H ouse of Commons Adjournment Debate
23rd November 2010
Culture minister Ed Vaizey, said the Government was in favour of a lightly-regulated internet. Those who posted illegal material would be prosecuted but ministers wanted to work with ISPs on any changes.
He said: The internet is by and large a force for good, it is central to our lives and to our economy and Government has to be wary before it regulates and passes legislation.
But leading the debate, Claire Perry had a long speech including a nod to yesterdays Safermedia conference and a classic I'm no prude...BUT...
Claire Perry (Devizes, Conservative)
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this matter tonight. I thank Members on both sides of the House who have either made time to attend the debate or expressed support for my proposal since it was announced
yesterday. I am asking for a change in regulation that would require all UK-based internet service providers to restrict universal access to pornographic material by implementing a simple opt-in system based on age verification.
Statistics are simply red-lining a problem that every parent recognises-namely, that our children are viewing material that we would never want them to see, especially at such a young age. So what can we do about it? The
current way of controlling access to pornographic material on the internet is via safety settings and filtering software, installed and maintained by users-parents, teachers and carers across the country. Unfortunately, however, through
technological ignorance, time pressure or inertia or for myriad other reasons, this filtering solution is not working. Even among parents who are regular internet users, only 15% say that they know how to install a filter. It is unfortunately
also the case that our children know better than we do how to circumvent the filters, while the constant changes in internet technology and content mean that they can quickly become outdated.
I would like to raise two key issues about the current, unsatisfactory situation. The first, as Fiona Mactaggart has just pointed out, is that access to pornography has a profound and negative effect on our children. Against
the backdrop of a drip-feed of sexualisation that promotes pole dancing as healthy exercise for young girls and high-heeled shoes as appropriate footwear for six-month-old babies, the availability of soft-core and hard-core pornography in our
homes is damaging our children.
Yesterday I attended a Safer Media conference sponsored by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, and heard compelling evidence of this damage, including the explosion in the number of children in this country being referred to
addiction clinics with a pornography problem , and that fact that many studies demonstrate that watching internet pornography contributes to people seeing women as sex objects, increases sexual risk-taking such as having unprotected or
anal sex, and relaxes the boundaries of sexual violence in a completely unacceptable way.
The second problem in the current system of internet provision is the presumption that it is entirely the consumer's responsibility to safeguard their family from harmful imagery. I am a fervent supporter of personal
responsibility and have an innate dislike of Big Brother regulation, but there is a form of content delivery in this country that, in contrast to the internet, is either regulated by the Government or has a successful self-regulation model that
does not appear draconian or heavy-handed. Our television viewing is restricted by sensible Ofcom guidelines, including section 1, which says that material equivalent to the British Board of Film Classification's R18 rating must not be broadcast
at any time, and that adult sex material cannot be broadcast at any time other than between 22.00 and 05.30 hours on premium subscription services or on pay-per-view or night services, which have to have mandatory restricted access, including PIN
verification systems. We all accept such regulation of our television viewing quite happily.
What we see on our cinema screens is subject to regulation by the British Board of Film Classification, and we have accepted that for years. Our high street hoardings and general advertising are regulated by the Advertising
Standards Authority, which displayed its teeth recently by removing posters from the Westfield shopping centre. Government guidelines inform newsagents' displays of lad magazines and porn magazines. Even the mobile phone industry, which has
arguably seen even more change than the internet in the past 10 years and whose products are increasingly used to access the internet, has introduced a reasonably successful self-regulation model that requires an adult verification check before
users can access inappropriate material on the internet.
Why should internet service providers be any different from other content providers? Why is the onus on parents, teachers and carers to act as web guides and policemen? Where is the industry responsibility?
Three objections are usually raised when such changes as I am proposing tonight are discussed. The first is that any restriction on access to pornography on the internet is an infringement of free speech. I hope I am no Mary
Whitehouse figure, although she was right about many things ,...BUT... the nature of the internet has led to a proliferation of imagery and a discussion of sexual practices which is quite mind-boggling in its awfulness. I will not
read out some of the information that was provided at the Safer Media conference yesterday, but I, at the age of 46, was introduced to sexual practices-one or two clicks away-that I have never heard of and simply cannot conceive of having my
daughters view. It was simply sickening.
Britain has taken steps towards internet safety before. The industry acted independently and responsibly on child abuse imagery by setting up the Internet Watch Foundation, which finds sites displaying abuse that the
industry then works to block. We have led the world in introducing that technology, and the people and organisations involved are to be strongly commended. It has been a huge success: the amount of child sex abuse content reported or found to be
hosted in the UK has dropped from 18% to less than 1%; and 95% of our broadband services use that blocking technology. It can be done.
Mr Straw is also to be commended for introducing the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which brought in a ban on the possession of extreme pornographic material. That is highly commendable, but of course the content
is there on the internet and available for viewing by us and our children with one or two clicks of a mouse.
All that progress has been made, but regulating internet access to inappropriate content continues to stump successive Governments and, in my view, the industry. I believe the time has come to stop ducking an issue of
enormous concern to parents, teachers and carers throughout the country. We are often ridiculed for raising it, barraged with information on why the internet should be treated differently, bamboozled with the problem of international co-operation
and told that it is our responsibility and no one else's to keep our children safe,
I beg to differ. It is time for Britain to take a lead on the matter and for the Government, with their commitment to family friendly policies, to act. Without action, and with technological convergence, we will increasingly
be able to access internet pornography and all internet content via television, raising the prospect of this damaging and degrading material, which is shocking enough when viewed as thumbnails or on an A4-sized computer screen, being piped into
our homes and displayed in high-definition glory on 4-foot-wide television screens.
The arguments for passive acceptance and self-regulation are past their sell-by date, and it is time to regulate the provision of internet services in this country. We already successfully regulate British television
channels, cinema screens, high street hoardings and newspaper shelves to stop our children seeing inappropriate images, and mobile phone companies have come together to restrict access to adult material, so why should the internet be any
British internet service providers should share the responsibility for keeping our children safe, and there should be an opt-in system that uses age verification for access to such material. I urge the Minister to engage
with the internet service providers to set a timeline for those changes and, if they will not act, to move to regulate an industry that is doing so much damage to our children.
The UK Government is push for ISPs to block internet pornography unless parents request it.
The biggest broadband providers, including BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, are being called to a meeting next month by Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, and will be asked to change how pornography gets into homes.
Instead of using parental controls to stop access to pornography - so-called opting out - the tap will be turned off at source. Adults will then have to opt in.
It follows the success of an operation by most British internet service providers (ISPs) to prevent people inadvertently viewing child porn websites. Ministers want companies to use similar technology to shut out adult pornography from children.
TalkTalk is already introducing a new free service early next year called bright feed, which allows people to control the internet so that all devices are automatically covered without the need to set up individual controls.
Homeowners can either specify which adult sites they want to receive or put a cinema-style classification on their feed to restrict what is received according to age ranges, such as U, 12 or 18.
Vaizey said: This is a very serious matter. I think it is very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children. I'm hoping they will get their acts together so we don't have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye
on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years.
Claire Perry, the Tory MP for Devizes and a keen lobbyist for more restrictions, said: Unless we show leadership, the internet industry is not going to self-regulate. The minister has said he will get the ISPs together and say, 'Either you
clean out your stables or we are going to do it for you'. There is this very uneasy sense for parents of children that we do not have to tolerate this Wild West approach. We are not coming at this from an anti-porn perspective. We just want to
make sure our children aren't stumbling across things we don't want them to see.
Previously the Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) has told MPs that such a blanket ban would be expensive and technically difficult to operate.
But Miranda Suit, co-founder of the political 'charity' Safermedia, which held a conference on internet porn at the Commons last month, said: Technically we know it can be done because the ISPs are already removing child porn after the
government put pressure on them. In the past, internet porn was regarded as a moral issue or a matter of taste. Now it has become a mental health issue because we now know the damage it is causing. We are seeing perverse sexual behavior among
children. Legislation is both justifiable and feasible.
Commentators unimpressed by Ed Vaizey's nutter pandering website blocking
Baby Brother's watching YOU
Ed Vaizey doesn't seem to have found many takers for his ideas about website blocking at ISP level. Very few commentators can see any way whatsoever that a single shared blocking scheme can fit the requirements of the whole family.
Perhaps he would be better off suggesting some more advanced networking architectures where multiple users can have individually tailored internet connections depending on their login.
But as for the shared scheme, it deserves nothing but derision.
If something like this is set up, who will be doing the filtering? Will the people doing the filtering really be sensible, reasonable people? Or will they be experts headhunted from the BBFC and various moral
Does anyone here think that such a new internet regime would conduct itself fairly and reasonably? Would their be a level playing ground, whereby melonfarmers could have a raunchy pic in an advert on its pages and it would
get the same treatment as, say, Amazon? Are people absolutely certain that, the presence of advertisements to adult product sites would not be a wonderful excuse to close down access to sites such as melonfarmers?
People doing the filtering are invariably going to be a collection of the usual suspects.
Any idea of an appeal system will be pretty much a joke, as the whole undertaking will be so bogged down with the sheer scale of the task of finding all adult sites, that it will dedicate virtually no time to appeals.
Aside from that, appeals would be handled from the position of defending the credibility of the organisation. i.e. We must have been right, as we're the experts. Therefore the appeal must be unjustified.
The last thing Britain needs right now is another panel of self important experts on matters decent. Given that this government is supposed to be interested in cutting the number of quangos their desire to create yet
another one, strains credulity.
More busy bodies with clip boards. More self appointed moral guardians. More high handed injustice in the name of protecting us all.
Those are all great reasons not to waste untold millions of pounds either creating a government great firewall , or requiring ISPs to do the same. But here's the most important reason of all: it won't work.
Any think-of-the-children internet filter has a fundamental problem: if it's effective enough to actually block adult content, it will also be irritating enough that almost everyone will turn it off.
An effective filter would have to censor Flickr, which has a large amount of adult imagery. It has to censor every blogging platform: Tumblr, for example, has a whole swathe of porn blogs, and there are untold numbers of
sex bloggers writing reams of explicit text. And it has to censor YouTube, particularly if 4chan decide to flood it with porn again. Facebook could probably be let through, thanks to its strong filtering policies – although right now, most
mobile providers block it for under-18s anyway.
If an adult content filter allows those sites through, it fails. And if it blocks those sites, then hardly anyone will use it – and it fails.
And of course practical and monetary concerns from the ISP industry
In response to the government proposal, Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Ispa industry body, said:
Ispa firmly believes that controls on children's access to the internet should be managed by parents and carers with the tools ISPs provide, rather than being imposed top-down.
ISPs currently block child abuse content which is illegal and widely regarded as abhorrent. Blocking lawful pornography content is less clear cut, will lead to the blocking of access to legitimate content and is only
effective in preventing inadvertent access.
Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at ISP Timico said:
Unfortunately, It's technically not possible to completely block this stuff
He said the sheer volume of pornographic material online and the number of ways that people access it, via the web, file-sharing networks, news groups, discussion boards and the like, made the job impossible.
While some proponents of a national pornographic filtering scheme cite the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) as an example of how such a scheme might work, Davies said it was not a good guide. Such a system would not work if it was used to deal
with millions of porn sites, chat rooms and bulletin boards.
If we take this step it will not take very long to end up with an internet that's a walled garden of sites the governments is happy for you to see.
And what happens (politically) when censored connections still show porn?
You can bet your last dollar that the censorship will be tested to destruction by the zealots. When it fails (which I am sure it will) who will take the blame for the failure?
Remember, it will be tested to destruction because the material under test isn't illegal to seek out. No one DARE test the effectiveness of the online system of censorship of child porn because to do so, can easily make you
a criminal. It isn't the case with adult porn is it?
Shaun writes to Claire Perry about a new angle she has introduced to the internet blocking debate
Claire Perry is one the MPs most prominently campaigning for internet censorship.
She has just brought a new dimension to the debate with a tweet that caught the interest of the internet community.
She wrote on twitter:
100% of negative or abusive commentary about opt in system for internet porn is from the chaps. Women 100% positive (so far)
Shaun has emailed her to take issue with the comment:
Dear Ms Perry MP
I am sorry but I have to take issue with statements you have made! On your twitter site you wrote: 100% of negative or abusive commentary about opt in system for internet porn is from the chaps. Women 100% positive (so
For example Cheryl (presumably a girl) replied there:
If you don't want your kid to see porn, then don't leave them with a computer or anything that can access the internet, in their bedrooms or allow internet access on mobile phones. Keep all devices that access the
internet in the family area and simply disconnect the modem when you do not want your kids going online.
Also I bet at least 50% of all the internet porn your kids have seen comes not from the friendly home PC, but from their friends houses, their friends mobiles and even their school IT room. - Cheryl86, mansfield uk,
But the truth of a statement doesn't seem to be all that important to politicians does it ?
There are other women there who do NOT support your idea. You will find that the MAJORITY of people there, who are traditionally your OWN supporters do not want this.
MS Perry - I voted conservative on the ground we would get increased freedoms after the years of NL nannying which people are SICK TO DEATH of. It seems you folks are going to be even worse, and I won't be voting
conservative again unless things change very quickly. Yes there's going to an opt in so you can get the internet uncensored, so you say! The problem is that people simply do *not* trust you. They believe that a slippery slope with mission creep
will come to pass and eventually only government approved material will be allowed.
MS Perry in political speak: Censorship of this kind has no place in any kind of free and democratic country.
I have children now in their late teens, who have been online for over TWELVE years. There are ways you can monitor their access and restrict what they do without this. The internet IS NOT a child's playground.
If you persist in running a censored feed you should set it up yourselves (the government I mean) PAY for it, and then offer it to ISPs as an option, to connect through it, for those who want it. That way you cannot blame
the ISPS or fine them when it fails, which it surely will.
As for comparison with child abuse filters, already in existence, this is unfair for the following reasons:
1: The number of such sites is very small compared with the number of so called Adult sites
2: The effectiveness of the child abuse filters cannot be tested as to bypass them and download the material would turn you into a criminal. Few would dare risk that I think.
3: Adult censorship systems will be tested to destruction by both sides, those for, and those against. Those who are for, will make sure it works properly and complain when it does not. Those against, will test it, so they
can say We told you so and information how to bypass the scheme will be plastered all over the web.
MS Perry, censorship is a necessary evil and should be kept to a minimum in any kind of free country. We are not China or North Korea. Or is that the kind of environment you politicians really want to create for your
It took me a long time to wish New labour was out of power. I think I've got to that position with the current coalition already.
If you think men are against this, it is simply because men tend understand the workings of the internet more, and certainly trust the government LESS when it goes on these kinds of moral crusades. You should not really keep
taking a pot shot at men as you do. This is insulting and sexist. Yes we might be more stimulated by explicit images. There is some truth in that. That however is a product of evolution. It does not mean we don't care about keeping our children
safe. However I really would like to see more evidence of the harm, before you go on a censorship crusade. I have followed this debate for some years, ever since realised exactly how much censorship was imposed on our media back in the nineties,
compared with the much more free countries of Europe.
If you do have a censored feed, it should be one which is requested by PARENTS. I should not have to ask my ISP for my freedom of choice, and perhaps be put on a list of people who have done this. (Another fear of many
people, who are against this)
I am not a constituent, but I would be grateful for your reply, and any reassurances you might care to offer.
BTW: I find it APPALLING that a political posturing group such as SaferMedia have been granted charitable status, when I don't think there is anything remotely charitable about their activities. As far as I can tell,
they exist simply to try to persuade politcians to impose a narrow-minded Christian agenda on everyone else. I have asked the charities commission to review their decision in light of their political activities.
This proposal is likely to be politically popular – at least in some quarters. It taps into fears parents may have around sexualisation and risks to young people. It appeals to sex negative/conservative voters. It also
removes responsibility from parents who may lack confidence or familiarity with the internet and be uncertain what young people might be seeing online or know how to address this. Like many discussions within the sexualisation debate (which this
is falling under) it may seem intuitively a good move, yet there are numerous problems associated with this proposal.
Press coverage of this story has been largely uncritical. In that it has presented the proposals set out by the government without any real discussion of how workable they may be or the issues related to potential blocks
that might put young people at risk. Moreover the media have not been particularly careful to focus on the wide range of evidence addressing media effects in this area (and particularly about young people's use of online porn). Instead most media
coverage have backed up their stories with the quote from a survey from Psychologies magazine that 1/3 of young people have seen online porn (when aged under 10).
This represents part of the problem with the media on this issue. Journalists appear to believe that online porn does cause harm to young people and therefore rather than thinking more critically about sexualised culture and
youth, they accept studies that support their position.
The politically influential online community Mumsnet has withdrawn support for a campaign to make ISPs block access to all adult content unless the customer specifically asks the ISP to let them see it.
The campaign, started by Claire Perry MP with the backing of morality in media activitists SaferMedia, has received a sympathetic hearing from Ed Vaizey, the Minister for the Internet.
Mumsnet site admins assumed their community would happily support a campaign that claimed to protect children and make the ISPs take responsibility for Internet content, and established a campaign page on the website. But the campaign was
met with robust criticism from within the Mumsnet community that the proposal was technically unworkable, an illiberal censorship that would quickly lead to blocking Wikileaks, and that it was dangerous to shift blame to ISPs for bad parenting.
Perhaps the most telling argument was that the Mumsnet site itself could be blocked over its depictions of breast feeding.
The Mumsnet campaign page in favour of Internet blocking has now been deleted, leaving only a 300-entry discussion thread and write-ups by Mumsnet bloggers to document the policy blunder.
Update: Safermedia describe the Mumsnet decision as an 'hysterical reaction'
Claire Perry, who writing in yesterday's Telegraph, defended the policy of filtering the web to protect children, was surprised to learn of Mumsnet's u-turn on the matter and said that she would be taking it up with the founders of the site.
Pippa Smith, co-chairwoman of Safer Media, the Christian group behind the campaign for anti-pornography filters to be switched on by default, said: I am surprised that parents would be critical of the campaign because the idea is to help
parents. If internet users have to opt in to view pornography parents don't have to worry about protecting their children from it...I think there has to be censorship to protect children. If you're over 18 you won't be censored [under the
proposals] . [But parents will be faced with blocked websites if they have opted for filtering for their children. At the moment it would be quite tricky to set up a separately configured connection for each family
When asked about Mumsnet's about-turn on the matter, she replied: You do hear of the odd story of hysterical reactions on this kind of online forum. I'm not concerned about our campaign on the basis of what is said on one website.
O2 has been criticised by its customers after it implemented the age verification system without warning on Thursday.
Any of its 20m users who try to access a page that has been rated as 18+ will have to go through a verification page which demands a payment from a credit card.
The company insists that it has taken the step as a child protection measure. Previously it only implemented the block if the buyer or controller of a phone requested it, such as a parent buying for a child.
But the flip from the longstanding opt-in system to an opt-out system, where people have to make a payment on a credit card as an age verification measure -- on the basis that credit cards are only available and accessible to
over-18s -- has annoyed users.
Users in its forums have worried that they are being scammed, and complained that O2 is censoring them.
O2 says that the move is not censorship, and that it is not profiting from the verification process. A £ 1 payment is made, but £ 2.50 is then refunded to the
credit card and the phone is approved for full access. Customers only have to age verify once.
An O2 spokesperson acknowledged that people would have found it inconvenient and apologised for the lack of publicity for the introduction of the scheme. It could have been handled better, the spokesperson said.
News reports have also being picking on examples of over-blocking when innocuous sites have been put on the 18+ list for very little reason.
Changing to default blocking will surely make over-blocking a far greater issue. When opting for blocking, then it is presumably for the benefit of children and a 'better safe than sorry' approach makes sense. The kids just have to lump it.
But with a default blocking system, then an over-blocking approach will simply irritate users as their favourite websites get blocked for no apparent reason.
And of course there could be grounds for court compensation claims. Companies will be rightfully aggrieved if they lose business due to their websites being incorrectly blocked by O2.
One of the UK's largest ISPs has launched network-level website blocking aimed at protecting subscribers' children and their computers. While reports of HomeSafe's ability to block access to viruses, pornography and violent content has been
widespread, it also blocks file-sharing sites and even information about file sharing at
The package offers various services
Virus Alerts which blocks sites (or sections of sites) known to be infected with malware.
Homework Time , a feature which allows parents to grant kids access to the Internet for educational purposes, but stops them in their tracks should they attempt to become distracted by social networking sites such as Facebook.
KidsSafe, offers parents a set of controls to stop their kids (or indeed anyone else using a TalkTalk Internet connection) from accessing violent, pornographic or gambling content.
TalkTalk is stressing that HomeSafe is completely optional and is disabled by default. The list of blocked sites will not be made available.
Internet companies are to be forced to shield children internet pornography.
ISPs are to be given until the autumn to develop a website blocking system based on one already used to restrict access to child abuse sites. If not, laws will be introduced to make them comply.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: We are telling people that if they do not co-operate in bringing forward measures that will deal with this issue fast, we will legislate and regulate.
Research suggests that four in every five children aged 14 to 16 admit regularly accessing explicit photographs and footage on their home computers.
Only 3% of pornographic websites require proof-of-age before granting access to sexually explicit material, and two-thirds do not even include any adult-content warnings.
