Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
OBE, QPM AND MS
26 FEBRUARY 2008
Q60 Janet Anderson: So you think
there is a need for some legislation?
Mr Robbins: If you could decide
what was harmful, if anyone can decide what is harmful, then of
course it would be helpful to people to know where the framework
is and where the parameters are. From everybody who has spoken
in front of me today, none of us are sure where you would actually
draw the threshold levels for those sites and who would make those
decisions. That is the challenge we all see.
Q61 Janet Anderson: You mentioned
countries around the world and the way these (child sexual abuse)
websites move around. Are there particular countries where this
is a problem?
Mr Robbins: Yes.
Q62 Janet Anderson: Would you like
to name them?
Mr Robbins: There have been problems
in Russia. There were no reciprocal arrangements with the Russians
in relation to taking down or having those types of websites investigated.
There has been more co-operation recently, and indeed, one service
provider in Russia, which was commonly known to be posting this
type of content, has actually disappeared for the time being.
That has meant that many of those websites have now moved. They
appear now to be hosted in the US, or many of them have moved
to the US. In defence of the US, or if I can just clarify, actually,
it is a massive country with millions of servers and, consequently,
given the space that they have and the amount of internet space
that they have, of course people go. It is cheap to host over
there and put your content over there. They have a serious volume
problem. We understand why these people move their content temporarily
on to a server there before they think the police are going to
catch up with them, and then they will move it on. That is the
challenge and that is why there is an issue about the US.
Q63 Chairman: You talked about the
areas you cover, which in a sense are the ones which will command
general agreement that this is unacceptable and everybody can
Mr Robbins: In the UK, yes.
Q64 Chairman: But the debate is now
moving into other areas. I will just give you two examplesthere
might have been manyof calls for action against websites
which tell people how to commit suicide, particularly young people,
and secondly, the Prime Minister has flagged up concerns about
sites which are acting as recruiters for extremist, potentially
terrorist organisations. Are those areas where you think potentially
you might be able to operate the same system, to have a list of
websites which the ISPs would then block access to?
Mr Robbins: I think the model
that we have can be applied to many other areas of content, provided,
of course, that the thinking in relation to it is not necessarily
the criminal law. Let us just take suicide websites, for example.
I am not clear that there are any suicide websites in the UK advocating
suicide which would bring them into conflict with the legislation
as we currently have it. They are hosted outside the UK. There
is no reason why either our organisation or another organisation
could not set up a hotline for the public to report these types
of websites to, for them to be assessed, and then for somebody,
an organisation, a caring organisation, for example, to make representations
to those website owners, to the government of the countries where
they are, that actually these are affecting children, et cetera,
and get them taken down in that way. There is no reason why that
cannot happen. Without laws you can still do these things. I still
think the model can be replicated in other ways. It is easier,
of course, if there is criminal law involved because people take
down and remove and all that sort of thing. In terms of blocking,
those websites will be static so they will be in filters; they
will be in the commercial types of filters, I think, because they
will fit into one of the filtering categories, so therefore they
are known. If you are perhaps expecting a list to be provided
to service providers, mobile operators, search providers at a
default level, if you like, at the network level so that they
are the ones that are blocking it and nobody has a choice to switch
access to them on or off, then there are problems about whether
or not you and I should be prevented from looking at something
that we can legally look at. We may not want our children to look
at them and it may entice children to go and do things but, nevertheless,
where do you draw the line there? With child sexual abuse content,
of course, it is an offence for any of us to look at it. It is
not the same with these other types of content. I think that is
an area where there is difficulty once you want to put a list
on a network where there is automatically a default on to stop
you and I from looking at it.
Q65 Chairman: Do you see the right
place to tackle this problem at the ISP level or perhaps at the
individual PC level? We had a demonstration from Microsoft about
how you can actually tick boxes for categories of different types
of content to say whether or not you wish to filter all of those
out at the PC level.
Mr Robbins: I cannot think of
any other sensible suggestion other than it does seem to me to
be in the hands of parents and carers and the family as such to
set the parameters under which their children should be operating.
I cannot think of an alternative solution to that.
