New Bill in the UK wants internet to be censored from porn by default

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

feet drawing 250

Baroness Howe of Idlicote most definitely seems to be thinking of the children, but is this a sensible approach?

At the start of this month, she was granted the first reading of her private member Bill on 'online safety' in the House of Lords.

The Online Safety Bill states that ISPs and mobile telcos should provide a porn-free internet connection by default.

Of course, an adult wants can choose to opt-in to the uncensored porn-permitted version, provided the site containing adult content has an 18+ verification system.

The Bill wants technology for filtering out porn to be provided at point of sale on every Internet enabled electronic device that can download content.

It also states that ISPs and telcos should provide clear information on 'online safety' defined as "the safe and responsible use of the Internet by children and young people on an electronic device."

This proposal hasn't exactly received a warm reception from industry, with trade body, the ISP Association arguing that "filtering by default will only reduce the degree of active interest and parental mediation, lull parents into a false sense of security and lead to over blocking. The question also arises of who decides what is pornographic and what is not?"

But wait a minute - haven't we been here before? Yes, we have. Back in late 2010/early 2011, Tory MP Claire Perry called for ISPs to implement an opt-in system for porn with over 18-age verification.

Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey and parenting network Mumsnet indicated initial support for this idea.

mumsnet_logoBut Mumsnet became concerned that filtering technologies might over-block, impacting, for example, its breastfeeding guidance.

Flash forward to last summer, when the Bailey Review on sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood was released, and we saw another wave of conservatism, with the Coalition refocusing on protecting kids from internet porn.

By last October, David Cameron was meeting the big four UK ISPs: BT, Virgin, Sky, and TalkTalk. It was decided a voluntary Code of Practice was the best route forward. A website, called ParentPort to allow parents to complain about inappropriate content on the internet was also launched.

Under the self-regulatory approach, BT and Virgin provided parental control software for computer-based filtering. Sky will have 'active choice measures' that require customers to opt out of parental controls.

TalkTalk went a bit further still, allowing customers to opt into a filtered network service where parents set the blacklists that filter and block content, including porn.

It was found TalkTalk's filters didn't actually work very well. For instance, it failed to block one of the biggest porn sites in the world.

sex signs collage

This is where we are now. To my mind, having government legislate in this way will only lead to confusion. Let the consumer choose. This is legal pornography, and having a blanket default of state sponsored censorship seems a wholly disproportionate and unnecessary approach to controlling access.

This got me to thinking about the issues for those who would decide to opt in to access pornography. In order to validate your age, you will need to provide identification and then be listed on a database as someone who has chosen to access porn.

The Information Commissioner Office has recognised the importance of protecting people who could be on the list, but ultimately the best way to protect this data is for it not to exist.

ISPs already provide technologies for parents wanting to control what their kids see and it is the parents' prerogative to use these. To my mind, these seem to give enough flexibility and sufficient control for any concerned parents.

I think we need to protect the status quo that those who object to pornography opt-out of the general internet and can opt in to censored version, not the other way around.

With this being a private member's bill, it won't get anywhere until it gets government support. Thankfully, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have already said they prefer the current flexible, self-regulation that benefits industry and consumers.

And this might be a nail in the coffin for this bill, so it can be buried in the graveyard of failed private member bills, where I think it belongs.

What do you think?

UPDATE, later on the same day... Well, I had hoped this condemnation from DCMS was the nail in the coffin and this Bill could be buried alongside other failed private member bills. That doesn't seem to be the case.

A Parliamentary Inquiry Report into Online Child Safety was released today, chaired by Claire Perry. It mirrors many of the recommendations of the Bill and seeks a formal Government review on the opt in filter, rolling out 'active choice' measures, single account 'one click' filtering for all devices on the same internet connection, a single regulator for internet safety and even public wi-fi networks having a a default adult content bar. Clearly this issue is not going away any time soon.

Feet graphic courtesy of ShutterStock
Adult signs image courtesy of ShutterStock

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30 Responses to New Bill in the UK wants internet to be censored from porn by default

  1. Rick · 865 days ago

    Filtering, like the system that is proposed, does not work. The only way to legislate would be to create a law that requires the porn site to block users until they had established the users age. However, enforcement of such a law would be nearly impossible due to the international nature of the Internet.

    Although I would welcome a porn free Internet, I can't see any way to achieve this without major privacy and security implications for all users.

    I am a highly qualified network security technician.

    • CT Sthn Hilnds · 865 days ago

      I know this idea is over simplified, but if it could be legislated that adult sites were forced to use .xxx domain names, end users could quite easily filter out onwanted content. This would not be a new idea I'm sure, but would it be possible?

      Television, film, and indeed other media has a rating system, so surely this would could be an extension of the existing systems.

      I guess the biggest hurdle would be the "borderless" nature of the internet, as in, getting all countries to comply?

      Just thoughts.

