Smith widens the battle against net hate crime

By Leon Symons, March 12, 2009

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is to examine how antisemitic and other racist crimes can be reported on the internet.

Asked in an interview with the JC why it was still not possible to report hate crime on-line, Ms Smith said: “That is a sensible suggestion. I will look into it.”

Currently, there are only two methods of reporting hate crime on the internet. One is through a website called Truevision set up by a number of police forces, mainly for the lesbian, gay, bi- and transsexual community. The site is currently undergoing reconstruction.

The other method is through the Internet Watch Foundation, which was set up and funded by the internet industry to deal with paedophilia and pornography online. However, it will investigate internet hate crime and forward reports to the police for further investigation.

The IWF also provides information to the Community Security Trust, which in turn sends a report to the International Network against Cyberhate (INACH), an organisation in which 18 countries.

The CST has also been instrumental in the launch this week of a blueprint that sets out how the government, organisations and communities can combat online radicalisation.

The report’s authors have already met Ms Smith and Home Office officials to talk about introducing some of its recommendations and more meetings are planned..

The CST’s Mike Whine said: “The government has a number of ideas about how to move forward and this report has crystallised them.”

Among them is a call for the selective dismantling of sites where extremist material is available, followed by prosecutions that would send a clear message that the internet was not above the law irrespective of where the websites are hosted.

The report cited the case of British right-wing extremists Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle, who, in the first prosecution in Britain of race hate on the internet, have been convicted of inciting racial hatred against Jews. Sheppard thought he would escape prosecution because the website was hosted in America, where he and Whittle fled towards the end of their trial at Leeds Crown Court, and have sought political asylum. A decision on their application for asylum is due to be made before the end of the month.

Two recommendations were that the government should fund communities to police themselves and the creation of a national internet users panel that would strengthen reporting and complaints procedures for websites that carry offensive material.

The report notes that YouTube, the world’s biggest video-sharing site, has dealt with criticism for some of its content by working with the Anti-Defamation League in America, which is a member of INACH.

The report was produced by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, a partnership of King’s College, London; the University of Pennsylvania; the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya and the Regional Centre for Conflict Prevention in Amman, Jordan.

Last updated: 11:55am, March 17 2009