Bill aims to create public council to filter out Web sites unfit for children

Critics say the mandated filtration would violate privacy rights and be a vehicle of censorship.

computer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
computer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset Economics Committee heard opposing views Monday on a controversial Internet content-filtering bill which would establish a public council to judge which Web sites are inappropriate for Internet users who are minors. The bill has already passed its first reading. It seeks to shield children from violent and obscene material on the Internet, but critics say the mandated filtration would violate privacy rights and be a vehicle of censorship. Shas MK Amnon Cohen collaborated with Eti Bendler, the committee's legal adviser, to amend the bill to resolve the constitutional issues that might arise. The amended version was first presented at the committee meeting on Monday. "The proposed law was created out of the need to protect the children of Israel," said Cohen, the committee member who is sponsoring the legislation. "We changed the original version; I am aware that it was detrimental to the public." In the bill's original version, the communications minister would decide which Web sites to filter out so that children could not access them. In addition, those who did not indicate whether they wanted filtration of sites would lose Internet service altogether. However, the updated version of the bill allows all existing customers to continue receiving service whether or not they have indicated a preference for the filtration service. Despite these changes, Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan, who opposes the bill, said it allows "Big Brother to see everything" and compared the role of the proposed council to that of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Representatives of advocacy groups who attended the meeting said the correct balance between protecting minors and protecting freedoms had still not been reached by the new version of the law because the censorship had the potential to go too far. "Filtering is a slippery slope," he said. "One day it's something small and the next day a dating Web site for gay people may be filtered out." However, Bendler said that other developed countries had already developed standards for what was acceptable material. Gazit said that even if the council followed those standards, the government should not have a role in filtering what people can see on the Web. "People have varying world views and the world view of the council's members is what will decide if a Web site is appropriate," said attorney Ron Gazit, who is acting head of the Israel Bar Association. "Except for a few cases such as terror, pedophilia and racism, it is not right for the state to have a say in the educating of children because that is the job of parents." Some at the meeting were worried that the result of involving such a council in resolving the issue would yield the opposite of Gazit's prediction and would result in too little filtration. "The council will only block a minimal amount of material, in essence putting a stamp of approval on material that some parents may find inappropriate," said Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child. But Communications Minister Ariel Atias of Shas, who supports the bill, cited the example of the council that regulates cable and satellite television. Kadman echoed the words of Gazit and other people who oppose the bill in saying that parents should ultimately be the gate-keepers for their children and that if the government had a role it was to educate parents, rather than decide for them.