Mr Lambert: Can I just add one
other comment, Mr Chairman? I think there is an element here of
sites where there is a clear intent to advocate, say, terrorism
or suicide for others. That would almost certainly be in breach
of the standard terms and conditions for most of these hosting
services. Certainly if it were something we were hosting and it
was clearly advocating terrorism, that would be in breach of our
terms and conditions and if we were aware of it, we would take
it down. Where there is a grey area, there is an opportunity for
hosting organisations to intervene.
Q66 Paul Farrelly: Just on that point,
Mr Lambert, I hear your answer on that, yet, with respect to your
content-hosting operation You Tube, after the death of the teenager
Mr Lambert: We do not own You
Q67 Paul Farrelly: I am sorry. It
is Google. When Google were challenged when these videos glorifying
gang violence, acting as adverts to "join our gang",
were shown, their response was to shrug their shoulders and say
"It is not our responsibility. We are not a censor, neither
before nor afterwards." Clearly, that is a judgement for
them to take. What is your view on that sort of attitude that
says "We should not be asked to censor this sort of stuff"
when in fact censorship goes on all along with respect to some
of the other things that we were talking about?
Mr Lambert: With respect to Google,
you are offering me an open goal! I am not going to kick the ball
straight into the middle of the net. I think that is a matter
for each individual company. That is my answer to that. They each
have to look at what is appropriate, what the laws are and what
else they need to do. All I can say is that Microsoft takes an
approach where we look at the law as it stands and we also look
at what we think is a responsible duty of care, particularly where
young people are concerned, which is, I think, the prime focus
Q68 Paul Farrelly: We heard in Seattle
with respect to your Xbox that there were certain video games
involving gang violence that you would not encourage people to
develop on that platform or develop yourself because it was not
good for your brand.
Mr Lambert: We take specific choices
not to do certain types of content. You are probably aware from
your visit that we also give each of our developers and anyone
who is involved in the marketing or any part of it, if they do
not like a game, if they find it unacceptable, they do not have
to work on it. There is no effect on their career; they are just
moved to something more palatable to them personally. Incidentally,
we take a very specific attitude on this, and I think this is
common across the games industry, if I may say so, that they do
not market games inappropriately. I am actually not just speaking
there for Microsoft; I think I can speak from a broader industry
point of view. They are not targeting inappropriate games at younger
children. I really do not think that is the case. There might
be a case for Byron or yourselves to look at the way that retailers
operate. By and large they are responsible about this but you
might want to think about whether there is an aspect there. That
is clearly an area where the law could intervene, if you wanted
to raise the penalties, for example, for ignoring the age ratings
and selling to minors.
Q69 Paul Farrelly: Given your responsible
attitude towards games development and Google's on-the-record
attitude with respect to You Tube, they are not really coming
up to your standards, are they?
Mr Lambert: You might say that.
We have our own standards. We think they are quite high. Others
can choose whether they try to meet them or not.
Q70 Rosemary McKenna: Can we move
on to media literacy, Heather? There seems to be a consensus developing
that media literacy and education are a large part of the strategy
for dealing with harmful content but some say that the effectiveness
of this approach has yet to be proven. Are people jumping on the
bandwagon because it is an easy answer?
Ms Rabbatts: No, I do not believe
that is the case. Just making reference to my colleagues' comments,
I think what they amply demonstrate to this Committee, and indeed
the experts giving evidence earlier today, is the sheer pace of
change that we are witnessing in the world of the Internet and
that the biggest safeguard is to enable people to understand and
be able to be responsible and adults in terms of their responsibilities,
as parents to children, and indeed, as Mr Lambert was saying,
as children constantly outwit their parents at the latest sets
of technical devices. I absolutely believe, and it is the view
of the Taskforce, that linked with self-regulation and intervention
where appropriate, our biggest defence to enable people to participate
in what, let us be clear, are very creative opportunitiesmillions
of people are taking advantage of their access to the world in
a very different way, most of them positivelywhat we need
to ensure is that they understand how they can protect themselves.
I think we are in the early days of ensuring that people have
appropriate skills. As Professor Sonia Livingstone mentioned earlier,
we are getting some of those messages through. It is about being
able to act responsibly in terms of understanding those messages.