  2. John · 865 days ago

    It is a parents job to monitor internet usage of their children or install parental control software on their computers. Requiring ISPs to block content will add costs to ISP which I am sure they will pass on to consumers.

    • peter · 839 days ago

      I've been in homes where parent(s) and friends are sitting around stoned and drunk watching full-on horror movies while toddlers are wandering around unattended, uncared for and unnoticed. IMV there are many parents who won't bother to monitor what is watched by their sprogs and upwards. Ineveitably this will mean a generation of teens and then adults who have been exposed to every kind of adult extreme - hardly a basis for training balanced adults, parents of the future. No, kids are probably NOT going to grow up to face bloodthirsty zombies or have their wives enjoy making it with very large vegetables - but they may well expect it, and that's an odd sort of training :-)

      pete

  3. TF14901 · 865 days ago

    It should be up to the PARENTS to censor their children from things like this and NOT the governing bodies. Let the PARENTS do their jobs!! Governing bodies OVERSTEPPING like this is one reason that our children today are the way they are. Parents are not allowed to parent anymore. Give the rights BACK to the parents to discipline and raise their children instead of leaving it to our governing bodies!!!!

    • pragmatist · 865 days ago

      and every technology saavy kid willl quickly learn how to circumvent the controls to access the content. I do not care that much, but the children know more about technology than parents.
      The only way I see to be able to effectively enforce it is to first force every porn site to move to the .XXX domain, and block those. THose that refuse to move - independent review of content - then given choice - either it is blocked in that country - or it moves to .xxx. This would at least be a start.
      Also - while I am not interested in porn, I recognize the freedom of speech allowed to vendors. they would not be in business unless there are enough paying customers to support it. (BTW - porn was the only internet business to be profitable from the beginning)

  4. hectorshouse · 865 days ago

    People truly underestimate the harm that pornography does. Far from being a liberating 'freeing' thing, it lulls people into a false security. Sexual desires are strong in all of us, and pornography is a false use of that, and ultimately means that real sexual relations are but a patch on what they should be. Pornography harms people, and we must stop children being able to access anything sexualised.

    Mumsnet fear that it would block their site about breastfeeding is ludicrous. It is akin to saying that old statues of naked men and women are pornography. There is a clear distinction between that which is sexual and that which is not.

    It's aim is a very good aim, but the filters must be accurate enough. Any good IT expert will be able to do this; there are currently some very good filters around already.

    I also fail to see how this would harm the pornography industry in any way, as the people who want to access it, will still be able to. I wish government would stop pandering to industry, rather than to people's livelihoods.

    • Hoobie · 865 days ago

      If there are good filters already available, give them to parents. Why do the ISPs and government need to be involved?

    • Machin Shin · 865 days ago

      I find it almost humorous that you are as sheltered as you seem to be. You claim "Any good IT expert will be able to do this".

      That is so very far from the truth. The definition of porn is a VERY opinionated definition. Some people find breast feeding sites pornographic, most don't. Sites like breastfeeding are not the only problem though. What about the art world? Is fine art nudes considered porn? At what point does a picture of a nude person cross the line from art to porn?

      Filtering is not black and white. It never has been and never will be. The government has no right to try and censor anything even if it was clear. It is up to the individuals what they should or should not see. The parents of children should be handling this according to their own opinions. It should not be regulated by any government.

    • Steve · 864 days ago

      If you want to stop children from accessing anything sexualised you need to lock them up and take away the tv, newspapers and any other form of media and never let them out. Sex is everywhere these days because it sells, advertisers know it and therefore sexualised imagery is used to sell.

      Blocking also won't make the problem go away, I remember when i was at school some lads brought porn mags in to show off to mates even though sale and access to that material is very controlled it was still obtainable (also consider this was pre-internet).

      Further blocks on the internet will not solve this issue as always someone will find out how to get around it and tell others how to do the same. There is no single silver bullet no matter how much the government and moral outrage brigade wish there was one.

  5. Monica · 865 days ago

    Seems silly to make such a fuss when the children that would look at such things lie about their age etc anyway. They seek it out! And I have not had any problems with it at all with my 6 year old on his computer. It's called parental blocks and security software people. Why take away more freedom even if its this kind if we already have procedures in place to protect the ones that need it.

  6. Graham · 865 days ago

    The trouble with opting in to sites is that it will become yet another tool used by marketing scammers to harvest your details:-( It is bad enough visiting this site where you get hit with 11 tracking cookies (google x3, intense debate, linkedin, outbrain, polldaddy, twitter, wordpress) and have to leave your personal details (email) just to comment:-(

    • caroletheriault · 804 days ago

      Thanks for this Graham. We agree the tracking on Naked Security can look scary. We are actually in the process of pulling together a page that will explain all the tracking we use, why it is there and how you can opt out of any of it. It should be live in the next or so.

