Nanny bans Greg Dyke

Observations on child protection

As I was preparing material for pieces on the Hutton inquiry, I found that my home computer kept seizing up with infuriating fre-quency. I switched it on and off, checked for viruses, all to no avail. Then I realised what was wrong.

Several months previously, after my ten-year-old daughter chanced upon some porn while researching homework on the web, a boffin friend recommended software that blocks access to the murkier recesses of cyberspace. Net Nanny would do the trick, he told me. It did, but with unforeseen consequences.

It works by barring any website that carries a smutty word. A message on screen reports "Net Nanny violation", and attempts to click past it eventually make the screen freeze.

I had set up the BBC News website as my home page. For several days, the fate of the BBC's then-director general was headline news. But Greg Dyke, it turned out, had earned the displeasure not just of the government but also of Net Nanny. As soon as his surname appeared, my screen went into self-destruct mode. Once Dyke was off the scene, tranquillity was restored in my study. Net Nanny has no objections to the word "Byford".

Then disaster struck again when the illegal Chinese workers were tragically drowned in Morecambe Bay. This time, the word "cockle" had set off the alarm. I await the next pitfall. WMD is OK. Forty-five minutes is being interpreted innocently. Cook causes no problems. Nor does Brown. Nor, more inexplicably, does the name of the current US president.

This article first appeared in the 23 February 2004 issue of the New Statesman, End of the sex war