UK Online moderator receives death threat

Incident raises further concerns over the openness of public policy debate on the Internet

The Cabinet Office is refusing to comment on reports that one of its moderators for the UK Online discussion forum "Citizen Space" has received telephone death threats, after deleting offensive comments posted on the site.

According to an E-Government bulletin report this week, a civil servant working for the government's office of the e-Envoy was shaken by verbal death threats from an unidentified caller. The incident has raised government concern over attempts to run a truly open Internet discussion forum for the public debate of policy.

"The forum strongly encourages open discussion -- if you have to start taking things off the forum, it questions how open the discussion can be," said a Cabinet Office spokeswoman. "We have a very relaxed threshold. It is only when comments become discriminatory or aggressive that we have to clear up the site, and remove comments."

Citizen Space is part of the UK Online citizen portal that launched officially on 19 February. In recent months the forum has hosted heated debates on sensitive issues such as immigration and race, which the Cabinet Office claims have gone uncensored providing the discussion has not become racist.

The incident coincides with the imminent publication of the government's green paper on e-democracy that has been drafted by the e-Envoy's office. The paper will examine ways of encouraging public policy debate and consultation on the Internet, as well as considering the potential for online voting in the future. It will also evaluate the role that government and Parliament should play in promoting e-democracy and e-government.

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