Under the proposed system, pornographic sites will be blocked until an adult user specifically requests access. Another possibility is a movie-type rating system only allowing adult users in the home to view such sites.
The Open Rights Group has learnt that detailed website blocking proposals have been presented by rights holder groups to Ed Vaizey.
The paper was submitted by the Football Association Premier League; the Publishers Association; BPI (British Recorded Music Industry); the Motion Picture Association; and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television.
The paper itself has not been published or circulated, despite requests to rights holder groups. The meeting on 15 June, where the paper was presented, was closed to ORG or any other rights group. Consumer Focus did attend, as the official consumer
However, it is unclear if Consumer Focus or anyone else is able to show us the proposal. In essence, we have a secret website blocking proposal tabled by rights holders, that may become a self-regulatory , privatised, censorship platform
for the UK.
It is unacceptable for trade groups and government to conduct policy in this way. Censorship proposals must be made and discussed in public. Many of us will oppose any censorship that impacts directly and widely on free expression.
UPDATE: Consumer Focus have published a response to the secret paper. This says the core of the proposal is that:
The trade associations are proposing that the Applications Court of the High Court issues permanent injunctions on the basis that a Council and expert body have come to the view that the evidence submitted by
copyright owners is valid and the blocking access to the website is appropriate.
Under the plans copyright owners would identify websites they believe are infringing their copyright and an expert body would then decide whether to recommend that a court issues an injunction banning the site from hosting infringing
material, according to the documents.
Internet service providers (ISPs) that sign-up to the code will then block access to the sites, the documents said.
Under the new code rights holders should inform websites that they are taking infringement action against them where possible and website owners should be able to appeal against ISPs blocking access to their sites, the document said.
Details of the proposals were first revealed by blogger James Firth who posted about the secret meeting on his website. Firth said a Government contact had told him Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, had
commented on the proposals, saying if it's a voluntary scheme, go and do it . This implies that Government does not need to be involved, Firth said in his blog.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has written about the contents of the next Comms Act. He outlined several of the measures in a speech to the Royal Television Society.
On topic of internet blocking of 'offensive' content he said:
When it comes to accessing material that can offend taste and decency standards in their own home, we should put consumers firmly in the driving seat.
We won't water down existing protections on traditional media, the watershed is here to stay, and I welcome the progress made by both the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and also by ISPs who have just completed work on a draft code of
practice on parental controls.
But I think we need to go further.
I will therefore consider including in the new Comms Act an obligation on ISPs to ensure all their customers make an active choice about parental controls, either at the point of purchase, or the point of account activation.
As widely reported yesterday the four biggest ISPs said they have come up with a code of practice re website blocking and parental controls.
However this does not quite mean that ISPs are automatically blocking pornographic sites, and customers who wish to see such content do not have to ask their provider for permission to do so.
In fact what the ISPs said is something a little different. For example BT said in a statement:
The ISPs have committed to improve the way they communicate to customers, enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect children online. The four ISPs
are working with parents' groups and children's charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so.
The ISPs are offering a wider range of services, not just the automatic blocking facility that has caught the attention.
All four ISPs already offer controls, and some of their users already have the feature turned on. The only change is that new customers can no longer sidestep the activation decision. A spokesperson for TalkTalk said: This is called 'active
choice' rather than an opt-in or opt-out.
In the cases of BT, Sky and Virgin Media, the parental control software is PC-based rather than network-based, and comes on the CD new customers need to set up their connection. BT said it plans to remind existing customers that they can activate
the parental controls if they wish. This will be PC software provided by the security company McAfee.
TalkTalk goes a step further, in that it uses a network-level blocking system called HomeSafe, which has already raised the ire of anti-censorship campaigners. HomeSafe has blocked one million websites since its introduction in May,
TalkTalk said in a statement, adding it hopes to see other ISPs follow its lead with network-level measures.
However, a spokesman for BT said the company is not convinced these screen material as effectively as PC-based controls, at this time . They could prove irritating and end up being unused, because they are inflexible and do not offer
the versatility of PC-based controls, the spokesman told ZDNet UK.
The government's proposed web controls are too simplistic when it comes to understanding and filtering adult material
Last week's announcement of a national scheme to block adult content at the point of subscription (as the BBC's website had it) was a moment of mass credulity on the part of the nation's media, and an example of how complex technical
questions and hot-button save-the-children political pandering are a marriage made in hell when it comes to critical analysis in the press.
Under No 10's proposal, the UK's major ISPs, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin, will invite new subscribers to opt in or out of an adult content filter. But for all the splashy reporting on this that dominated the news cycle, no one seemed to
be asking exactly what adult content is, and how the filters' operators will be able to find and block it.
Adult content covers a lot of ground. While the media of the day kept mentioning pornography in this context, existing adult filters often block gambling sites and dating sites (both subjects that are generally considered adult but
aren't anything like pornography), while others block information about reproductive health and counselling services aimed at GBLT teens (gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender).
Then there's the problem of sites that have a wide variety of content, such as the venerable LiveJournal, which contains millions of personal and shared diaries. Some of these have material that children, especially small children, shouldn't see,
but others don't. Is LiveJournal an adult site? It is, at least according to some filters.
McAfee creates blacklists of online content, categorising sites in order to let ISPs block them. BT and Sky use McAfee's lists for their parental controls, which a new Government-sponsored code of conduct requires them to offer to all
The overall process is mostly automated, with McAfee's system looking for keywords on a site to classify it. Toralv Dirro, a security strategist at McAfee's Avert labs told PC Pro. If there's any doubt, we do have a team of people that take a
look at a website and correct a classification if it's necessary. The team responsible for covering McAfee's customers worldwide is made up of between five to ten people. I think it's a fairly popular job for students, Dirro said.
However, he admits the very sites the small team is asked to judge are those that are the most subjective. Drawing the line between erotic and hardcore pornography is probably the most difficult, he said. Another thing is websites that
go into extreme left or right side [politically], but still do news or something like that.
Dirro admitted there can be difficulties when a mainstream site features material that could be deemed pornographic to some people. Maybe they had pornographic or erotic stuff on their site, which for example could happen with a newspaper
site, if they have the 'Page 3' picture of a woman on the front page. Normally, the entire site would be banned, not only the offending page. However larger sites such as The Sun have markers to prevent them from being slotted into a
category and subsequently blocked.
There's no way you can obtain the complete list from us, Dirro said, adding McAfee would never publish the full list for intellectual property reasons. If you published that list, anyone could just take it and use it and create their
If a site has been wrongly categorised, which Dirro admitted does happen, the site owner can open a ticket with support to get it changed. If McAfee refuses to change it, there's not really much that a site can do, Dirro admitted.
EFF Criticises UK Government over Gambling Filter Plans
From bingosupermarket.com by Mark Bennett
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is criticising the UK government for its plans on internet filtering. In conjunction with the Christian organization Mothers' Union, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has enacted a plan with four of
Britain's major ISPs, BT, TalkTalk, Virgin, and Sky, to block access to pornography, gambling, self-harm, and other blacklisted websites.
The EFF claims that the plan lacks transparency. The blocked categories are vague in nature, and the list's origins unknown. Not only do the categories contain legal content in some cases, but there is significant room for overblocking.
The EFF also suggests opt-in services create privacy concerns. Users who choose to opt out of the bad content filter are then on one list. The plan does not in include privacy protections for the people who choose to opt out. The list
could potentially be made public, shaming users who would prefer their Internet with its pornography, gambling, and self-harm websites intact.
The UK's four major Internet Service Providers have published a Code of Practice, putting the decision on what to block in parents' hands. Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk and Sky, said they believed parents are best-placed to decide whether to turn
controls on, and to decide what types of content and applications to block, rather than having those decisions made for them by internet firms.
The Code commits them to educating parents about content controls but does not require them to provide ISP level blocking. Instead the code commits its signatory ISPs to teaching parents about the availability of parental controls, providing
tools free of charge to filter access to the internet at the point of purchase and reminding customers of the blocking tools at their disposal at least once a year.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said he was pleased to see the industry taking action to help parents protect their children online . He said:
The new code of conduct is a real, practical step to ensure households make a choice about parental controls when opening a new internet account.
The Children's Minister Tim Loughton added:
Parents are quite rightly concerned about their children accessing harmful or inappropriate content online. But many parents don't always know how to activate parental controls at home. That's why it's important they are asked to make a choice
at the point of purchase over whether they want parental controls switched on or off.
The Church of England is threatening to use its financial power to inflict internet censorship on Britain. It is considering withdrawing the millions it has invested in ISPs unless they take action.
The Church of England, which wields significant financial clout on the markets, is reviewing investments worth tens of millions. It refuses to invest in firms which fuel the very problems Christians are trying to tackle and has already leaned
heavily on supermarkets to be more responsible in the way they sell alcohol.
A Church spokesman said members of its ethical investment advisory group are considering new guidelines on pornography which take into account how easy it is to access with modern media.
The Church of England's stance on porn was welcomed by the Reverend Nutter Richard Moy, who works with young people in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He spouted without a grain of justification:
It is not surprising that people go from soft porn to progressively more hard-core porn to the point where they are so depraved that they do things that they would never imagine doing.
I think that if people start using mild porn to gratify a need rather than looking at why they need that gratification then they will eventually move on to more disturbing things.
[On the other hand, if people don't gratify their needs, eg priests trying to be celibate, then they may eventually move on to even more disturbing things].
The number of people signing up to a ground-breaking new service to block children from accessing self-harm and pornography websites has slumped amid criticisms that it fails to achieve its aims, could breach privacy and employs technology
connected to the Chinese military.
TalkTalk ISP launched its free HomeSafe service to its 4 million internet subscribers in May, but the product has only attracted around 200,000 users despite signing up more than 100,000 in its first two months.
The slowing take-up follows HomeSafe featuring prominently in TalkTalk's recent advertising campaign which attempted to attract customers by plugging the UK's safest broadband .
Some technology blogs and websites have raised concerns that HomeSafe might be easily bypassed by dubious websites, while also querying whether the product could introduce worries about privacy.
On his blog, Dr Richard Clayton, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge, wrote:
I doubt that malware distributors will see this [HomeSafe] as much of a challenge. The system is described as 'opt in', [but] that only applies to whether or not websites you visit might be blocked. What is not opt in is whether or not TalkTalk
learns the details of the URLs [websites] that all of their customers visit, whether they have opted in or not.
The Government has toned down its support for internet blocking and moved to distance itself from a leading anti-porn campaigner.
Last year, the Government threw its weight behind the idea of ISPs blocking all porn by default unless adults specifically requested a full service.
However the ISPs didn't find this idea practical. They rolled out the compromise idea of providing blocking software to individual subscribers so that they could be tailored as required. ISP's would also ensure that these facilities would be made
crystal clear to new subscribers.
