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MP Claims it’s Impossible for Many UK People to Download Internet Filters

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 (3:18 pm) - Score 997

The British Labour Party’s Shadow Culture Minister, Helen Goodman MP, yesterday used a debate in the House of Commons to call for all broadband ISPs to install internet censorship (filtering) systems by default because, she claimed, it was a “near-impossible task for many” people to download their own Parental Control solutions. Really?

Clearly basic I.T skills are still somewhat lacking among some of the country’s elite politicians. Even a quick Google search can usually uncover easy solutions for adding parental controls to a network or specific device. Others may find that their existing computer software or router might already contain similar functionality, if only they’d open the manual to check. The police don’t consider ignorance to be a plausible excuse but apparently politicians do.

Helen Goodman MP told Parliament:

We know that most parents want to do what is right by their children, because 66% of people, and 78% of women, want an automatic block, according to a YouGov poll conducted last year, but the industry is not helping them enough.

At the moment, some still require people to download their own filters—a near-impossible task for many of us—some see it as a marketing device, and others want to give the option of filters only to new customers. At the current rate of turnover, it would be 2019 before that approach had any hope of reaching total coverage. It simply is not good enough.”

In a similar debate several MP’s recently suggested that only “very clever” people would be able to get around ISP imposed internet filtering systems. One of my 8 year old cousins, whom I’m told was able to break through TalkTalk’s HomeSafe filter with ease so that he could access Facebook, would perhaps beg to differ.

Even my sisters 3 year old daughter can already use a tablet better than her mum, albeit mostly for the less worrisome task of viewing copious Pepper Pig videos (I digress. Pepper Big is enough to warp even an adults mind 🙂 ), and her mum is certainly no slouch when it comes to I.T. Perhaps certain MPs shouldn’t be judging others by their own, apparently quite limited, standards.

Elsewhere MPs appeared to show little concern for the fact that default internet filtering systems can end up blocking legitimate websites (overblocking), often due to the extremely broad interpretation of what constitutes “adult content“. O2’s block of websites that dedicated themselves to helping male victims of domestic violence and rape is just one of many examples that we’ve covered (here).

Indeed we dare say that this whole debate wouldn’t nearly be so contentious if MPs simply kept their focus very specifically on porn, child abuse and other truly violent online content. In an ideal world this would also include safeguards to ensure that ISPs and mobile operators correct mistakes and don’t allow blocking to affect perfectly lawful websites. As it is, putting an unregulated power to censor content in the hands of big commercial firms doesn’t seem to be terribly wise.

Helen Goodman said:

What do Ministers intend to do about the problem? I hope that in his winding-up remarks the Home Office Minister will tell us. There is no point huffing and puffing about the problem if Ministers do not take the necessary action. It is obvious to the whole country that the current situation is totally unacceptable. It is obvious that Ministers have not got a grip. It is obvious that we need a change.

That is why our motion proposes a complete shift in approach from a reactive stance to a proactive strategy. We are calling for three things—first, safe search as the default option. The industry has already made the filters that are needed to screen out not just child abuse but pornography and adult content generally. We are saying that the filters should be the default, either on all computers and devices connected to the internet or by requiring internet service providers to install them by default. Then we can institute the second part of an effective system: robust age verification.”

So never mind the fact that the IWF already blocks child abuse content with the help of ISPs or that all the major broadband providers are already planning to introduce network level filtering systems, at significant cost to themselves, for blocking “adult content” (here).

Never mind that the government’s own consultation found that there was “no great appetite among parents” for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP (only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach). Nope, forget all that.

Why is it so hard to simply give consumers an option to enable such controls without forcing it upon them by default? The government’s recent consultation appeared to support this approach (here) but clearly some MPs would rather we adopt a more restrictive approach, even if it’s already a broken solution.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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