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British authorities noticing weblogs

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:29 pm on 6 December, 2006.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
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Update: UK Liberty has an excellent response to Matthew Taylor’s comments below.

Three recent stories suggest the British authorities are noticing weblogs (and thus might decide to try and control them):

  • Firstly, Matthew Taylor, formerly Tony Blair’s chief strategy adviser, is reported to have said the following (Hat Tip: Anomaly UK):

    The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.


    What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

    The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government

    Could it be that Mr Taylor simply doesn’t like the extra scrutiny coming from blogs?

  • More recently still, Tim Toulmin, the director of the Press Complaints Commissioner has called for a voluntary code of conduct for weblogs:

    Press Complaints Commission director Tim Toulmin told a London conference on race: “We’re not in favour of regulating the internet. You can’t regulate it.

    “But unless there is a voluntary code there are no forms of redress. The flow of information should not be regulated by the government.”

    Hat Tips: Samizdata and Guido Fawkes.

    There are 3 things I say in response to this:

    • It is not unusual for governments to tell people to adopt or toughen up supposedly voluntary codes, under threat that they might legislate a non-voluntary code if they do not — Mr Toulson is, wittingly or otherwise, providing a pretext for the government to do just that with weblogs.
    • Mr Toulson’s simply wrong when he says that without a voluntary code there is no redress. If you don’t like what some website/blogger is saying then you can go to, or alternatively (to name just two of the many free blogging sites), and set up your own blog to respond.

      And that’s before considering the fact that many weblogs have a comment facility allowing you to respond directly to their posts and allow trackbacks whereby a link to your response automatically appears with the article that offended you.

    • Readers may note this site has a comments facility. It seems to me provision of such, plus endeavouring to be honest/accurate and to correct mistakes should be all that’s required of anyone.
  • Apparently, the Home Office is employing 12 librarians to monitor weblogs, as Guido Fawkes reports:

    Karen George, head of the Home Office library told them how the blog monitoring was done -

    “In July 2005 they had a meeting with the press office to set up a montoring service on a trial period of six months.

    “As news of what we were doing for the press office spread we were asked by lawyers, IT and all areas of Home Office made requests. Issues like ID cards produce a peak in blogs. In November of this year we already on 1888 alerts. We have 12 librarians that monitor blogs on a daily seven day week basis. These come in as feeds, the tools make the job easier, they cannot replace the skills of the professionals. Fundamental information professional skills of knowing your audience really comes to light. In just over a year it has become a key part of our department service, the benefits include a public enquiries unit that we can alert to media campaigns that are Home Office issues. There is now an enquiry department that is ahead of the news. As a result the department has a better relationship with its users.”

    That the government is monitoring weblogs should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone with half a brain cell and a smidgeon of knowledge about how governments have operated through the ages, but Guido Fawkes points out that, perhaps, the Home Office might have found a cheaper means of doing so:

    12 blog monitoring librarians working seven days a week? You Mongs! What a waste of the taxpayers money. Ever wondered how Guido found out about this story within hours of you mentioning it? Guido uses Google Alerts, Blogpulse and Technorati to track every mention of him on the web. Total cost £0.00. (Final emphasis added)

    Surely the Home Office can’t really be wasting money now, can it?

1 Comment

  1. Well, I’m hoping he notices my weblog, where I just posted a story on him. Mr. Blair is the type of political chameleon that would make Bill Clinton blush–and that is saying something!!

    Comment by Minor Ripper — 6 December, 2006 @ 9:18 pm | Edit This

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