LETTER TO THE POLICE COMMISSIONER, MAY 20, 2010


Sir Paul Stevenson,						    93c Venner Road,
Commissioner For The Metropolis,                                    	   Sydenham,
New Scotland Yard,				     	             London SE26 5HU.
London SW1.						               0208 659 7713


May 10, 2010

Dear Sir,

I write with reference to the enclosed photograph of a notice which it appears is 
currently being displayed in the window of at least one Internet Café in Central 
London.

I am sure you will agree that while it is desirable to prevent the Internet and 
commercial Internet premises from being used for unlawful purposes, such as fraud  
the Nigerian 419 scam, etc  and while the police should of course take an active role in 
such crime prevention, the sweeping nature of the claims made in this notice require 
considerable clarification. In particular the terms: "pornographic", "violent", 
"extremist", "otherwise offensive" and "inappropriate nature" can be interpreted in 
such a wide ranging fashion that almost any but the most banal of communications 
could be deemed by some criteria to fall within one or more of these categories.

If I may take the last part of this notice first, "Downloading or accessing certain 
material could constitute a criminal offence"; if the authorities in Britain and elsewhere 
were to police the Internet effectively there would be little or no such material available 
on publicly accessible websites. Clearly the owners or controllers of such should be 
targeted in the first instance. I am referring here specifically to websites that are said to 
trade credit card details and the like.

Now I would like to ask for some more specific clarification, partly as someone who has 
on occasion used Internet Cafés in Central London, partly in my capacity as a 
journalist, and partly for the benefit of members of the general public.  

What does "violent" mean in this connection? And "extremist"? 

I will allude to specific examples of this. A suicide video produced by Mohammad 
Sidique Khan, one of the men who bombed London on July 7, 2005, is widely available 
on the Internet. It has appeared in various edits in probably hundreds if not thousands 
of local, regional, national and international news programmes and documentaries since 
it was released. Clearly this is an extremist video; it contains a political statement and 
statement of intent  the latter of which was fulfilled  by a man who plotted the 
indiscriminate mass murder of British citizens and others on British soil.

Does this video fall within the guidelines outlined in the aforementioned poster? If I, or 
someone else, is watching an archived BBC news report of this video, will that result in 
the plug being pulled on our machines, or to an arrest?

Some time after this video was made public, another suicide video by a member of the 
same extremist cell was released through what might be termed an anti-Western 
website. This video is now also widely available on the Internet. Again, what is the 
position if I or anyone else deigns to watch this video in the above Internet Café?

There are also videos available not simply of terrorists boasting about their intentions to 
commit mass murder but of their actually committing it. If I or another user watch a 
video of the September 11 atrocities, of the planes crashing into the buildings, or of 
people jumping from the Twin Towers, will the plug be pulled on our machines? Will 
we be arrested?

Regarding videos that may simply be deemed violent, will this include the following, all 
of which are available freely on the Internet:

the assault on Nicola Fisher by a police officer at the G20 demonstration last year,
the assault on Ian Tomlinson by a police officer at the G20 demonstration last year, 
which may have led to his death,
the March 1991 assault by five Los Angeles police officers on the motorist Rodney King 
-  who was struck 56 times in 81 seconds,
the assassination of President Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald,
the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby,

and the countless other videos showing footage of gratuitous violence, including murder, 
which are freely available on the web?

Will this prohibition/censorship be extended to simulated acts of violence such as the 
murder of Dennis Watts in the TV series Eastenders, or the rape scenes from the 
following films, all of which are freely available on-line:

A Clockwork Orange  a particularly violent and degrading rape scene,
Demon Seed  in which the actress Julie Christie is raped by a computer,
High Plains Drifter  in which the victim appears to enjoy it,
Inseminoid  in which the victim is raped by something not human,
The Accused  which features a gang rape, and which won an Academy Award for Jodie 
Foster?

All the above can be considered violent, and a case could be made by a jurist of reason 
that some of them are also pornographic. Many people would consider them offensive  
some because they degrade women, others because they stereotype men, yet others 
because of their perceived effects on the young or on persons who might be considered 
vulnerable or easily influenced.

A case could also be made out for their being deemed to be of an "inappropriate 
nature", though for something to be deemed inappropriate there is at least a 
rudimentary need for it to be placed in context. A photograph of a naked five year old 
girl might not be deemed inappropriate in a specialist medical journal, but would most 
certainly be deemed so in a tabloid newspaper.

I could give many more examples but would for now be grateful if you could respond to 
the specific examples given so as enable myself and others to avoid arrest when using 
commercial Internet premises in Central London.

As this is  I am sure you will agree  a matter of some importance  I will be posting 
your detailed reply to an appropriate forum or two, in particular Usenet Groups 
uk.legal, uk.local.london and one or two others so that we can all comply with these 
guidelines and thus save precious police time and resources for matters that are of real 
importance to all Londoners, like tackling gun and knife crime, domestic burglaries, 
and keeping the streets safe for all of us to walk. 

Yours Sincerely,
A Baron

To download this letter in Portable Document Format, click here

To Metropolitan Police Internet Café poster (JPG format)
To The Response From The Metropolitan Police, May 20, 2010 (PDF)

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