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UPDATE MP Claire Perry Claims UK ISP Internet Filters Will Not Overblock

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 (2:37 pm) - Score 1,172
censorship-uk-internet

One of the UK Government’s strongest advocates of mandatory network-level Internet filtering, MP Claire Perry, has told a Westminster eForum that modern ISP censorship systems are “far better, far stronger, much more effective and will not overblock” websites (i.e. wrongful blocking). Even though they do.. quite a lot.

Perry was quick to dismiss all of the recent and historic reports about overblocking as “fanciful” and suggested that they merely represented “anecdotal evidence” of a problem that she appears to believe no longer exists.

But this rather ignores that Sky Broadband incorrectly blocked the jQuery CDN site earlier this week (here), not to mention TorrentFreak before that (here), Imgur too (here) and the large number of help and education sites that other ISPs and mobile operators have similarly placed wrongful blocks upon (here, here, here oh and here).

Filtering technology has always been inherently unreliable, much like those anti-spam filters that often trap legitimate email messages in your junk folder, and ISPs are often the first to admit that they’re not a silver bullet for the problem and should not be seen as a substitute for good supervision by parents. Incorrect content categorisation, system errors, filtering out shared IP addresses and so forth are all examples of common issues.

The remarks came shortly after Baroness Howe of Idlicote once again attempted to force a new amendment (53ZAAB) into the Children and Families Bill, which would have required all ISPs (including smaller providers) to introduce Parental Controls that could “exclude adult content” (here).

Howe’s move came despite the fact that the voluntary system with big ISPs has only just been formally introduced and is yet to even be fully implemented (i.e. existing subscribers have yet to be given the “enforced” choice about whether or not to enable the filters, except on TalkTalk that is).

Baroness Howe said:

In embarking on this debate, I should like to put on the record my thanks to the Prime Minister for the progress he has made in enhancing child safety online on a self-regulatory basis through the code of practice being implemented by the big four internet service providers.

However, I also want to argue that, while welcome as a first step, self-regulation will not be anything other than a short-term solution and that regulation should now be placed on a robust statutory footing.

In a previous debate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, set out the very important principle that if child protection is sufficiently important to merit statutory protection offline, the same must be true online.”

During the debate Howe received a good level of support from others including Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat), Lord Harris of Haringey (Labour), The Earl of Listowel, Lord Hope of Craighead (Judge) and more. Funnily enough even broadband provider AAISP, whose boss (Adrian Kennard) has been outspoken in opposition of censorship, later got a mention.

Baroness Howe added:

Self-regulation, for example, provides no means of dealing with the likes of Andrews and Arnold [AAISP] where default filters are concerned. Its closed loop system does not provide for proper age verification and the mobile phone code all too often — and at very real cost to children — has not been respected. If we believe that child protection is really important—and I have every belief that your Lordships believe just that — we must introduce robust statutory measures to help prevent children accessing this material.

Andrews and Arnold has publically stated that it will not introduce default filters. Its home page proudly proclaims, “Unfiltered internet for all”—including, presumably, for all children. Clearly it has no intention of introducing default filters, and will do so only if required by law. If we had a statutory approach to default filters, as set out in my amendment, all ISPs, including all those that service the remaining 5% to 10% not covered by the big four code, would have to introduce default filters.

However others, such as Lord Lucas (Conservative), warned that the proposed measures asked “ISPs to do something that is impossible“, before later pointing to the ease of circumvention (one in five children aged 12-15 can already get around them).

Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat) also echoed some earlier remarks by Lord Stevenson in which he said that the idea, “needs more thinking … to make it fit for purpose and to guard against unintended consequences“. Indeed filters are often a bit like putting up a “keep out” sign on your bedroom, while still leaving the door wide open.

Adrian Kennard, Director of ISP Andrews & Arnold, said:

All the current ISP porn blocks do is give parents the false impression that the Internet is now “safe”, meaning they supervise children less. I do think the Baroness needs to think a little more on exactly what she is asking for here, and why.”

It’s also notable that the issue of cost, which is a significant problem for smaller ISPs that might wish to implement such a service but often struggle to compete against the economics of scale enjoyed by the largest providers, wasn’t even discussed during the debate. In the end Howe’s amendment did not pass.

Meanwhile Claire Perry, after initially saying that filters “will not overblock“, has today told PC Pro that “there will be errors” with such systems and that the government has recently setup “a working group on overblocking, where we’re trying to facilitate a process whereby site owners can understand what the status is. That’s only just started, and we will get better at that“. No working group will be able to solve the technical limits of such systems but they might help to clear up bad categorisation and speed the process of having wrongful blocks removed.

Separate to this debate, it’s worth noting that an appeal court in the Netherlands has today removed a ban that instructed the country’s ISPs to block access to The Pirate Bay website over copyright infringement. Virgin Media are understood to be studying this ruling but we don’t expect it to have any real impact on UK law, where we have a separate court ordered principal established under Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

As it stands the big UK ISPs have effectively agreed to sit back and adopt the court orders as they arrive and would perhaps not be keen to challenge them. The cost of doing so, combined with the risk of being perceived as piracy’s defenders, might cause too much of an issue. But even if any of the ISPs did want to go down that path then no doubt they’d rather wait to see if Dutch rights holders choose to challenge the ruling first.

UPDATE 31st January 2014

It’s understood that the working group, which was alluded to by Claire Perry above, might also produce a white list of websites to prevent them being blocked. The BBC report suggests that this would apply to sites that have been accidentally caught up in the filters (e.g. TorrentFreak), although it doesn’t really solve the underlying problem.