Now it appears the Government is distancing itself from the original idea of blocking porn by default at the ISP level. Foreign Secretary William Hague explained in response to an open letter from rights groups:
We believe that parents should be provided with wide tools to enable them to voluntarily block harmful and inappropriate content.
It is important to distinguish between Government encouraging people to make more use of existing protections as a matter of choice, and the Government deciding what people can and cannot do online.
Our plans do not prevent access to legal material, but seek to make it much clearer that protections exist, and to encourage their use.
The Home Secretary also distanced the Government from MP Claire Perry, who has been campaigning for a block on all porn, a stance that has raised concerns among internet freedom groups. Hague said:
The position of Claire Perry regarding the default filtering of adult content is not the position of this Government.
a. A TV ad for broadband, viewed on 12 September, featured a toy family in a dolls house, guarded by a row of toy soldiers. The voice-over said, Talk Talk homes have the UK's safest broadband thanks to HomeSafe, free for all customers. No
wonder thousands of homes join Talk Talk every day. Talk Talk, a brighter home for everyone.
b. A poster for broadband, viewed on 19 September, stated The UK's safest broadband is now £ 3.25 a month and Includes HomeSafe, the UK's first and only network level security .
c. A national press ad for broadband, viewed on 28th August, stated The UK's safest broadband £ 3.25 a month. Our great value phone and broadband gives you all this: Half price for 9 months then
£ 6.50 a month for the remaining 3 months. Our ground-breaking new security service, HomeSafe is free to all customers ... . Issue
British Telecommunications (BT) and two members of the public challenged whether the claim UK's safest broadband made in ads (a), (b) and (c) was misleading.
ASA Decision: Complaints Upheld
The ASA acknowledged that TalkTalk were the only home broadband provider to offer security features that were applied at the network level, rather than to individual devices. We noted that HomeSafe offered three features: content restriction,
which allowed parents to restrict access to inappropriate websites; virus alerts, which alerted users if they viewed a suspect website; and a feature which allowed parents to restrict access to social networking and gaming sites during certain
times of the day. We noted that most other broadband providers supplied security packages to their customers, and that these required software to be downloaded on each individual computer it was to be applied to, and that they were only able to
be used on personal computers running Windows operating systems.
We noted that TalkTalk believed that the claim Talk Talk homes have the UK's safest broadband was accurate as it was based on their being the only broadband provider to offer network level security. However, we considered that the claim
implied that customers would enjoy the safest online experience when using TalkTalk broadband. We also considered that the images shown in the ad reinforced this impression, as a father was pictured relaxing in an armchair whilst two children
used the internet, giving the impression that using TalkTalk meant the actual online experience was the safest. We considered that customers could interpret safest as referring to a number of features, such as virus protection or protection from
hacking, and that Home Safe only offered a basic range of security features. We did not consider that consumers would interpret safest as referring to blocking of inappropriate content, and restricting access to certain sites at certain
times. As Talk Talk were not able to substantiate that customers would enjoy the safest online experience with them, we concluded ad (a) was misleading.
We noted that ad (b) stated Includes HomeSafe, the UK's first and only network level security . However, we did not consider that consumers would interpret this as being the full basis for the claim UK's safest broadband , as the
word includes implied that it was only part of a fuller package. We also considered consumers were unlikely to understand what network level security meant, as it was not a commonly used term in home broadband, and that it could be
easily misinterpreted to refer to other features such as the security of the wireless connection. We considered that the claim implied that customers would enjoy the safest online experience when using TalkTalk broadband, and that the
qualification used did not sufficiently counteract this impression. As Talk Talk were not able to substantiate that customers would enjoy the safest online experience with them, we concluded ad (b) was misleading.
We noted that ad (c) stated Our ground-breaking new security service, HomeSafe is free to all customers . However, we considered that the ad did not make it clear that this was the basis for the claim UK's safest broadband , and
that the ad did not provide any details of the features provided by HomeSafe. We considered that the claim implied that customers would enjoy the safest online experience when using TalkTalk broadband, and that the qualification used did not
sufficiently counteract this impression. As Talk Talk were not able to substantiate that customers would enjoy the safest online experience with them, we concluded ad (c) was misleading.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Codes rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).
Ads (b) and (c) breached CAP Codes rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons). Action
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told TalkTalk to ensure that the basis for comparative claims was made clear in future.
Open Rights Group (ORG) are researching into the accuracy of the website blocking employed by mobile phone companies. The group wrote in its newsletter:
Last month, we asked ORG supporters to help us find sites that were being blocked by the default Adult filter on their mobile phones. Lots of you replied and asked to get involved. And thanks to that extraordinary team - we've launched a
tool to report what sites are being blocked and by whom.
We are getting regular reports and testing blocks on every mobile network. We're seeing just how bad mobile blocking is, and how bad the networks are at dealing with complaints. Forums and joke sites get banned. So do churches. Some MPs want to
extend default adult censorship to Internet at home as well: but we are already seeing how bad it is on mobile networks. ORG has already been invited to talk to O2 about their systems, as a result of this campaign.
Meanwhile thank to a reader who wrote to MelonFarmers:
Just to let you know; the mobile network Three are blocking access to your site through their 3G networks - The site works fine on Wi-Fi, but on 3G you get asked to contact Three to get a pin to unblock the site, as
they have it listed as an Adult content site.
They charge 99p to allow access to adult sites (And it's not straightforward, takes a while to find the right place to do it.).
They have also blocked Movie-Censorship.com, same reason as above.
Open Rights Group and Tor have established that UK mobile networks such as Vodafone, O2 and 3 are blocking UK users' access to
Tor's primary website (meaning the Tor Project website, rather than connections to the Tor network) on pre-paid contractless accounts.
Tor helps people stay anonymous online. Some examples of how it has been used include those trying to avoid oppressive state censorship in places such as Iran, through to abuse victims in the UK.
There is a
blog post by Jacob Appelbaum with more technical details about the blocking on UK mobile networks over at the Tor blog.
Searching for torproject.org reveals that it is blocked because it falls into the category of anonymiser . (Orange also say that they block content that falls into the anonymiser category - but it does not seem that Tor is
blocked on Orange.) It's unlikely that mobile operators are targeting Tor, and more likely that anonymisation tools generally are blocked.
It was initially established that Tor was blocked initially through the new tool blocked.org.uk.
openrightsgroup.org are asking for help in monitoring how blocking on mobile networks works by reporting when you come across incorrectly applied blocks.
Open Rights Group will be meeting with mobile operators over the next few weeks to talk about making sure that they can both help parents manage their children's mobile Internet use and avoid clumsy implemented blocking. Some are better at
aspects of this than others (Orange provide an overview of the categories they block, for example.) But none implement a transparent and clear policy that puts users in charge.
From the end of next month new subscribers to TalkTalk broadband will be unable to activate their internet connection until they specify any categories of website access that they would like to block.
The TalkTalk ISP has defined nine categories of websites, including porn, dating, gambling, gaming, suicide, social networking and weapons + violence, that can be blocked. Subscribers will be alerted automatically either by email or text if the
controls are subsequently changed.
TalkTalk already provides subscribers with the opportunity to block access to websites through its HomeSafe service, but currently they not prompted to choose website blocking and the default is for no sites to be blocked. So far 240,000
subscribers have elected for website blocks to be imposed.
The children's minister, Tim Loughton, praised TalkTalk and said he hoped other internet service providers would offer similar services shortly:
Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety we are working with industry and charities to provide tools and information to inform parents and help keep children safe online.
Meanwhile a little propaganda for cyberbullying parents
Parents who are not technology savvy are putting their children are at risk from exposure to unsuitable content on the internet, claim two studies.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre and IT firm Westcoastcloud, have warned that not all parents have put internet blocking controls on their computers.
Further, even the majority of those who have put controls in place have not considered doing the same on other household devices that access the internet.
A Mori poll, commissioned by Ceop, showed that about 8% in the UK, aged between five and 15, are regular users of the internet.
But the study from Westcoastcloud, a division of Glasgow-based cloud computing specialist Iomart, revealed that only half of parents have installed software to protect their offspring while only one in four has installed similar protection
on the mobile phones, games consoles and television services.
Technology has transformed people's lives both collectively and individually, said Peter Davies, chief executive of the Ceop Centre and the senior police officer leading on child protection on the internet for the Association of Chief
Police Officers: But too often we see examples of where the child is at risk because they make simple online mistakes -- because they are lured in or push the boundaries too far and risk their safety.
The Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) is knocking Britain's new plan that requires surfers to select whether or not they want internet blocking, calling it nothing less than censorship.
The ISPAI said the responsibility should lie with parents policing what their children view on the web and not the business of the U.K. government. ISPAI's Paul Duran told the Irish Independent:
If Internet service providers are dictating what can be accessed, then that could be seen as nothing less than censorship. Essentially we would be deciding what would be the inappropriate material. That should be left to the parents or
The ISPAI represents 20 ISPs in Ireland including Eircom, O2, Vodafone and UPC.
Critics of the British move said there are a number of practical issues that are being overlooked and need to be addressed. The restrictions could lump in websites that do not contain sexually explicit material.
Digital law expert JP McIntyre said:
Many of these blocking issues are easy to circumvent, but what they do tend to do is damage people who have been wrongly blocked. You'll find that shops selling things like lingerie get blocked by these filters,
Very often there are no appeal mechanisms or they are very hard to use and in the meantime people find that their businesses are suffering because people can't access their sites and they don't know why.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald refused to comment on whether there were any plans to persuade Irish ISPs to adopt the British model.
Through reports to the
blocked.org.uk site, we have established that Orange UK are filtering access to La Quadrature Du Net's website on pre-paid mobile accounts.
La Quadrature Du Net is similar to ORG -- it is an advocacy group that seeks to defend citizen's fundamental rights on the Internet. They have been a leading voice in the growing movement to oppose the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, behind
which so much momentum is gathering. They have provided detailed analyses alongside practical suggestions about how to help with the political effort to oppose the treaty.
Searching for LQDN's website on Orange pre-pay handsets leads to a warning that Orange Safeguard has classified this page as only suitable for people over the age of 18. LQDN's site does not contain any such material. But it still falls
within the parameter of adult-related material.
That La Quadrature Du Net is blocked under such a policy highlights the need for change. The problem of over-blocking is being exacerbated by a lack of transparency (so that it's not clear what is blocked and to whom) and the problems users
experience trying to opt-out.
We're gathering more evidence of the scale of the over-blocking problem through blocked.org.uk site, and you can help by reporting inappropriate blocks you find. We're currently in the process of meeting the mobile operators and the Mobile
Broadband Group to tell them our concerns and outline how we think the problems can be addressed. More efficient measures need to be implemented in order to allow parents to implement tools to try to manage their children's Internet use whilst
ensuring that adults are not subject to unnecessary censorship.