There is work under way both with the regulator, Ofcom, and ourselves
as we start to chart over the forthcoming years whether we as
citizens are becoming media-literate. I do not think it is the
easy answer. I think it is complex and you have to look at how
we educate children, and indeed adults, to navigate themselves
through what is a very complex world.
Q71 Rosemary McKenna: Would a media
campaign be effective?
Ms Rabbatts: I certainly think
that finding ways to inform the public on different levels, be
they campaigning, be they the responsibilities of my colleagues,
such as Microsoft, they are all important ways in which we convey
those messages. I also believe, and certainly some of the work
that the Taskforce has been involved in, by working with the BBC
or Channel 4 or the Film Council, those bodies that are responsible
in the public space for moving media content, they are providing
practical tools, examples of how young people can participate
in this world in a safe environment. So I think it is about a
multi-layered approach in terms of education, from formal in terms
of what we are now discussing in terms of the curriculum, in terms
of adult education and in terms of broadcasters playing their
role in terms of ensuring that citizens can both participate but
also be critical and protect themselves from harm.
Q72 Rosemary McKenna: Would you like
to comment, gentlemen?
Mr Robbins: I do not have any
easy answer to this either. I think it is an issue of literacy.
The speed at which these devices and the speed at which technology
is changing is challenging us all. My staff and I are challenged
every single day with all types of content, where it is, how we
trace it, how people get access to it, which device they have.
It is complex and that is the world that we are in now. I agree
with all the previous speakers that it needs to be tackled at
different levels. How you get one message out given the various
areas of understanding is the challenge that we all face.
Q73 Rosemary McKenna: Of course,
the question is then how would you measure the success of the
campaign, or is it just continually working with people as they
buy new equipment? Would putting a requirement on the providers
of the equipment help?
Mr Robbins: I think any information
that is provided at the point of sale is important. We all know
when you go and buy a device, when you unpack it, there is quite
a lot of information in there. There are disks of all sorts, bits
of paper of all sorts, and of course, you do get lots of messages
as you fire up the machine and start to work your way through
it. I have to say that, whatever product you buy these days, there
is so much information and instructions about it and it is about
reading, understanding and applying that, and I confess I find
it difficult with all sorts of appliances that I buy, because
they are so sophisticated. It takes weeks and months sometimes
to work out how they all work.
Q74 Rosemary McKenna: In the mean
time, the kids have got it all up and running!
Mr Robbins: Yes.
Ms Rabbatts: They do it without
even reading the manuals. Going back to the point, we are at early
days. Ofcom are obviously responsible for looking at how we are
promoting media literacy and trying to get an assessment of how
we are changing. There is work being undertaken in terms of evaluation
and toolkit to enable all the different initiatives that are currently
in play in terms of media literacy being able to be quantified
and be subject to more empirical interrogation. I think we will
continue to learn in this area and what is important is that there
are ways in which we all come to understand that body of evidence
that is available to us so that we can hone those messages more
effectively in the future.
Mr Lambert: Can I follow very
briefly on the question? There are two angles to your question.
I have commented on the onus on the companies to try and make
the technology simple and straightforward, and customers always
have a view on that and they should give that view very firmly
to all the companies, and they do to us readily, as you know,
but I do think in terms of public information, one of the problems
we have hereand I say this as a parent as well as representing
my companyit is extremely confusing. There is so much information
coming out. One of the things I have said to the Byron review
and I think also to you in the past is that the onus is on government
to try to funnel all of that into a simple set of campaigns. There
is actually an existing GetSafeOnline, and it has subsidiary campaigns
which apply to child safety, which most of the industry gets behind
and the Government gets behind but not even every part of the
government knows that it actually sponsors this GetSafeOnline
campaign. Somebody in government has to take responsibility and
say "It is up to the Government to call the industry together,
figure out for each age group, and for parents and teachers the
right messages for each of those groups", because they are
all subtly different, and then get them out. We all know from
our own experience of public education"Clunk click
every trip", the Green Cross Code
Q75 Rosemary McKenna: Is that not
an Ofcom responsibility rather than a government responsibility?