Curiously the chair of this group, David Miles (UK Council for Child Internet Safety), claims to have visited several charities to find out how the introduction of web-based filters
for adult content had hit visitor numbers.

But it’s unclear whether any of the charities he visited had even been impacted and, speaking as a website owner myself, it’s not always immediately clear unless your readers point it out first. Apparently charities might also be added to the whitelist.

Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. Avatar DanielM says:

    this claire perry is dumb and stupid and knows nothing about the internet. for example when her website was hacked she accused someone of posting stuff.

  2. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Censorship has never “stopped” anything. And never will. As lawmakers never learn.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Parliament from the 1930s to the 1970s enacted strict laws for the protection of children. And along came Jimmy Saville and various others that we now regularly hear about in the very jobs where they were in constant contact with children. The products of that legislative world. Every attempt by legislators (and by golly there have been enough of them) to pass laws to make mankind good is doomed to failure. Why: because we all do what we’re told not to, it holds an irresistible attraction; and to those that are so inclined, the greater the obstacle, the greater the challenge and their determination, and the worse the offence when it’s hidden from view, which it has to be.

  4. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    Just more idiots trying to make law which will end up as useless in the end. Another time wasting exercise, which I hope will drag on for a very long time.

  5. Avatar timeless says:

    …l dont know how the hell our government can get away with telling lies.. they really need to study the technology properly before they say what they believe… after all believing something and it actually being true are two different things.

    webmasters have already proven how problematic censorship is by adding records to their blocked sites for non-blocked ones essentially blocking legitimate content as ISPs systems pick it up. then you have numerous proxies to get around such blocks which are only skin deep…

  6. Avatar cyclope says:

    “Andrews and Arnold has publically stated that it will not introduce default filters. Its home page proudly proclaims, “Unfiltered internet for all”—including, presumably, for all children.” I would disagree with your assumption on that,
    I very much doubt that AAISP or any other ISP will not sell broadband products to anyone under the age of 18yrs AKA adults,

    What the account holders allow or don’t allow their children to do on the internet is up to them, and the ISP should not be forced to provide network level filtering by government AKA nanny state , It’s the responsibilty of the parents not ISP’s or anyone else, censorship is a bad thing we should stand together and fight it at all costs

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      ^ Exactly this

      You can’t sign up as a minor so a parent has a choice to choose an ISP that filters or not, its up to them.

      I applaud AAISP’s stance on this. Another government shambles policy.

  7. Avatar hmm says:

    MP Claire Perry what a muppet knows nothing how the internet works

    these people are a joke the internet is doomed with these clowns

    1. Avatar xunonem says:

      They know exactly what they are doing. After it is blocked, there will also be an unblock option to free the net, available for ‘a small price’ which will net the internet providers and HM’s Treasury millions. Fancy that.. £££

  8. Avatar Captain Cretin says:

    Claire, I am going to come around and jump up and down on you while wearing hob-nailed boots.

    But it is OK, I only weigh 600lbs so it wont hurt.

    (For any rozzers reading this, it is called SARCASM).

    (For everyone else reading this, I dont really weigh 600lbs).

    1. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

      The main trouble with MP’s is they have selective hearing ( towards the general public i.e. us they are totally DEAF ) to other MP’s they listen. A little world of their own.

      So we have NO chance of getting her to take note of what we have to say.

    2. Avatar timeless says:

      lets face it, its like you said.. but in truth its more about getting re-elected than it is for parents.

  9. Avatar BillGatesMum says:

    This shows you just how little MP’s and government in general understand the internet. NO filter can ever be perfect judging by the choice of words or imagery suspect websites use within or for preview. Some websites may even recognise filters and how they behave in future and adjust in order to get around them to target a specific (ie UK) audience. The internet cannot be controlled. Unless you are not given 100 percent access, that is.

    It’s as bad as the media industry attempting to block every media sharing website. A waste of time and money. Youtube has become so big that it arguably shares new illegal every minute-albums, movies and entire tv series of a users choice are uploaded all the time (as well as other copyrighted or suspect material) that are seen by thousands. Sometimes even millions (Skyfall was on there before dvd release as an example with a rather large view count). Uptime on youtube is however usually limited according to how new the said media is, but ignoring that, questionably nothing is done about most other media. Google admit they can do little about youtube content unless there is a complaint, due to how big the website has become and how many files are uploaded every minute. Not an easy site to manage.

    As far as filtering goes in general, the best and only true protection a child or individual can have is guardian watching over their usage as they sit next to them. Unfortunately when so many youngsters now having mobile phones of their own it becomes a major problem. Parents monitoring their history may prove useless as kids today are knowledgeable enough to delete their past history and related data before another individual uses the same system. They can even use VPN or proxies to get around blocked websites. The 21st century youth are more tech savvy than ever, but if they arent old enough to be of a certain age to view certain material, or know right from wrong, perhaps they should not have internet access or that mobile internet subscription in the first place.

    As for dubious websites selling copyrighted content that isn’t theirs, with general users falling for these kind of scams, it sounds like many simply need to learn a lot more about the internet before using it – how keep their system well protected and how to browse safely. It should not be up to the government to protect them. Filters should remain an optional choice, even if set to on by default, given by your internet provider,but perhaps more information given by your provider or commercialised tv documentaries on what to avoid on the net wouldnt go amiss.

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  11. Avatar Try This says:

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