The first legislative attempt to introduce an opt-in system for accessing adult internet content, has been introduced to the House of Lords. Of course private members bills have little chance of becoming law unless they capture a large consensus
of support including the government.
The Online Safety Private Members Bill was introduced by Baroness Elspeth Howe, who wants to require ISPs and mobile phone companies to block adult content, unless an adult user specifically asks for it.
And the bill has predictably won the backing of the Christian campaign group CARE, who claim it is important that the government look at providing a safe online environment for web savvy children.
The Private Members Bill is calling for ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide a service that allows adult customers to make decisions about what sort of content they want blocking on their home broadband or their children's mobile phones.
Howe's Bill is based on MP Claire Perry's campaign. The government said at the time that they are in favour of the proposals put forward, but would like the industry to self-regulate and bring about these changes without amending primary
legislation. Last year the industry made the pledge to bring forward self-regulatory measures, but did not go as far as endorsing the requirement to have an opt-in to access pornography through a filter at network level.
Historically, most internet content has escaped regulation. A laudable industry-wide effort in the UK resulted in the Clean Feed system that blocks illegal child abuse imagery, but there has always been a reluctance to block, or limit access to,
other forms of adult material due to the international nature of internet content.
Elspeth Howe's Bill introduced to the House of Lords a few days ago required ISPs to default to a censored internet feed until an adult subscriber requests otherwise and verifies that they are adult.
The bill also requires internet devices to be sold with pre-installed blocking software and to provide information about internet safety.
However it is a private members bill and is rather muddying the water for alternative initiatives undertaken by industry in response to pressure from the government and nutter campaigners.
For the moment the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said it would not support the bill, as industry was already taking steps to address the issue. A DCMS spokesman said:
We understand the sentiment behind this Private Members Bill, but it isn’t something that Government would support. Much can be achieved through self-regulation and it can be more effective than a regulatory approach in delivering flexible
solutions that work for both industry and consumers.
Howe's Bill reads:
Online Safety Bill (HL Bill 137)
1 Duty to provide a service that excludes pornographic images
(1) Internet service providers must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes pornographic images unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.
(2) Where mobile telephone network operators provide a telephone service to subscribers which includes an internet access service, they must ensure this service excludes pornographic images unless all the conditions of
subsection (3) have been fulfilled.
(3) The conditions are---
(a) the subscriber opts-in to subscribe to a service that includes pornographic images;
(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and
(c) the provider of the service has an age verification policy which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over.
(4) In subsection (3)---
opts-in means a subscriber notifies the service provider of his or her consent to subscribe to a service that includes pornographic images.
2 Duty to provide a means of filtering online content
Manufacturers of electronic devices must provide customers with a means of 20filtering content from an internet access service at the time the device is purchased.
3 Duty to provide information about online safety
Internet service providers and mobile telephone network operators must provide prominent, easily accessible and clear information about online safety to customers at the time the internet service is purchased and shall make
such 5information available for the duration of the service.
Note, the definition of “pornographic” is taken from the Dangerous Pictures Act:
An image is “pornographic” if it is of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.
Claire Perry's parliamentary inquiry sponsored by Premier Christian Media has reiterated her call for a default ISP block on adult content.
Anyone wanting to view hardcore images online [or any other adult content such as Melon Farmers] would have to opt out of the default blocking, according to a panel of MPs and peers looking into child protection.
Their report said that six out of ten children download adult material because their parents have not installed filters. The use of blocking filters in homes has fallen from 49% to 39% in the last three years.
They concluded that parents were often outsmarted by their web-savvy children and felt unconfident in updating and downloading content filters. Many parents were oblivious to the type of material available on the internet and were often
'shocked' when they realised the content that children were accessing.
Claire Perry, the Tory MP who chaired the non-governmental Parliamentary Inquiry on Online Child Protection, said:
This is hugely worrying. While parents should be responsible for their children's online safety, in practice, people find it difficult to put content filters on the plethora of internet-enabled devices in their homes.
The inquiry called for ISPs to offer one-click filtering for all devices within a year. This would block out adult content for all domestic broadband users and stop them accessing pornography on mobiles and iPads as well as PCs and
The inquiry said that the Government should launch an official inquiry into internet filtering and ministers should seek backstop legal powers to intervene should the ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution .
Carefully selected witnesses before the inquiry pointed to changes in the availability of hard-core images: As a result, more hard-core imagery is now available in the "free shop front" of commercial porn sites, the report said.
It also found that only 3% of porn sites asked for proof of age and 66% did not contain any warning that they were for adults only.
Comment: Claire Perry's default blocking would censor adults and fail children
Commenting on Claire Perry's committee findings, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said:
These recommendations, if enacted, would endanger children, create disruption for small business, and would not work technically.
Default filtering is a form of censorship. Adults should not have to opt out of censorship. Governments should not be given powers to default censor legal material that adults see online.
Our work on mobile networks is showing that default censorship is disrupting businesses, campaign groups and bloggers. Yet it is trivial for a child to avoid the network blocking that Claire Perry recommends - sites using https are invisible to
network blocks. Furthermore, default blocks may be appropriate for some older children, but too weak for others.
Parents need help, but 'default blocking' is an appalling proposal.
Comment: And for a little light relief, why not try the Daily Mail. They do a Jackson Pollox, throwing all sorts of negative terms at an empty canvas, to see what mess it makes
Naomi Gummer, a public policy analyst at Google, said it was a myth that laws can prevent children from viewing explicit material, because the pace of technological development would render legislation a blunt instrument .
MPs are calling on the Government to introduce an opt-in system which would mean users would be automatically excluded from accessing internet pornography unless they specifically indicated they wanted to view them.
But Miss Gummer said many parents are complicit in allowing their children to view social networking sites despite being too young and only a minority of children had been upset by what they had seen online.
She told a conference of child welfare experts:
The idea that laws can adequately protect young people is a myth. Technology is moving so fast that legislation is a blunt tool for addressing these challenges. But also the truth is that parents are complicit in their kids using underage social
networking sites. It is about education, not using legislative leavers.
She added that the extent of sexual content online was exaggerated:
25% of kids have seen sexual images, but only 14% saw them online. Of that, 4% say they were upset by the images, 2% of those images are hard-core and violent and the rest is nudity in the same way as perhaps seen in the offline world.
Meanwhile nanny statist Claire Perry doesn't believe in censorship...BUT...
Senior Labour MPs have supported a default block on adult websites.
Jenny Chapman, the shadow minister for justice, and Helen Goodman, the shadow minister for culture, media and sport, pledged their support.
In an article for the Daily Mail they condemned the access to pornography as a modern-day form of pollution . They wrote:
Children are regularly seeing pornography and sometimes being groomed for sex. Righting these wrongs is not an attack on civil liberties. Adults will still have the choice to access material they want to see.
But in a civilised society we must also protect our children. What we want to see is the same balance of rights and responsibilities as we have in the real world.
They also claimed that sales of televisions with internet access meant even more children will be one click from the strongest material .
They attacked Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's proposal, which involves asking the four major ISPs to offer new customers the chance to opt out of access to pornography. They argue it would be 2017 before the proportion of households included
reached 90%. They added that the plan does not go nearly far enough.
I've written extensively on the subject of web blocking to protect children from harmful content like pornography so I'll try and keep this short.
If you turned the internet off tomorrow you wouldn't stop kids getting hold of digital porn
General content filtering is impractical and imperfect. It doesn't even stop all accidental or incidental exposure and it certainly doesn't stop a motivated person or child getting to what they want with minimum technical
Content filters over-block and prevent access to clean, lawful content and this impacts legitimate businesses
Even if content filters got much better, there is no one-size fits all. If you have children aged 7, 11 and 15 there is clearly content OK for a 15-year-old you wouldn't want your 7-year-old watching. So what level of
content filtering do you want enabled by default on all connections?
Some people think that customers should have to choose to have their internet service filtered (an opt-in service), other people think that internet services should all be filtered unless customers ask for their service to be unfiltered (an
Opt-in (someone's internet service should only be filtered if they ask for it) 57% in support
Opt-out (people's internet service should be filtered unless they ask for it not to be) 36% in support
Don't know 8%
In fact the majority polled support the option for internet blocking, not that it should be imposed by default
They are right. Network level blocking is not the silver bullet may have portrayed it to be. Easily avoided, it is a crude tool that carries serious risks, from blocking legitimate business content to introducing new security risks into the
One in three new customers choose to activate TalkTalk's network based website blocking feature, according to a recent statement.
TalkTalk introduced the network-based content blocking feature it calls HomeSafe in May 2011 with Active Choice for new customers, meaning that new customers are forced to make a positive choice whether or not to activate the
feature, there is no default option.
TalkTalk is considering applying this Active choice rule to existing customers too, but ordinary customer churn gradually increases the number who have faced it, which TalkTalk estimates will reach 1 million households by March 2013.
The past few days have seen a lot of attention given to the neo Mary Whitehouse campaign for default censorship. It's important to remember that filtering systems are fallible - for example, they catch too much content, whether by
accident or abuse.
Today we happened upon a fine example. Through our reporting website
Blocked.org.uk , we established that the website of anti-violence advocates
Conciliation Resources is blocked by mobile networks Orange, O2 and Vodafone by their child protection filters.
Here's what Conciliation Resources actually do:
supports people at the heart of conflicts who are striving to find solutions. We work with them to deepen our collective understanding of the conflict, bring together divided communities and create opportunities for them to resolve their
I had a look around the site, and I couldn't find any pornography. Or any reason why it would be a bad idea for a young person to have access to the site.
Maybe its blocked simply because it frequently uses the word 'violence', eg in the strapline: Preventing violence, building peace.
This is clearly a mistake. But it demonstrates a key flaw with Internet filtering. It tends to block far too much content, both because the categories of blockable content are so vague and broad (see Orange's categories below) and because the
systems doing the filtering make mistakes. And because the decisions are made on the cheap as there are so many websites to get through.
Anonymizers: These sites allow you to browse the Internet and access content anonymously.
Anorexia - Bulimia: Promoting and instigating eating disorders.
Gambling: Access to online gambling such as casinos and any other online services that let you place bets.
Chat: Where you chat in real time to people you don’t know.
Bombs: Explaining how to prepare, make, build and use explosives and explosive devices.
Dating: Websites for match-making where the user can meet other people - make friends, find a partner, etc.
Forums: Where you’re invited to take part in discussions on predetermined topics with people you don’t know.
Pornography: Websites with a pornographic or sexual content.
Racism: Sites promoting racist behaviour based on culture, race, religion, ideology, etc.
