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Liberal Democrat President Seeks to Halt UK ISP Internet Filtering

Tuesday, Jan 14th, 2014 (2:25 pm) - Score 529
censorship-online

The national President of the UK Liberal Democrat’s, Tim Farron, has drafted a new motion for the party’s Spring Conference that will call upon their coalition partners in Government to protect the “digital rights of the citizen” and halt requirements for “misconceived, ineffective and illiberal” Internet censorship of “adult” websites.

At present the Government has leaned on all of the largest home broadband ISPs (not to mention public wifi and mobile operators) to introduce network-level filtering (here), which is designed to help protect children while they surf the Internet by blocking access to “adult content“. The solution is “voluntary” but has been supported by the threat of legislation.

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The so-called Active Choice Plus system requires ISPs to give all of their subscribers an “enforced” option about whether or not to enable filtering, which comes pre-ticked as “Yes” for enabled when the choice is offered (i.e. to disable it you have to specifically choose to uncheck the box). A list of various categories are then similarly offered for censorship (e.g. self-harm, social networking [Facebook], porn, dating etc.)

But Farron, whom appears to enjoy strong support among the party’s grassroots and is often tipped as a potential successor to the current leader (Nick Clegg), wants the LibDem’s to get behind his call for new legislation that would prohibit “any requirement for opt-ins, opt-outs, filters, lists or controls on legal material” and stop “giving parents a false sense of security“.

Tim Farron told The Independent:

Essential sites on sexual health, gender and sexuality, domestic violence and LGBT rights are being blocked by these filters, whilst pornographic content is still available. Our motion is designed to strengthen Lib Dem ministers’ hands in challenging this nonsensical policy, which has yet to be brought before the House of Commons.”

Indeed we’ve repeatedly had to cover a number of situations where such filters have been found to incorrectly categorise websites (examples here and here), as well as the blocking of education sites, lesbian and gay support groups and those setup to help victims of sexual abuse or self-harm (here). Similarly such filters often fail to block all porn sites and even the Government and ISPs admit that they’re not perfect and can easily be circumvented.

On the other hand the Conservatives have enjoyed a reasonably strong level of support for the system, including among a large number of opposition Labour MP’s, and the fact remains that the system has not been enshrined in legislation (still technically voluntary). Similarly Farron’s plan to deliver legislation that could prohibit filtering would need to be very carefully drafted so as not to cause additional problems, which might risk interfering with the normal operations of an ISPs network (e.g. Traffic Management, IPTV content agreements etc.).

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However, Farron has suggested that he would still allow ISPs to offer Parental Controls, albeit without forcing everybody to make a decision about whether or not to keep them enabled. The party’s Spring Conference is expected to be held in York between 7th – 9th March 2014. But even if Farron is successful then we suspect that the LibDem’s would struggle to have their plan adopted by Government.

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Mark-Jackson
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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