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Lords Comms Committee Calls for Default-On UK Internet Censorship

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 (11:10 am) - Score 900
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The Lords Communications Committee has today published their new report (‘Growing up with the internet‘), which calls for an end to “underperforming” self-regulation and “intervention at the highest level of the Government” in order to help protect children online.

As usual anything to do with the safety of children in an Internet context is bound to take the cotton wool approach of trying to close off as many naughty bits of information as possible, which usually occurs irrespective of whether or not such methods are needed or even work. “We call on industry to implement minimum standards of child-friendly design, filtering, privacy, data collection, and report and response mechanisms for complaints,” says the committee.

Lord Best, Chair of the Committee, said:

“In the past twenty years, the internet has become an all-encompassing aspect of growing up. One Minister described this as “almost the largest social experiment in history”. It is in the whole of society’s interest that children grow up to be empowered, digitally confident citizens.

This is a shared responsibility for everyone, it is essential that we improve opportunities for children to use the internet productively; improve digital literacy; change the norms of data collection and to design technology in ways that support children by default.

We believe that children must be treated online with the same rights, respect and care that has been established through regulation in offline settings such as television and gambling.

The Government’s Internet Safety Strategy is a welcome start in addressing many of the dangers children are faced with online but action must be broader than a focus on preventing harms, and it must be sustained in the long-term.”

The new report largely appears to mirror the direction of travel that is already being adopted through the existing 2017 Digital Economy Bill and in particular it calls on broadband ISPs to adopt a default-on approach to network-level filtering (i.e. censorship of “adult content“). Happily it does caveat this by saying that customers (bill payers) must still be able to disable such filters and there should also be a system for tackling wrongful blocks.

However the committee believes that it is “necessary for all ISPs” to adopt such default-on blocking systems, which could be very difficult for smaller players to achieve. The cost of such systems is economically insignificant for the largest providers but smaller players may struggle and there’s also no distinction in the report between the different needs of residential and business connectivity solutions.

Lords Internet Filtering Recommendations

* We recommend that all ISPs and mobile network operators should be required not only to offer child-friendly content control filters, but also for those filters to be ‘on’ by default for all customers. Adult customers should be able to switch off such filters.

* Those responsible for providing filtering and blocking services need to be transparent about which sites they block and why, and be open to complaints from websites to review their decisions within an agreed timeframe. Filter systems should be designed to an agreed minimum standard.

At present all of the major ISPs have already introduced optional network-level filtering systems (Parental Controls), although the DEBill has proposed a much stricter set of rules (here and here). As part of that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) would effectively be given the power to force ISPs into restricting access to pornographic sites that fail to put “tough age verification measures” in place.

Suffice to say that this approach has more than a few problems (example), such as with the question of how to make age verification work, the ease with which such blocks can be circumvented, mission creep through an open ended definition of “adult” content and the lack of privacy safeguards for users.

James Blessing, UK ISPA Chair, said:

“The Internet industry has long been committed to keeping children safe online and the UK is regarded as a world leader in this area. We believe the most effective response is a joint approach based on education, raising awareness and technical tools. The Internet industry is constantly reviewing how it helps customers manage online safety and so look forward to being part of the discussions to inform the new Internet Safety Strategy.”

The UK Internet Service Providers association argues that self-regulation is still “the right approach” to dealing with this complex and challenging area and thus they disagree with some of the report’s conclusions. Instead they warn that “filters are not a panacea and are only part of a solution that includes digital literacy and sensible policymaking“.

Parental guidance and better tuition in School is particularly important in order to help children understand the rights and wrongs of how to engage in an online world.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar AndyC

    just a thought but national tv shows “adult content” without age verification so does that also include the iplayer, itv hub, all 4, netflix, amazon prime, now tv (or even sky as a whole) as well as meny other services will also be blocked.

    Heres a better idea just turn the uk internet off till after 9pm (the current watershed)

    “We believe that children must be treated online with the same rights, respect and care that has been established through regulation in offline settings such as television and gambling.” errrrrr eastenders schoolgirl being bullied, clothes ripped and showing her bra, corry 16 year old haveing sex all before “the watershed” (yes i know why they are showing these and its aimed at helping those its affecting but it can still be called adult content or it would be on cbbc/citv……)

    Back to the drawing board i think.

  2. Avatar dragoneast

    How did Jimmy Saville manage it before the days of the universally-available internet? How do we know he managed it, I suppose?

    Would it be better if we all grew up?

  3. Avatar MikeW

    How can parental guidance work in a world that many parents barely understand? In a world that, teenagers especially, want to hide from parents.

    Education in school is really important, but educating the parents is far harder.

    On some fronts, then, parents need some help. At the swimming pool there are lifeguards because, sometimes, swimming lessons just aren’t enough.

  4. Avatar dragoneast

    Despite what everyone tells me I’m not sure that the world is a more dangerous place for kids, teenagers (or anyone else for that matter) than it was when I was growing up over fifty years ago. There was plenty going on which shouldn’t have been, as evidenced by many court cases since. My parents and I knew about it at the time (though perhaps not the extent). We didn’t turn a blind eye so much as take precautions. I hid things that I got up to (quite a lot, actually) from my parents, and actively sought to deceive them too. As an only child (without the useful distraction of brothers and sisters) I had to. It was quite a cat and mouse game. An essential part of growing up and preparation for life.

    If there is a difference from today, it’s that we think there is some magic wand to keep kids, and the rest of us for that matter, safe. Whatever safe is. Snoop and filter all you like. I’m not sure it makes much difference.

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