Internet offers users a wealth of
information and unprecedented access to communications. Most users'
experience of the Internet is a pleasant one and not marred by
unacceptable behaviour or unsavoury content. We do recognise though
that this may not be the case for all, so we welcome this chance
to submit evidence to this Inquiry on harmful content.
2.1 We strongly believe that most Internet
users are unlikely to "stumble" upon content which they
might consider harmful. The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry
lists a number of types of content that could be considered as
"harmful" but unless an Internet user is seeking out
material related to racial hatred, extremism or extreme pornography,
etc, we believe they are unlikely to find it accidentally.
2.2 Various tools exist to help users who
are concerned about such accidental access. Some are packages
which run on users' machines, others may be provided by their
2.3 The effectiveness of client side packages
varies. Some will use lists of sites that have been categorised
by the software supplier, whilst others make use of labelling
functionality. Every method of controlling content will have its
advantages and disadvantages; lists are only as good as they are
up to date and labelling systems require web site owners to label
(correctly) their websites. There are also issues around usability,
with some packages apparently being outside the capabilities of
an average parent. These issues are being addressed by the Home
Office Task Force for Protection of Children Online who have been
looking at ways for improving such offerings and the BSI have
been working on a PAS for online protection systems which will
provide best practice guidance for vendors or filtering software.
2.4 The alternative to client side control
is server side, where the Internet provider runs a service to
carry out the filtering. The most significant development in this
area has been the Government's initiative to encourage consumer
ISPs to filter sites identified by the IWF. Such systems take
a list of web sites from the IWF known to contact indecent images
of children and block their users from accessing those images
or sites. However, such systems are only effective in blocking
accidental access as those determined to access such content will
always be able to find a way round such systems. Furthermore,
their desirability for consumers is limited as undoubtedly the
cost of implementing such systems is passed onto the consumer
via the service charge.
2.5 The most effective tool is education
and awareness. If users of the Internet are aware of the risks
then they can empower themselves to protect themselves. They may
choose to do this by using filtering software, by controlling
their children's access to the Internet or simply acting responsibly
themselves. But, education and awareness is a continual programme
as the Internet offers new functionality and new ways of expressing
opinions and content.
3.1 Any activity online is dealt with in
the same way as it would in the real world. The real world laws
apply equally online as they do offline. There are some particular
pieces of regulation that deal with certain aspects of the online
world (E-Commerce Regulations, Audio Visual Media Services Directive
dealing with broadcasting online, Terrorism Act dealing with notice
and takedown of terrorist web sites, etc) but generally speaking
these are specialist regulations.
3.2 The E-Commerce Regulations play an important
role in how the Internet is regulated in the UK.
Specifically Regulations 17-20 and 22 set out the responsibilities
and limitations of liability for those providing Internet services
in the UK. There are issues of clarity about how these regulations
are interpreted, buy they are the foundation in law underpinning
the enforcement of ISPs' Acceptable Use Policies.
3.3 It is these Regulations that have meant
that the bulk of objectionable material is no longer hosted in
the UK. With support from UK ISPs and work of organisations like
the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK is not a haven for child
abuse imagery and other illegal material.
3.4 However regulation in the UK only goes
as far as controlling the activities of the UK industry or the
UK user, it does nothing to control the availability of content
hosted outside the UK where in some circumstances it will be illegal.
No amount of control or regulation in the UK will change this
and initiatives like blocking systems will only prevent accidental
access to those who want to be protected, it will not stop those
who are determined to seek out the content from doing so. But
that does not matter as UK law sets out the boundaries within
which UK citizens should operate.
3.5 If material of concern is available
outside the UK to those who want to access then no amount of ISP
control or regulation will prevent them from accessing it. To
prevent people from willingly accessing it, the best approach
is to legislate against the possession of such materialthis
is what has happened with extreme pornography. The provisions
are within the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the intention
is that it will be illegal to possess certain types of pornography.
4.1 THUS therefore believes that if the
concern is accidental access to the material then the tools are
available to users concerned they may accidentally access it;
equally individual self control and moral code will prevent people
from seeking it out.
4.2 If the concern is that people are willingly
accessing this material, the only way to combat and stop this
is to change the law on possession of these types of material
because no amount of enforced control or filtering of the Internet
will prevent them from accessing it.
13 Statutory Instrument 2002 No 2013. The Electronic
Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20022013.htm Back