Posted Under: Civil Liberties,internet
Over recent weeks I have seen number of posters bearing the logo of the Metropolitan Police on the walls of internet cafes. The one pictured on the right is fairly typical. It tells users that they may not download or even view any material that “causes offense to members of the public”, and that doing so will result in their internet use being terminated and the police being informed. Its not quite clear why the police would or should be informed – given that causing offence does not break the law . Thus it is especially worrying that this poster bears the logo, not of the internet cafe in which it is posted, but of the Met themselves.
To the left is a similar poster I encountered in central london. It tells users that “the owners of these premises are working with the metropolitan police service to prevent unlawful or offensive material being accessed on the internet.” Of course the policing of lawful but offensive material is hardly in the met’s remit. Quite ridiculously, users are told that even accessing emails of a “pornagraphic, violent, extremist or otherwise offensive or inappropriate nature” will result their use will be terminated, and the police potentially being informed. Like the first poster, this one bears the Met’s logo.
What is going on here is not completely clear. The Met know full well that the great mass of pornographic material on internet is not illegal, and therefore not not a matter for the police. They know that political extremism is not outlawed per se, and neither is accessing “offensive and inappropriated” content in an email.
What I do believe is that the Met are trying to achieve a kind of chilling effect.
They know that people – especially the immigrants and visitors who use internet cafes – will be potentially frightened when the prospect of the police action is bandied about. And perhaps they expect people to self-censor beyond what the law strictly requires. As a British citizen I know the law well enough to be relatively unphased by the posters. The other people sitting in the internet cafe with me right now may not. This, of course, is not the first time that the Metropolitan Police have taken a draconian line n the internet, or sought to act, effectively, as judges legislators.