UK Wants Obama Administration in on Internet MPAA

The revelation that the political structures of the United Kingdom and the United States have deep and distinct differences should come as no surprise to even the most casual observer. Despite these differences, though, the US and UK are close allies, and can perpetually be found engaged in joint activities. With the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama just days away, the UK's Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport has an idea for a new joint undertaking — one that may well reveal just what kind of change the President-to-be believes in.

In an interview with the UK's The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham, the UK's "culture secretary," revealed that the UK government are planning an all-out assault on the internet. According to Burnham, the government has grown more and more concerned about the content available on the internet, and are now planning to implement policies aimed at restricting what can be accessed online. Though the campaign bears the traditional Anita Bryant-esqe "Save Our Children" banner, Mr. Burnham doesn't appear to be stopping there: "There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical." Burnham is well known for such remarks, having drawn considerable fire for comments which have included another Daily Telegraph interview bearing the quote "I think it’s better when children are in a home where their parents are married" and a 2007 debacle involving attacks on a Conservative-party report which he later admitted to not having read at all.

Though a specific system hasn't been revealed, it is known that a system of ratings, similar to the mandatory one operated by the British Board of Film Classification — née the British Board of Film Censors — or the "voluntary" ratings issued by the Motion Picture Association of America, is under consideration. If the very width and breadth of the undertaking weren't already bordering on the absurd &madsh; Netcraft reports some 186 million websites online as of last month, a hefty portion of which would be included in Mr. Burnham's scheme — then the second portion of the plan would certainly push it over the edge. Beyond forcing UK websites to wear the digital equivalent of pasties, the Secretary expects the incoming Obama administration to implement the scheme in the United States as well.

We are, of course, aghast at the suggestion of grading websites like USDA beef, but are even more aghast that a senior government minister could be so completely unaware of basic of American governance. Such a system would be a blatantly unconstitutional limitation on freedom of speech — and likely freedom of the press and freedom of religion as well — and for that reason alone unlikely to gain Congressional approval, much less survive the volley of legal challenges that would quickly land it before the Supreme Court. Mr. Burnham seems to have confused his political parties as well: The incoming president is a Democrat, a party more often associated with opposition to censorship — it is the outgoing president who has the record the secretary seeks.

And, of course, no legislation travels far without attracting the attention of powerful lobbying groups, and a government-imposed rating system would be quite likely to invite the interest of some particularly hefty ones. The vast majority of the well-known rating systems in the US are voluntary, and in large part are operated by the relevant industry rather than the federal government. Films, video and computer games, television shows, music — even milk, eggs, & the aforementioned beef — are graded under voluntary systems, with all but the latter three USDA-programs being administered by the industries themselves. The groups who have fought so hard to prevent mandatory government labeling in their own industries aren't likely to stand idly by and watch a precedent of this caliber be set.

For our part, we doubt that the President-to-be will seriously consider mass censorship of millions upon millions of websites, nor do we think Congress would have anything to do with it if he did. In the current economic climate, finding the funding necessary to police tens of millions of websites for proper labeling is unlikely. That may ultimately be the hurdle the plan cannot leap, killing it off for the impossible logistics without ever needing to address the constitutional objections. Whatever does it, we can say without hesitation that we'll be glad to see this preposterous proposal go by the wayside sooner rather than later.

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