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UPD2 PM David Cameron to Push for Mandatory ISP Adult Internet Content Filters

Friday, May 4th, 2012 (9:04 am) - Score 573

The UK governments Prime Minister (PM), David Cameron, looks set to put his support behind the controversial Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection by forcing broadband ISPs to offer automatic blocks on pornographic internet sites (adult content).

According to The Times, Cameron will soon confirm that the current law needs to be re-examined. Ministers are then expected to launch a new consultation on whether ISPs should be required to introduce an enabled-by-default (i.e. you would have to opt yourself out later) or optional “opt-in” style of content filtering system for “all internet accounts” in the country; as was originally suggested by the inquiry.

The move, which we’re sure has nothing whatsoever to do with today’s dire local election results (that’s sarcasm), is expected to form part of a re-launch for the government, albeit one that isn’t likely to go down too well with ISPs; or many ordinary internet users for that matter.

Nicholas Lansman, ISPA Secretary General, said last month:

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.”

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

We welcome a consultation but default filternets are awful. They block a wide range of innocent material; and nobody should be advocating broader and simpler censorship.

All the independent evidence has pointed to giving parents simple tools and choices. There is no need to create network level censorship in the name of a porn opt-in.”

Such a development, if confirmed later today or within the next few weeks, would mark a shift in strategy for the government which had previously supported a self-regulatory approach. This culminated in most of the big ISPs signing up to a new Code of Practice (full details) at the end of last year which, among other things, promised to provide customers (e.g. parents) with an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase (Active Choice). Sadly it looks as if self-regulation will no longer be given a fair chance to work.

Mandatory internet filtering solutions are far from perfect and often block legitimate sites (ISPs are slow to resolve this or simply ignore such requests), remain very easy to circumvent, cost money (a huge issue for smaller ISPs) and aren’t even needed because there are plenty of free solutions that exist already (most ISPs already offer it).

On top of that there’s usually no oversight to check that the correct sites are being blocked, which risks allowing some ISPs to be as liberal with their interpretation of what constitutes ‘adult’ content as they like. Mission creep can be a dangerous thing; sometimes you have to tolerate a little bad in order to preserve freedom.

UPDATE 10:56am

TalkTalk, which has repeatedly used the governments stance to promote its own products, have released their usual spin on the situation.

Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

“We welcome the continued focus from Government, and specifically the Prime Minister, on the hugely important issue of protecting children online. TalkTalk remains the only ISP to ask new customers to make an upfront decision about using parental controls. Since we began doing this in March, one in three new customers has chosen to activate them; that’s roughly equivalent to the number of households with children. This shows that customers value being offered a choice.

In fact, 80% of new TalkTalk customers we recently spoke to said that they thought being offered the choice of using filters upfront was a good thing and over 60% said that they wouldn’t have turned on parental controls had they not been asked to make a choice. We recently announced that we intend to ask all existing customers to make an active choice and we will begin trials later in the year.”

On the other hand 1 in 3 also shows that the majority choose NOT to enable such filters, even when given a clear choice during signup. We agree, choice is good, but forcing such censorship on to customers by default is much more controversial.

UPDATE 11:09am

Added a comment from the Open Rights Group (ORG) above.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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