Sects: Websites on universally acknowledged sects. Within this category URLs are included on organizations that promote directly or indirectly: (i) group, animal or individual injuries, (ii) esoteric practices,
(iii) content that sets a bad example for young children: that teaches or encourages children to perform harmful acts or imitate dangerous behaviour, (iv) content that creates feelings of fear, intimidation, horror, or psychological terror, (v)
Incitement or depiction of harm against any individual or group based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic, religious or national identity.
Violence: Containing openly violent content and/or that promote violence or defend it.
Perhaps the blocking decisions could be made robust by allowing business and campaigns such as Conciliation Resources a straightforward process to sue for lost earnings and donations from incompetent censorship
TalkTalk, which provides web access to 4million subscribers, already offers new customers the option of activating blocking for websites with adult themes. Now it has said it will be the first company to ask both new and existing subscribers
whether they want to block adult content.
TalkTalk's filter, HomeSafe, blocks sites categorised as unsuitable for under-18s, including those related to pornography, suicide, self harm, gambling, dating, drugs and weapons. But it also blocks websites for strong language, references to sex
and any sites that happen to contain a few words that trigger automated classification software.
It has been available to customers since May last year, but only if they requested it. From March this year, new subscribers have been asked to choose whether or not they want the filter.
Now the company wants to force all of its customers to decide whether they want access to adult material, with a view to making them choose their settings once a year.
It is believed other internet providers will introduce a system in October which will be more tailored to devices and individuals.
A new report from Open Rights Group and LSE Media Policy Project reveals widespread over-blocking on mobile networks, helping to demonstrate why we shouldn't accept default-on adult Internet filtering
Today we're launching a new report called Mobile internet censorship: what's happening and what we can do about it , which is a joint publication with LSE Media Policy Project.
The report is about how mobile operators' child protection filters work. It shows how systems designed to help parents manage their childrens' access to the Internet can actually affect many more users than intended and
block many more sites than they should. It reveals widespread overblocking, problems with transparency and difficulties correcting mistakes.
We argue that mobile operators need to offer an active choice , be far more transparent and open, and provide easier ways to address errors.
More broadly, the report helps emphasise that the neo Mary Whitehouse campaign for default blocks, led by Claire Perry MP is calling for the wrong solution in looking to default on filtering. The lessons from
mobile filtering suggest fixed-line Internet filtering should concentrate on users and devices rather than networks, be properly described as parental controls (because the content blocked is far broader than adult sexual material) and
above all involve an active choice , not be set by default.
Without that guarded approach, seemingly simple, laudable goals such as protecting children through technical intervention may have significant harmful and unintended consequences for everybody's access to information.
The report is based on reports of inappropriate blocks provided to our website
Blocked.org.uk through January to March. These were cases where sites or services were blocked that should not have been. Working with a small group of volunteers, we received over 60
reports, including personal and political blogs, sites for restaraunts, and community sites. Here are some examples:
Biased-BBC (www.biased-bbc.blogspot.co.uk) is a site that challenges the BBC's impartiality. We established it was blocked on O2 and T-Mobile on 5th March.
St Margarets Community Website (www.stmgrts.org.uk), is a community information site created by a group of local residents of St Margarets, Middlesex. Their mission is simple - help foster a stronger community
identity. We established it was blocked on Orange and T-Mobile on 8th March.
The Vault Bar (www.thevaultbar.co.uk) in London. We established that the home page of this bar was blocked on Vodafone, Orange, and T-Mobile on 6th February.
Shelfappeal.com was reported blocked on 15th February 2012 on Orange. This is a blog that features items that can be placed on a shelf.
'Tor' (www.torproject.org). We established that the primary website of this privacy tool (meaning the HTTP version of the Tor Project website, rather than connections to the Tor network) was blocked on at least Vodafone,
O2 and Three in January.
La Quadrature du Net (www.laquadrature.net/en). The website of this French digital rights advocacy group was reported blocked on Orange's Safeguard system on 2nd February. La Quadrature du Net has become one
of the focal points for European civil society's political engagement with an important international treaty called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The block was removed shortly after we publicised the blocking.
The ORG report contains mystery shopper examples to see how various phone companies handle complaints about false blocking:
Re 3 Mobile Phone Company
We reported to 3 that the site
melonfarmers.wordpress.com - a conspiracy theory discussion site - was blocked. The customer services representative asked what message we received when trying to access the site. We told them we were shown a blocking screen telling us
over-18 blocking was enabled. We were advised that 'adult sites' were automatically blocked on all pay-as-you- go 3 mobile phones.
However, we were not asked what site we were attempting to access, despite our insistence that it contained no adult material. We were then asked if we were having issues accessing other sites like Google or the BBC, and replied no. Again, the
representative concluded that the content filter was working correctly and that the site we were trying to access must have some sort of adult material on it, hence its blocking. When we asked 3 how the company classifies blocked websites, the
representative told us that 3 does not make the rules, and that the government' does. We were also informed that no record is made of sites which are reported as incorrectly blocked and our phone would be unblocked once we provided age
This experience seems somewhat at odds with the official propaganda about overblocking. In an
bbc.com , Hamish MacLeod, chairman of the Mobile Broadband Group, claimed:
Even allowing for the ORG missing a few, 60 misclassified websites does not amount to anything that could reasonably be described as 'censorship', particularly when mobile operators are happy to remove the filters when customers show they are
over 18 and will re-classify websites when misclassifications are pointed out to them.
This is how the small handful of websites that get referred to mobile operators each year are already dealt with.
Perhaps a small handful of websites because operators are told to willfully ignore such requests
Offsite Comment: ISPs Censor the BNP, Lifestyle an dTechnology Sites
A number of British mobile networks are blocking the far-right British National Party's website, it has been revealed.
Following a report by LSE Media Policy Project and Open Rights Group (ORG) on mobile internet censorship, a number of web-users alerted ORG that the BNP's website is blocked on a variety of mobile networks if child protection filters are active,
once again raising the question of the efficacy of online filtering systems.
Proposals forcing a default block on adult content would be a mistake , Google has said. Speaking at its Big Tent forum, the company warned against allowing private companies to manage lists of inappropriate websites.
Sarah Hunter, Google's head of public policy, said the search giant was strongly in favour of education over technical measures. She said:
We believe that children shouldn't be seeing pornography online. We disagree on the mechanisms. It's not that easy
There is a problem about the extent to which we deskill parents by giving them simple solutions.
We should be making more effort than we've done in the past to make sure parents really do know the risks children face online.
TalkTalk ISP recently introduced an option for parents to block adult content at a network level.
It's a great way of managing what children can see. We don't see that as censorship, it's about choice, said Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk's executive director of strategy and regulation. However, he warned against filters being on by default,
describing it as a slippery slope:
I think the government should be encouraging ISPs to offer [blocking]. Certainly do not force them to turn it to default on. We step over this Rubicon into a dangerous world.
TalkTalk's filtering system is managed by security firm Symantec. It administers a list of blocked sites.
Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship, warned against the privatisation of freedom of expression:
Who decides what is blocked? Who puts together these lists? This is a form of censorship.
We're talking about putting legal communication, information, either out of bounds or something you have to turn on to be part of that free world.
Presumably these services were designed for parents to implement on their kid's internet devices. In this scenario, 'better safe than sorry' makes sense and the kids aren't going to worry about missing a few things. However this approach is
inadequate for a 'one size fits all' model applied to the whole family. The censors the need to ditch their gung-ho over-blocking and take a little bit more time (and money) to properly classify sites for age.
But if you are responsible for a site and have found it is blocked, you will also want to get in touch with the mobile networks concerned to check that it is blocked on their network and to get the site removed from the filters so everybody can
access it again.
One of the points in our report was that it can be too difficult to do this - you can read about Coadec's problems trying to get their site removed from Orange's Safeguard on their blog.
The mobile networks have told us they are working on improving the way that these reports can be made, which is great. I wanted to do a quick update on progress so far. So I asked the networks what the best way to get in touch with them about
this would be. If you are trying to contact the operators to get your site unblocked, here's what the networks offer at the moment:
For the moment, Vodafone have asked that these requests go to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
They are planning to have a more specific address available soon. [The mediaRelations email address just about sys it all]
Orange and T-Mobile
The email address to use is email@example.com and can be used for reports relating to both Orange and T-Mobile.
O2 have a useful
URL checker , which also allows people to check sites' classification - which says whether and why a site is blocked - and to report if they consider the site to be classified incorrectly.
Three told us their official position at the moment is: if a Three customer believes a website is being incorrectly blocked then they should call our Customer Services team. We are currently reviewing how best customers can contact us to
report these concerns.
According to Recombu, Claranet ISP wants to produce a website blocking system to address child protection concerns. But rather than just using common sense to define what should be blocked, it turned to religious groups to decide.
To make matters worse, Claranet wants to use volunteer guardians to decide on the blocking. This means that it will not even be recognised people from churches or religious groups, just those who want to have a go at censorship.
In religious groups, the sorts of people who volunteer for this kind of thing are a special breed who often think that their own religious leaders have got it wrong. These are the sort who think that Jesus tells them to censor all references to
ankles, or that other religions are run by demons.
The company says it is recruiting volunteer guardians from a number of different organisations. A statement said that it had an Islamic advisor and that campaigner Sara Payne was on the team.
The Claranet guardians will be asked to choose whether they think 140 different categories of internet content are appropriate for the kids of today. The guardians can choose to add or remove individual websites from the blacklists. The
blacklists are created by a third-party company that Claranet refused to name.
And as TechEye says:
Of course, most people who want a religious filter are the types who want to be told about sex or relationships by someone who has sworn not to have done either.
Sky has announced that its public Wi-Fi service, The Cloud, will begin blocking adult related content as standard from October.
The move means shops, venues and other commercial buildings covered by The Cloud's network that want a children's internet service will have their wireless broadband filtered automatically.
Lyssa McGowan, Sky's brand director for communications products said:
We believe this will give parents the peace of mind that when their children access content over Sky networks outside the home, where we can't offer individual parental controls, they will be similarly protected as when in the home.
The Cloud will be the first Wi-Fi operator in the UK to take this step.
The Daily Mail has reported that David Cameron is to bully parents into signing up for impractical internet censorship.
In future, anyone buying a new computer or signing up with a new ISP will be asked whether they have children when they log on for the first time.
Those answering yes will automatically be taken through the process of installing website blocking for content with an adult theme. They will then be subjected to a series of questions about how stringent they want censorship to be.
There will be an option to impose a watershed on adult interest material, and to prevent children viewing social networking sites such as Facebook during certain hours of the day.
Ministers will also demand that ISPs impose appropriate measures to ensure that those setting the parental controls are over 18.
And they will be told to prompt existing customers to install porn blocking technology.
