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New UK Government Strategy Demands ISPs Block Suicide Websites

Monday, Sep 10th, 2012 (1:21 pm) - Score 1,105

First it was child abuse, then hate speech, then piracy, then “adult” websites and today Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State at the Department of Health (DH), has called on broadband ISPs to increase their censorship of the internet by blocking “harmful suicide-related content online“.

According to the new cross-government Preventing suicide in England (PDF) strategy document, “The internet is a ready source of detailed information concerning the use of lethal suicide methods … and [the government] will be pressing to ensure that parents have the tools to ensure that their children are not accessing harmful suicide-related content online.”

The document suggests that the new restriction could potentially be imposed upon the country’s largest broadband ISPs (e.g. BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband) through an update to the existing Active Choice system (details), which requires ISPs to give their subscribers an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase. Crucially the government is currently debating whether or not to make this, or a tougher default blocking solution, mandatory for all ISPs (here).

Preventing suicide in England (Sample Quote)

The Government will continue to work through [the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS)] to promote active choice on domestic broadband connections and on new internet-enabled devices – prompting consumers to choose which content they wish to be able to access – enabling consumers, should they so choose, to restrict access to the most common content and sites which promote suicide.”

The UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has frequently warned that ISPs are not a police force and may thus not always be best placed to judge whether or not specific content is “illegal”, which is one reason why child abuse and “criminally obscene” content / sites are handled through the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) instead.

There can of course be little doubt that such material is of little benefit to society, although leaving these decisions up to a commercial firm remains questionable, especially when most ISPs and mobile operators alike do not offer any obvious or simple appeals solution in order to have wrongful blocks overturned.

Thankfully the strategy document does at least adopt a distinctly “self-regulation” orientated tone, although some will no doubt be concerned about the government’s growing attempts to gain control over the internet. At least in this case it’s designed to ensure that “children are not accessing harmful suicide-related content online“, although the endless debate over piracy content points to wider ambitions. Once you block, you just can’t stop.

Opponents of internet filtering systems are naturally quick to remind that such services often block access to the wrong websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, clothing stores, education/health sites etc.) and remain incredibly easy to circumvent.

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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