The UK’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Jeremy Browne, has revealed that the country is behind freedom of speech online however he admits that there are limits to exactly how free Web users can be, according a report from The Hindu.
Speaking at a function for the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) in India, Browne revealed that the UK is “quite emphatically” in support of a free Internet but he believes that competing freedoms — such as the right to privacy against another person’s right to knowledge — complicate the situation.
Browne cited the example of how paedophiles can use the Internet to lure children as one area in which there must be limitations on the Web, even within a free society:
There are parameters but I think when we’re discussing them we start with the freedom of expression at the near end of the scale.
The minister also revealed that he believes the Internet can go beyond current agents of change and provide an overwhelmingly positive and wide reaching benefit from the bottom up for those that suffer undemocratic regimes, struggles, lack of a rights and more.
Looking at the so-called Arab Risings of last year, Browne stated that the collective knowledge and sharing over the Internet at grassroots level has greater potential to bring freedom and social change in the long term than the efforts of the United Nations and treaty agreements.
India, where Browne is currently staying, is in the midst of its own debate around the freedom of speech online. Two separate legal cases filed against a range of the Internet’s biggest firms — including Google and Facebook — have fought to see unsuitable content in India removed from the Web.
The government has insisted that it is not resorting to censorship, instead claiming that it is simply looking for the firms to comply with local laws to remove content that it is deemed unsuitable and against India’s own culture.
The content at the centre of the dispute was reported to be disrespectful of religious figures in the country, and has since been removed by the firms, but a series of incidents added controversy to the issue. One court warned that it would adopt Chinese-style censorship if the firms refused to cooperate, while the country’s acting telecom minister was reported to be keen on a real-time content screening, though he has since denied the allegations.
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