The proposals, due to be announced by the Government later this month, go much further than previously suggested.
Offsite Comment: Victory in sight: government signals climb down from default filtering?
Ministers have stepped back from forcing telecommunications companies to filter websites for online pornography after parents rejected the idea in a government-sponsored consultation.
A report released by the department for education and the home office instead said that internet service providers will be asked to advise and steer parents towards making an active choice by offering software that blocks out pornography
and self-harming sites.
The decision follows a 10-week public consultation process. David Cameron had indicated as recently as last month that he wanted firms to follow the lead of TalkTalk, which was the first big name internet service provider to introduce
network-level filtering of websites for its customers.
The report, released with little fanfare, said:
It is... clear that in accepting that responsibility, parents want to be in control, and that it would be easier for them to use the online safety tools available to them if they could learn more about those tools.
They also want information about internet safety risks and what to do about them. 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
In fact the figures for all those that responded to the consultation showed:
14% in favour of default ISP blocking
85% opposed to default ISP blocking
The campaign for greater curbs against online porn had been led by the Tory MP Claire Perry, and was followed up by the Daily Mail.
The industry pointed out that Perry's plans were unworkable.
The Government will now go to work with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to help parents with the knowledge and tools required to provide flexible and workable parental control.
The Daily Mail is claiming a victory in spurring David Cameron into supporting its cause in getting parents to opt for internet blocking albeit not the overly blunt default ISP blocking. (But the Daily Mail clearly aren't quite fully committed to
the anti-sexualisation cause. They have done a fine job traumatising all the 'sensitive' young girls who worry that they will never be as sexy as
Kate Moss in bikini showing a bit of nipple) .
In an article for the Daily Mail, the Prime Minister says it is utterly appalling that so many children have been exposed to the darkest corners of the internet, adding: A silent attack on innocence is under way in our country
today and I am determined that we fight it with all we've got.
He announces that Conservative MP Claire Perry is to be appointed as his adviser on reversing the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. She will be in charge of implementing the new web blocking system, which will also require
internet providers to check the age of the person setting controls.
Cameron explained why he does not go along with the idea of default ISP blocking.
Some might ask why, then, this Government has not taken the route of default on filters for new computers, so that each one that is bought comes with blanket filters for all unsuitable content. There's a simple reason why we haven't done
this: all the evidence suggests such a crude system wouldn't work very well in practice. With the system, when people switch on their new computer, a question will pop up asking if there are children in the house. If there are, then parents will
be automatically prompted to tailor their internet filters
With the system, when people switch on their new computer, a question will pop up asking if there are children in the house. If there are, then parents will be automatically prompted to tailor their internet filters (posed by model)
Take the experience of one parent I met. She has a tablet computer which her young daughter sometimes plays games on. It's got straightforward on/off filters, so she turned the filter on to protect her daughter.
However, the filters were so wide-ranging that she then found she couldn't access things like TV stations on demand; they were blocked too.
The result? She just switched the filter off again, as it was becoming annoying.
The point is we need a more sophisticated system than this -- one that allows parents to tailor exactly what their children can see.
Ministers are understood to have imposed a timetable on internet providers, who will be required to produce detailed plans by February on ensuring that all parents are giving the option of imposing filters.
Cameron says that when people switch on a new computer, they will be asked if there are children in the house -- and if they answer yes, they will be automatically prompted to tailor internet filters. They will include options to block particular
kinds of content, individual sites or restrict access at specific times of the day. If parents click through the options to set up a new system quickly, filters against pornography and self-harm sites will be automatically left on.
Perry said effective checks on the age of a person setting up filters -- probably using credit card details and the electoral roll -- would be vital to ensure children could not get round the new system.
When the Department of Education last week released the results of its public consultation on whether or not pornography should be automatically banned by internet providers, the overriding message was clear. There was no great appetite
among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet, the Department declared. What parents wanted, instead, was the option to filter content and better knowledge of how to do that in order to protect their children from
After months of threatening internet providers with an automatic porn ban, the Government seemed to relent and recognise that policing the internet was primarily a job for parents, not the state. Yet in the course of just a few days Downing
Street appears to have swung back the other way after receiving a mauling in the Daily Mail.
Cameron envisages is a system whereby anyone installing a new computer at home and connects to the web will be asked whether there are any children in the home. If there are, parents will be automatically required to tailor their internet
blocking. If a parent skips too quickly through the filter process the highest restrictions will automatically remain in place. It will be the job of internet providers, rather than computer manufacturers, to come up with the blocking software.
Downing Street officials insisted that the announcement was not a U-turn on porn filters and that Cameron's announcement was simply a way of illustrating what the Government has planned to give parents more control. But the onus is nonetheless
firmly placed on internet providers to come up with mandatory blocking with Whitehall sources indicating that a legislative backstop would be brought in they refused to co-operate.
That has caused concern among web providers, most of whom already offer content filters to their customers as a matter of course. One source involved in negotiations with the Government described Cameron's announcement as an example of goal
posts being moved .
This is a back-of-the-fag-packet policy reversal announced after the Government's own public consultation decided just a week ago that further filtering wouldn't work, said Jim Killock, from Open Rights Group, which campaigns against
Nick Pickles, from the Big Brother Watch, added: Mr Cameron seems to be suggesting a combination of network filtering and device filtering that isn't even available at the moment, let alone possible. The danger here is it will alienate the
ISPs who thought they'd been involved in the consultation process.
One of Perry's big themes is empowering parents to be able to take back control of a space she feels adults have largely ceded to our children . It's clear that she sees leaving a child to their own devices in the online world as akin to
leaving a child to wander through a city alone at night, and it's time for parents to take back control. She said:
People say it's so difficult to keep our kids off the laptop. There is a router. You control the wifi. So put it in your bedroom, for example, and switch it off when you go to bed, and then the household is internet free all night.
It's common sense, people are like, wow, somehow they just don't think. It's like locking the doors, it's like making sure the blind cords aren't hanging into your child's cot. This, I think, if it's a problem for you, you've got the power to
Beyond reminding parents of their own responsibilities, Perry is working on a filter to keep children safe online. The plan is for a filter that checks the age of the child browsing, rather than her original call for all users to opt-in to
accessing adult content on their computer, which a government consultation rejected.
All public wifi will have an automatic block on adult material.
BSkyB has claimed that computer-based parental controls were not enough to protect kids who use web-based services on a variety of devices. So network-level filtering will be applied to the service at some point in 2013.
The company quietly announced its plan in a blog post by Sky brand director Lyssa McGowan:
[W]e've been investigating ways to help provide a whole-home solution in which web content can be filtered out not by a particular device, but at a household-level so that parents can define the type of access they want blocked and the
filtering will apply across all connected devices in the home.
And I'm delighted to be able to confirm that Sky has committed to offering a whole-home solution to all of our more than 4 million broadband customers. We will also introduce reporting tools to parents so they will know each and every time any
changes have been made to the settings they've applied, to ensure they are happy with the settings at all times.
It's not yet clear whether website blocking will be turned on by default but it would be most likely be offered as an option to those that request it.
In December, Prime Minister David Cameron described on-by-default network-level web filters as a crude system for blocking inappropriate content. The blocking is so overbroad and low quality that adults soon ask for the blocking to be
The question of what exactly constitutes pornography, as always, is problematic no matter where such laws might be implemented. Sex is sex is sex, you say? People pay to watch fully-clothed women do unspeakable things to bowls of jelly
specifically for the purposes of sexual arousal. The I know it when I see it obscenity argument, aka the Hicklin Test, is indicative of the sort of thinking that usually surrounds such issues. Would we have to appoint a Pornfinder General?
What about your own naughty photos? Would they be banned too?
People would rightly be concerned about the status of private entertainment. Would partners taking naughty pictures of each other for their private consumption be prosecuted? Or is it only paying for it that's considered problematic? In that case
what about the people in Iceland who pay to advertise on swinger's websites or go to fetish club nights? Britain's culture of swinging, dogging, and fetish clubs is leaps and bounds beyond Iceland's, by the way. How can you tell the difference
between images produced for free and images produced for pay, or who the intended audience is? And who gets prosecuted?
How do you delete people's hard drive?
Finally there is the reality of porn consumption in countries like Iceland and Britain that have had longstanding access to internet porn: people who view porn online don't just stream it, they save it. Would it be possible to eliminate the porn
already in the country? Of course not. Would it be feasible to stop people from being able to share it through peer-to-peer applications, email attachments, and the myriad other ways of transferring files? Unlikely. Is any government prepared to
institute and pay for a system by which all of the country's electronic traffic passes through some checking bottleneck?
People can and did exchange contraband information long before the advent of the internet. They always will. And if so, be prepared for early-90s computing skills re-emerging - you know, back in the pre-World Wide Web days when internet porn
collectors used to share and decode files. Simply applying some iteration of a pink block filter wouldn't stop this.
Extract: Even Russia Today has published an article about the stupidity of porn blocking
A former MI5 agent Annie Machon warns, this could be a slippery slope to even more censorship from the government.
RT: If Iceland introduces this ban, what effect would that have on the rest of the world?
AM: I think it is unlikely that they will introduce it. But if they do, then I think it is very quickly going to be seen as failed. As I said people will find a way to tunnel around it, they will be up against the innovation of the porn industry.
So, it would probably be a failed experiment within a year or two. But I think if a western country seen to be doing this it will be a justification for other more totalitarian regimes to say Well, you know, Iceland's doing this. So we can do
it, too. And of course it might well encourage ill thought out policies in other western democracies.
RT: Critics have been pointing out that censorship technology is linked to surveillance technology. If Iceland gives the green light to this ban, can we be sure it will be just about child protection?
AM: We absolutely can't. As soon as you start allowing certain technologies to be input onto the internet to stop and censor certain information they will be misused by police, by intelligence agencies and as soon as we are aware that the
internet is being censored and we might be being watched or monitored all times, then we start to self-censor as well. We will not download books or information as freely as we might in case it might be deemed radical or subversive and we are
going on some domestic extremists hit-list. And then, of course, we self-censor what we say on the internet as well. So, it will be very quick to slide in some sort of Orwellian big brother dystopia.
Over the past few weeks the Government has held meetings with Internet companies about child protection online. These are designed to prompt more more action to protect children, on the assumption that these companies could and should be
Sadly the Government has seemed keen to appear as if they are taking tough action, and not so keen on thinking carefully about what their action should be.
Policy makers who are pushing for more Internet filtering for child protection do not take the related practical and technical questions seriously. They tend to throw about ideas for technical interventions such as internet filtering without
considering how these would work, or what unintended consequences they might have.
They simply want more done. What that more is, or what it will achieve, seems to be an irrelevant detail. This is despite the Government having run a consultation last year, after which they settled on a fairly reasonable policy of
helping parents make the right choices about filtering. They seem determined to edge towards a stricter default on regime.
