British Cabinet Minister Says Internet Restrictions Needed To Protect Children

The Internet: Now Rated R?

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Is Internet censorship something that could become commonplace in the West? I've written about the possibilities before, and I admit that it seems like quite a leap for a politician to go from mere criticism of the often unseemly content on the Internet to actual laws.

But then we have this story coming out of England:

A British cabinet minister says the government is considering a plan to work with President-elect Barack Obama on a new ratings system for Internet Web sites, according to The Telegraph in London. Andy Burnham, above, who is secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said in an interview on Saturday that he hoped to work with Mr. Obama to implement a set of standards for English-language Web sites in order to protect children from inappropriate material.

The possibility of the Obama administration coming aboard seems purely speculative. For one thing, it is much more difficult to make the argument, as Burnham does, that the "public interest" should outweigh free speech in the U.S. than in Britain. The First Amendment provides something of a flag for free speech defenders to wave that other countries lack. Free speech rights suddenly seem as concrete as the idea of "protecting the children" when they are engrained in your country's founding document. I don't think Burnham's idea will go over well among Americans.

But of course, we don't protect free speech absolutely in this country. Should  "inappropriate material" on the Web in the eyes of children be seen as much of a threat to the public interest as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater?

What do you think?

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