17 May 2007

What's a Website?

thelondonpaper today ridicules Judge Peter Openshaw, who "stunned a London court by admitting he did not know what a website was."

Judge Openshaw was hearing a trial of three men accused of "internet terror offences", whatever they are, and told Woolwich Crown Court "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a website is."

I would like to hear the journalist John Dunne give his definition.

"Website" is a pretty vague term. What website are you reading this on? Is it Blogger? Is it blogspot.com? Is it Anomaly UK? Is it bloglines or some other aggregator?

Let's say it's Anomaly UK -- not on the basis of any technical definition, but because that's what it says at the top of the page.

Whose website is it? I guess it's mine, because I "created" it, although that (fortunately) did not involve supplying any physical material, paying a penny, or interacting with any human being. Most of the content came from me, but some of it from Google, some of it from various unidentifiable commenters, some bits from Sitemeter or technorati or whoever "NZ Bear" actually is. The content actually resides and reaches you from Google, except for the bits that don't, or the bits that are put in or changed by some system I know nothing of between you and it. ("Bits" in the non-jargon sense, that is.)

A judge - or a legislator - who thinks he knows what "a website" is, but in fact only knows what the average web user knows, could make some horribly bad decisions: think about the Danish court that ruled that deep linking is illegal, for example. No politician who had thought to ask the question "what is an email address" (and got an accurate answer) would have planned to require sex offenders to register their email addresses, as John Reid did.

Since the "internet terror" cases in question involves an "extremist web forum" (and perhaps nothing else), making sure lawyers and witnesses are very precise about what was "on the internet" is probably essential to reaching a correct verdict. Judge Openshaw's question was penetrating and important.

1 comment:

Global Choices said...

The history knows a lot of similar appalling examples of inappropriate ridiculing of serious issues.

In my country some 40 years ago a minister for culture was imprudent enough to state on public that “there is no sex in the USSR”. The saying had become a target for sarcastic jokes for many years up to the final victory of democracy and capitalization in our used to be totalitarian state. Intelligent people preferred mocking like unwise teenagers while the message of the government spokesman was to say that we didn’t have “sex industry”, as simple as that. Since then we have learned yet another lesson – how it is when the country does “have sex”. The effect has been rather devastating.

A similar line was about ugly soviet underwear for woman which according to some fun-makers made reproduction of Homo Sovieticus next to impossible. But demography figures have been falling down dramatically since French style lingerie flooded the market showing that a connection between the 2 factors has a rather inverse character. Various means of sexual sophistication and indulging have never been directed for achieving reproduction goals.

Back to original post – yes – the Internet with all its technologies and new trends is developing at a mad pace often leaving behind traditional notions of the property, morality and correct communication… We use terms often without clear idea of what lies behind the word. While all the attempts to adjust legislation to a new dynamic situation look softly saying clumsy.