We have seen no evidence that during the meetings with internet companies the Government has taken account of any of the broader public policy questions related to the implementation of Internet filtering systems. Along with Index on Censorship,
English PEN and Big Brother Watch, we wrote to the Culture Secretary Maria Miller asking her to invite us to the discussions so these issues could be raised. The Department has subsequently set up a meeting between us and the Minister Ed Vaizey
The details are very important. Internet filtering can easily block more content than it is designed to -- for example, if people do not understand what is being blocked and why, or if sites are incorrectly categorised. People may also easily get
around blocking. It can give people a false sense of security. Making Internet filtering fit multiple devices, ages or beliefs within a household or other setting is almost impossible. And there are other consequences, such as the speed of access
or an impact on privacy where traffic or blocking events are logged.
That's why we are putting these questions to ISPs. We will be sending the questions and replies to the relevant policy makers, and will hope to explain to them why we think these are important questions.
Twenty questions for ISPs on Internet filtering systems
A. On how the technology works
Under the Internet filtering system set up following discussions with the Government about online safety and child protection:
1. Is any traffic of users who are not opted in to filtering inspected and / or logged? If so, is it logged in a way that links the traffic to a subscriber? What logging will there be of blocking events? How does this work?
2. Is filtering applied to all forms of connection offered by the ISP (dialup, ADSL, cable, fast fibre connections etc)?
3. Have you estimated the impact of the through-put of filtering technology on the speed of users' internet access (both for those who are opted in and opted out)?
4. We are concerned about the impact on Internet applications in general as well as web traffic. Does filtering take place only of HTTP traffic on port 80, or will other traffic be affected? What steps will be taken to avoid interfering with
non-HTTP traffic on port 80, for example non-HTTP applications that use this port in order to bypass firewall restrictions?
5. What impact does the filtering have on end-to-end security measures such as SSL or DNSSEC?
6. Can you guarantee that your networks will not be susceptible to mistaken blocking as a result of using specific IP addresses for forwarding filtered traffic, for example as seemed to happen in a case involving Wikipedia ?
7. Have you made any estimates on the impact of filtering systems on infrastructure upgrades?
B. On setting up the filtering
8. Are users faced with pre-ticked boxes when choosing to activate filtering? What is the impact on customers who do not have access to or who do not use a web browsers on a network such as a home broadband connection that is only used for Smart
TV video on demand applications? (ie who will not be presented with a web-based set up screen?)
9. How granular are the available choices? Will a household be able to cater for:
a. Multiple ages or a variety of beliefs? b. Can specific sites be unblocked by a user?
10. Have you done user-testing for your opt-in systems?
11. What information about the filtering is available at the point of sign up? Does it include:
a. Detailed information about what types of content are blocked, with examples? b. The providers of their filtering tools, if a third party is involved? c. Information about the possible problems with and limitations of blocking, with information
about how to report problems?
12. What age-verification processes will be in place? How will this work?
13. Is a customer's decision not to activate filtering a one-off decision, or will it have to be periodically repeated?
C. On managing problems and mistakes
14. When a site is blocked, what information is supplied to the end-user about why and how it has been blocked?
15. Are there easy ways to report mistaken blocks, either over-blocking or under-blocking? Are these clear when users encounter a block?
16. Are there easy ways for people to check if URLs are blocked, and will this include a reporting tool for requesting corrections and reclassifications?
17. How will complaints, from both your subscribers and from owners of sites that are blocked, be dealt with?
a. Are there plans in place to train customer service staff for dealing with these reports? b. Are there targets for dealing with mistakes in a timely manner, or estimates of how long responding to and correcting mistakes will take? c. Will you
share error reports and corrections with other ISPs?
18. Have you specified acceptable error rates to suppliers of filtering services? If so, what are they?
19. Have you sought legal opinions relating to liability for incorrect blocks, including both false positives and false negatives? Do you have plans to offer compensation for businesses harmed by blocking errors, for example when potential
customers are unable to access the site?
20. Are there or will there be systematic reviews of the effectiveness and quality of filtering, including reporting on problems and complaints? Is there a process for review and improvement? Is there or will there be an ombudsman or other
oversight body to handle disputes and review performance?
Sky Broadband has issued a strange press release boasting of the uptake in its internet website blocking service whilst not revealing the relevant stats that underlie the claim. The press release leads with the paragraph:
Millions more families across the UK are enjoying the internet in safety following the successful roll out of Sky Broadband Shield. Sky's award-winning free internet filtering and safety tool is now active in over 70% of the homes in the
roll-out to customers who had not previously made a choice, with the majority of families keeping the parental controls in addition to the malware and phishing protection Sky Broadband Shield provides.
One would suspect that 70% of subscribers are opting for some level of website blocking, but this does not necessarily mean that all of these are blocking adult content. Sky Broadband Shield includes the option to just block malware and phishing
sites, which is probably a popular option.
On the subject of blocking the likes of porn, then Sky just says that the majority of families select this option. The Daily Mail notes that the ISP TalkTalk said that about 36% of subscribers are families with children, so Sky's comment about
the 'majority of families' probably means something over 18% of total subscribers selecting the adult content blocking levels.
Sky also make the point that far more people have turned on some level of blocking because they were forced to make a decision, than before when they were merely told that options were available. Sky writes:
Following the introduction of Sky Broadband Shield in 2013, Sky initially asked its existing customers to choose whether or not to turn Sky Broadband Shield on, and new customers were required to choose whether or not to turn it on at
activation. Beginning in January 2015, Sky then rolled Broadband Shield out to all customers who hadn't already made a choice about whether to activate it or not.
Sky took the decision to roll out Sky Broadband Shield to customers after the Government challenged ISPs to look at how they protected children and families online. By making the default position of Sky Broadband Shield on and making it
easy to adjust or decline at any time, Sky gave customers a choice about whether they wanted the protection whilst making their online safety a priority.
Sky's decision to give customers a choice about Broadband Shield whilst making the default position on meant that many more customers took an active interest in what the product offers. When customers were previously emailed and asked to
choose, less than 5% engaged. This evidence supports Sky's unique approach as the safest and easiest way to protect families online.
For a short while there was hope that new European legislation on the subject of net neutrality may disallow opt out ISP website blocking. However David Cameron was quick to claim that he had some sort of opt out from this area of EU legislation
and further more he would dream up some UK legislation that would allow such censorship schemes to continue operating.
During Prime Minister's Questions this week , the PM was asked whether the EU's new network neutrality regulations, just approved by the European Parliament, would prevent access providers from implementing adult content filters. The regulations
forbid blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services .
The Prime Minister promised to legislate to make sure that filtering continued and told MPs:
Like my hon. Friend, I think that it is vital that we enable parents to have that protection for their children from this material on the internet. Probably like her, I spluttered over my cornflakes when I read the Daily Mail this morning,
because we have worked so hard to put in place those filters. I can reassure her on this matter, because we secured an opt-out yesterday so that we can keep our family-friendly filters to protect children. I can tell the House that we will
legislate to put our agreement with internet companies on this issue into the law of the land so that our children will be protected.
publicaffairs.linx.net noted that it is not yet clear whether this would mean legislating to ensure that access providers are permitted to provide parental filters, or legislating to require them.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group (ORG) said:
We welcome the opportunity to have a debate about filters, which are flawed, censor websites and do not necessarily keep children safe online.
Customers should be given the choice to opt-in to filters, they should not be switched on by default. Parents also need to be made aware that filters may overblock sites that are suitable for children and also fail to block sites that are
However, we welcome Cameron's call for legislation so that at least we can challenge this dreadful idea.
ORG has developed a tool at
www.blocked.org.uk which monitors blocking by filters. At its launch, we found that
1 in 5 websites were blocked by parental controls. Sites that have been blocked include small businesses as well as charities and education sites that are specifically aimed at young people.
An Ofcom report on Internet Safety Measures provides an update on the steps taken by the UK's four largest fixed-line internet service providers (ISPs) - BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media - to offer an unavoidable choice, both to new
and to existing customers, whether or not to activate a family-friendly network-level filtering service. This followed an agreement between the Government and the ISPs, under which the ISPs committed to present the unavoidable choice to all new
and existing internet customers by the end of December 2014.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) asked Ofcom to report on internet filters and online safety, including the measures put in place by the ISPs. This fourth report focuses on recent research, the progress made by the ISPs, and
other developments during the past year.
Perhaps the most interesting stats in the report are the takeup of the ISP's web blocking systems. A decision on whether on not to turn on the blocking was made mandatory for all users in 2015.
% Existing customers opting for blocking
% New customers opting for blocking
% All customers opting for blocking
The 62% of existing customers for Sky who have apparently accepted website blocking seems a little strange given that all ISPs have prompted all users to make a choice.
The subtle difference is that Sky went a little further and turned the blocking on for all subscribers who did not respond, whereas the others set their systems to require a selection whenever there was an attempt to use the system, but did not
turn it on fro none responders. The inference is that the discrepancy is explained by a large amount of Sky subscribers that never use their broadband have been included in the 62% figure. Presumably the broadband is offered in packages with Sky
TV when perhaps a significant number of customers don't use the service for browsing the internet.
Assuming that is the case then perhaps the 6% for new customers is a better estimate of Sky users who have turned on blocking. As a rough estimate, incorrectly assuming all ISPs are similar sized, the average uptake of network level website
blocking is 10%.
Lyssa McGowan, Brand Director, Communications Products announced on the Sky Blog:
From today, Sky Broadband Shield will be automatically switched on the moment a new customer activates their Sky Broadband. At the end of last year, we said that we wanted to do even more to help families protect their children from inappropriate
content. The first time someone tries to access a filtered website, the account holder will be invited to amend the settings or turn it off altogether. It ensures a safer internet experience for millions of homes, while still giving account
holders the flexibility to choose the settings most appropriate for their households.
Our experience has shown that this Default On or as we call it Auto On approach leads to much greater use of filtering. Last year, we adopted Auto On with some of our existing customers which we found delivered much higher
engagement and usage of Sky Broadband Shield. Around two thirds of customers we rolled it out to have continued to make use of the software. This is much higher than anyone else in the industry using other approaches. Customers are typically just
asked whether they want to switch on filtering when they activate their broadband. It means take up rates are between only 5 and 10% because customers ignore the choice put in front of them or automatically click no without considering the
This is why we decided to make Auto On standard practice for all our new Sky Broadband customers including our soon to be launched new NOW TV Combo service. Furthermore over the coming months we will be contacting millions more Sky
Broadband customers who haven't yet made a decision about Sky Broadband Shield. If they don't respond, we will switch it on for them and invite them to amend or switch it off themselves.