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UPD2 Parliament Inquiry into UK Child Safety Calls for Tougher Internet Filtering

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 (11:41 am) - Score 589

The Conservative MP for Wiltshire, Claire Perry, has today published the results of her Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection and recommended that the UK government begin a formal consultation on the introduction of an Opt-In content filtering system for “all internet accounts” in the country.

Perry is of course best known for calling upon all home broadband ISPs to implement an automatic universal block of internet porn sites by introducing an age restricted opt-in system (December 2010 News), so it’s perhaps little wonder that she has stuck to her somewhat controversial position in this inquiry.

Claire Perry said:

Our Inquiry found that many children are easily accessing internet pornography as well as other websites showing extreme violence or promoting self-harm and anorexia. This is hugely worrying. While parents should be responsible for their children’s online safety, in practice people find it difficult to put content filters on the plethora of internet-enabled devices in their homes, plus families lack the right information and education on internet safety.

It’s time that Britain’s Internet Service Providers, who make more than £3 billion a year from selling internet access services, took on more of the responsibility to keep children safe, and the Government needs to send a strong message that this is what we all expect“.

Inquiry Recommendations

1. The Government should urgently review the implementation plans for “Active Choice” and press for an accelerated implementation timetable, more clarity on
installation targets for all customers, and funding commitments from ISPs.

2. ISPs should provide better support for internet safety education and initiatives such as ParentPort and improve signposting for these services from their own web domains.

3. Government and industry representatives should draw up guidelines for improving the communication of existing internet safety settings, improving training for retailers, developing a family friendly kite-marking scheme for manufacturers and retailers and improving signposting to pre-installed security settings during device configuration.

4. ISPs should be tasked with rolling out single account network filters for domestic broadband customers that can provide one click filtering for all devices connected to a home internet connection within 12 months.

5. The Government should launch a formal consultation on the introduction of an Opt-In content filtering system for all internet accounts in the UK. The most effective way to reduce overall development cost and create the most flexible solution would be for ISPs to work together to develop a self-regulated solution.

6. Public Wi-Fi provision should also be filtered in this way otherwise home-based controls will be easily circumvented.

7. The Government should also seek backstop legal powers to intervene should the ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution.

8. Finally, the Government should consider the merits of a new regulatory structure for online content, with one regulator given a lead role in the oversight and monitoring of internet content and in improving the dissemination of existing internet safety education materials and resources such as ParentPort.

Many ISPs already offer Parental Controls and most mobile phone operators impose similar restrictions by default. Suffice to say that there are also plenty of third party solutions available. In fact there’s no shortage of options for anxious parents. But much as we’ve said before, mandatory internet filtering solutions are far from perfect (they often block legitimate sites and ISPs remain slow to resolve this) and remain very easy to circumvent, they also cost money; an especially big issue if you’re a smaller ISP.

Furthermore nearly all of the country’s big ISPs have officially already agreed (details), with the government, to help protect children online via a new Code of Practice that, among other things, would provide customers (e.g. parents) with an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase (aka – Active Choice). But none of this is enough for Perry.

Inquiry Comment on Internet Filtering

Several key design and implementation issues would need to be addressed, including a workable age-verification interface and the need to design a granular permissioning system so that households can maintain different levels of access for different family members.

There is currently no evidence that an Opt-In model would add substantial cost or slow down internet access speeds and the main objections to the proposal appear to be ideological. We find it perverse that companies who apply an adult content block for their customers accessing the internet via a mobile device would argue against introducing a similar system for their fixed broadband customers.

An absence of evidence doesn’t mean something isn’t true, it merely reflects the fact that few have published public research into the issue. Likewise it would be very tricky for anybody to develop a “workable age-verification interface“, webcam eye or finger print scans anybody? Perhaps not, even shop assistants given fake ID’s still don’t get this right and that’s when the individual is standing right in front of them.

Suffice to say that passing the buck onto ISPs seems to be becoming an increasingly common pastime for politicians and their ever increasing piles of internet legislation. Certainly it’s a good idea to extend the principals of ‘Active Choice’ by involving more ISPs but we should also be giving that solution time to work before moving on to the next set of proposals. Curiously the other side of this debate, such as proposing solutions for how ISPs should respond when the wrong sites are blocked, remains largely ignored.

Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection (PDF)

UPDATE 12:48pm

The Open Rights Group (ORG) has just issued a statement.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, said:

These recommendations, if enacted, would endanger children, create disruption for small business, and would not work technically. Default filtering is a form of censorship. Adults should not have to “opt out” of censorship. Governments should not be given powers to default censor legal material that adults see online.

Our work on mobile networks is showing that default censorship is disrupting businesses, campaign groups and bloggers. Yet it is trivial for a child to avoid the network blocking that Claire Perry recommends – sites using https are invisible to network blocks. Furthermore, default blocks may be appropriate for some older children, but too weak for others.

Parents need help, but ‘default blocking’ is an appalling proposal.”

Just for the record, sites using HTTPS are not invisible to all network blocks, only some.

UPDATE 2:19pm

A reply from the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA).

Nicholas Lansman, ISPA Secretary General, said:

Forcing ISPs to filter adult content at the network level, which users would then have to opt out of, is neither the most effective nor most appropriate way to prevent access to inappropriate material online. It is easy to circumvent, reduces the degree of active interest and parental mediation and has clear implications for freedom of speech. Instead parents should choose how they restrict access to content, be it on the device or network level with the tools provided.

We argued in our evidence that ISPs already provide a variety of services to their customers and continually review and improve their offering based on customer’s feedback. A variety of measures are available to parents and carers and a network level filter should not be viewed as a silver bullet.

We agree that education is important and our members offer guides and help to their customers. The Bailey Report published last year also acknowledged that “industry already does much to help educate parents about parental controls, age-restriction and content filters”. Government should concentrate on helping educate consumers to ensure they know about the tools already available to them to restrict unwanted content.

Additionally, the question arises of who decides what inappropriate material is and for whom and whether there is a guarantee that filtering will not be used for other content.”

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar Timeless says:

    its not about porn.. its about parents being too lazy to keep an eye on their children and treating the internet as a day care.. if they wish to do so then they should spend their own money rather than having government legislation introduce a blocking system which will be abused lm sure..

    after all with the technology in place whos to say what will face blocking.

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