Mr Lambert: It could be, yes.
Ms Rabbatts: I think Ofcom as
a regulator does have a duty to promote and it may well be that
in the next Communications Act you may wish to consider broadening
some of those duties. I think the need for clarity of simple messages
is overwhelming. What we have to understand is that the message
today will be pretty redundant by tomorrow. So whatever we decide
to put in play, I think we all have to understand we have to work
at much greater speed and flexibility than previous regimes of
self-regulation, regulation and education have encompassed because
of the nature of the devices we are now talking about.
Q76 Rosemary McKenna: Can we move
on to risk for children? Is it healthy for children not to face
any risk at all?
Ms Rabbatts: I think for childrenand
I am sure you will be talking to experts in this fieldwhat
we have to understand and what they have to begin to understand,
and parents should be guiding them, is how they keep themselves
safe. That is the first issue. We do not let our children just
walk into the roads without stopping, at pelican crossings. The
first thing to think is: "I am entering into this world;
what is the safety that I, as a parent or responsible adult, owe
to my three, four, five-year old? It is then for children themselves
to begin to understand how they manage risk, and that is a very
challenging domain. I think it has been mentioned previously that
children can be aware that they are entering into risky areas
but they make the decision to continue to do so. That is the changing
nature of boundaries that are happening in young people's lives.
I think that is a very big and complex question. I absolutely
believe that children need to be protected and the fundamental
way is by their parents acting responsibly and not leaving them
alone in bedrooms for hours on end, whatever the filtering systems
they may have. We cannot abdicate parental responsibility to some
other force that is out there. I then think it is necessary, whether
it be schools, whether it is about media literacy, for it to become
more enshrined in our curriculum going forward about how you navigate
your way into this world and understand risk. I think that is
a very large and complex subject.
Q77 Rosemary McKenna: How do you
get that message across to parents? There are still adults with
very little understanding of the internet.
Ms Rabbatts: Yes, and we know
that, with young people who are vulnerable, often one of the common
traits that they are sharing is that they lack responsible adults
in their lives. Young people who become at risk of exclusion at
school or offending, one of the criteria that I know from my work
in local government in the past is that we see an absence of responsible
adults. In some ways this is no exception, this world that they
are now living in. So it is about adults understanding how they
need to protect their children. That is why I think media literacy
in terms of adult media literacy is an important component in
terms of how we ensure adults, as they open those boxes, have
very simple messages around how they might help to protect their
children going into some of these worlds. The other important
dimension that we should not lose sight of is that this is also
a very creative world. There are many advantages to participating
in this world. So you have to have a balance of a message between
protection but also enjoyment, fulfilment and learning about how
I can be part and parcel of the communities and the democratic
society in which I am participating.
Q78 Chairman: Would you agree with
the recommendation we heard from Stephen Carrick-Davies in the
last session that the key thing which could be done is to address
this in the curriculum at quite an early stage?
Ms Rabbatts: We have worked at
the 14-plus level in terms of some of the new diplomas being introduced
in education. I think in terms of young children, becoming media-literate,
be that creative, be that being able to participate but also having
critical understanding is an important part of the curriculum
going forward. Clearly, there is work under way and I think this
is an area of opportunity for there to be collaboration both with
the Department for Children, Schools and Families and also the
Department for Culture, Media and Sport to collaborate together
in terms of understanding how media is operating in the world
and linking that to a curriculum offer that can be effective.
I do think that there is an opportunity for us to do much more
work in that space going forward.
Q79 Chairman: I have two rather separate,
quick questions. First of all, Peter Robbins, you described how
your organisation tackles child pornography on an international
scale with hotlines between countries and co-operation. Is it
correct therefore to say that essentially, although these things
do move around and pop up, we are essentially on top of the problem
in that particular area of child pornography?
Mr Robbins: I would say that we
do have confidence now that we have identified a core of 2,500
websites which constantly move, have organised crime below them,
that now need to be tackled by joined-up law enforcement work
across the world. Yesyou never solve these things but nevertheless,
the collaboration between governments and NGOs and the private
and public sector has brought about a position, I think, where
that is not under control but is being tackled.