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David Cameron to Reveal Stricter UK ISP Controls for Blocking Adult Websites

Monday, Nov 19th, 2012 (8:26 am) - Score 979

The Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, is expected to announce that broadband ISPs will soon be required to introduce even tougher censorship measures against adult internet websites. The move is intended to help parents protect children online but many question whether they will be effective.

At present four of the UK’s biggest broadband providers (BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media) have already agreed to help protect children online via a special Code of Practice that promises to provide customers (e.g. parents) with an “enforced” option to block adult web content at the point of purchase (Active Choice).

But so far the code has produced mixed results. Some ISPs have merely chosen to offer free Parental Control software to download, while others have introduced more effective but costly network-level filtering (e.g. TalkTalk’s HomeSafe solution). Since then the controversial Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection has called on ISPs to introduce a mandatory Opt-In content filtering system for “all internet accounts” in the country.

As a result the government began a new consultation that proposed three potential options for solving the problem (the 3 options). According to the Daily Mail, the government looks set to go with an enhanced version of Active Choice that will require ISPs and computer manufactures to ensure customers are asked if they have children when they first log-on.

Customers who answer “Yes” will then be presented with a series of options that will enable them to use anti-porn filters and choose how strict the filtering should be (e.g. they will have options to block everything from gambling sites to known porn content). The idea is slightly stricter than the originally proposed Active Choice Plus system but stops short of forcing default internet censorship upon all accounts.

A Downing Street source claimed:

Internet service providers have made great progress to date in implementing ‘active choice’ controls, as recommended by Reg Bailey, where all users are asked if they want to switch on parental controls.

After intervention from the Prime Minister, the Government is urging providers to go one step further and make sure their systems actively encourage parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls.”

The proposals, which are expected to be unveiled before the end of November 2012, are broadly similar to those being put forward in a related private members bill called the Online Safety Bill 2012-13 (currently passing through the House of Lords). Similarly the government is expected to warn ISPs that they must introduce the new measures or risk mandatory legislation.

Ultimately ISPs must hold some responsibility for educating their customers, although we have our doubts about the effectiveness of internet filtering systems. No filtering system is 100% effective because ISPs are mere-conduits of information and do not physically control content on the internet itself, thus web blocks are merely placebos that can easily be defeated.

Similarly some of the definitions for “adult internet content” could easily be stretched to cover social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, or possibly online multiplayer games and their related communities. Clothing stores that sell underwear and legitimate sexual or medical education content could also be hit. On top of that ISPs currently fail to provide any form of appeals process so that customers can have wrongful blocks removed.

Adrian Kennard, Director of ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), said:

The concept of an ISP level control on this? That is mad! There is some logic on PC/operating-system control, maybe, but ISP level is mad! It is impractical. It is easily bypassed. It is a false sense of security. It avoids the real issues. As I have said before, it is like making Spec-Savers responsible for what is seen through the glasses they sell. It is just plain silly.

What is needed is parents taking an actual interest in their kids, and actually being involved in what they do. Talking to them, not just about “nice” stuff, but about what they could encounter as soon as they leave the cotton wool ball. Make sure the kids are well balanced and able to decide for themselves what is sensible and what is not. What they like and what they do not. Some basic self respect for themselves and other people. Armed with that, Internet porn is not an issue.”

At this point we still don’t know the detail of what David Cameron is expected to announce. This is crucial because introducing such systems doesn’t come cheap and that could be a much more significant problem if the same measures are imposed upon smaller ISPs, which often survive off only the smallest of profit margins.

More to the point there are already plenty of free Parental Control solutions available. This makes it equally puzzling why such measures should be forced onto ISPs. The internet is packed full of choices for anybody willing to spend 5 minutes on a simple Google Search, which will reveal a mass of free software solutions. OpenDNS can also help impose network-level blocks, many operating systems and anti-virus software applications come with parental controls and a lot of routers now include similar features.

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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