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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK


Crackdown on Internet racism

Racist Websites: Concentrated in Germany, Scandinavia and North America

The UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a crackdown on racist material published on the Internet.

He has asked governments across the world to work together to remove illegal Websites and prosecute those responsible.

BBC Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall reports
Speaking to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mr Straw revealed that the National Criminal Intelligence Service would act against threatening, abusive and racist material.

Mr Straw said: "The Internet offers exciting opportunities for global communication, but it is vulnerable to abuse, because Websites and newsgroups are accessible from across international borders."

An expert in the subject has warned that groups were not only using the Internet for publicity but also for planning terrorist activity.

Racism was identified in a report compiled by the NCIS early in 1998 as one of the principal areas in which the Internet was abused.

[ image: Porn is already an NCIS target]
Porn is already an NCIS target
The NCIS has already been co-operating with other police agencies around the world to target child pornography rings, and intelligence reports suggest that similar co-operation will be required to combat racism.

Net experts agree that the majority of right wing, neo-Nazi and fascist Websites that publish racist material are concentrated in North America, Germany and Scandinavia.

An NCIS spokesman said: "We have identified racism as a potential problem and made recommendations for a strategy for law enforcement on the Internet.

"When information is passed to us about material published on the Net, what we can do is identify what jurisdiction it comes from, identify the service provider and alert the relevant authorities."

Offensive material

The Board of Deputies echoed Mr Straw's comments.

Spokesman Michael Whine said: "There is now an acceptance by law enforcement agencies and governments within Europe that in addition to pornography, there is also a problem of racism online."

New EU legislation has been introduced which Mr Whine was certain was being used across the continent.

He said much of the offensive material was produced in the US: "The problem is whose jurisdiction does it come under?

"Not the Americans, because they don't have laws against it - the First Amendment of the Constitution overwhelms everything."

Action can be taken in the UK if material from abroad is distributed more widely, and it is believed there are prosecutions pending under existing UK public order legislation.

Mr Whine was not surprised to see Mr Straw taking a lead.

"British police seem more adapt at dealing with it," he said, but warned that many groups were also using the Web for planning terrorist activity.

Holocaust denial

Mr Straw singled out groups that tried to deny the genocide of Jews in World War II.

But although this was offensive, he was unwilling to make it a criminal offence because it might infringe on freedom of speech.

"There is danger that, by introducing legislation, we would play into the hands of those who peddle these lies by giving them a public platform," he said.

Mr Straw confirmed that ministers would continue to monitor the situation and said no final decision had been taken.

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