  7. Machin Shin · 865 days ago

    This is one of those things that the government should stay out of. If anything then the filtering should be offered as an opt-in option not on by default. If the ISP offers it and the majority of their users opt-in then great. I'm willing to bet though that most people will not opt-in to their internet being censored.

    I personally do not trust someone else to go picking through the net and saying what is or isn't good. It gives other people too much power. I can remember in school using their filtered computers I could not go to MSDN because it was "porn". Now I don't know about anyone else out there but I personally don't get all hot and bothered by information about programing.

  8. ringstop · 865 days ago

    First problem: It is impossible to come to agreement on a definition of pornography that would be accepted by even a small number of people, much less on an international level.
    Second problem: It is impossible to create filtering software that would properly block objectionable content while allowing free access to unobjectionable content when there is money to be made.
    Even if a computer could comprehend the intent of its current operator and filter according to that person's sensibilities (not possible), a second person could pass by and observe what seems to be pornography to them.
    It cannot be done.

  9. Its the start of a very slippery slope to a neutered internet where all we can access is "clean" sites approved by the Moral Indignation brigade. If you don't search for Porn online its surprisingly hard to accidentally stumble upon a site which would play by these rules.

  10. siffis · 865 days ago

    Its sad that governing bodies have to establish parental controls.

    Most parents in general have lost their ways... This is just sad!

  11. Robin · 865 days ago

    What is their Idea of porn
    I'm a nudest and were not porn just naked

  12. Mike - California · 865 days ago

    The US Government can't control itself, let alone the internets.

  13. Jason · 865 days ago

    If all porn was eradicated from the Internet, we would be left with one website - http://www.bringbackporn.com (thanks Dr. Cox)

  14. Andrew · 865 days ago

    Have any of these people even bothered to read the Byron report? http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Media/docum...

    I remember it saying that censorship doesn't really work, educating children about these issues is the solution.

    I firmly believe that the responsibility of protecting children lies in the hands of the parents and not the state or the ISPs. Safer use of the internet is better achieved by educating children to the dangers they may face and how they can avoid them. NOT by censorship.

  15. Shiny317 · 865 days ago

    Anyone reading this article is security aware and therefore like me wouldn't touch on- line porn with a bargepole, however I would be concerned over a blanket censorship from what appears to be more and more a nanny state.

    Firstly, and it reminds me of the Bill Hicks remark..what is porn? him then adding, (US) Congress says its something devoid of artistic merit and causes sexual thoughts.. sounds like every commercial on TV to me (He was so right). It comes down to sensibilities and what one may find mild another may find utterly offensive, who decides? or is it state controlled thinking now?

    cont ...

  16. Shiny317 · 865 days ago

    cont ...

    Another missed part is, what about the parents in this. Parents with parental controls and good internet security software can block access to 'most' of these sites; And there's part of the reason no one will ever block it 100% .. 'most'. I worked with a freind as a media studies technician in a 6th form college and they were trying to block any adult sites being accessed from the colleges networks. Blacklisted websites, keywords, euphamisms, slang, even known typos (typosquatting) like prOn. They could never block them all as the porn sites are as eager to make their money as people are to block access so it's cat and mouse all the time. If a site decides a sexual act will have the urban name of *plucks word from air* 'Grouching' and sets up a slew of 'grouching' sites, until someone knows and blocks it they'll still slip under the radar.

    cont ...

  17. Shiny317 · 865 days ago

    cont ...
    Ultimately it comes down to parents being helped to block unwanted material being seen by their children and grown adults being treated like it. I really don't look at porn(despite the hmm, yeahh, right) as thats where a lot of malware comes from, but at 43 years old if I want to look at something thats actually legal and is only 1% of the internet content (Statistics may be out of date but it used to be around 1%) then I should be able to do so in a democratic country without dilvulging my details to a register like some sexual offenders list. Although that may not be the aim, one breach of any data holding the names of opters-in and employers seeing that or it being posted and that could cause problems for adults doing something legal. You can see it now at an interview.... thanks Mr X, your qualifications are excellent, no criminal record but hmmm we noticed you opted in to XXX smut-fest.com.. so can you tell us about your hobbies and intertested ? More educated users is what's needed not blanket opt ins that may end up stigmatising those who want to view legal material.

  18. Grumpy Old Bob · 865 days ago

    There is NOT a clear distinction between that which is sexual and that which is not. That's the whole reason people object to any form of censorship. Of course Mumsnet are worried. Any reference to old statues of naked men and women is also likely to be blocked. If you thought about it for even a few seconds you ought to be able to work out that any filtering system would have to rely heavily on keywords in searches, etc. I rather suspect that 'naked' and 'breast' would appear on any blacklist that some unknown 'watchdog' would devise. Also, why must WE stop children being sexualised? That is the parents' job, and personally I'm not convinced that protecting children from everything even remotely sexual is a good idea anyway. The sudden shock when they do encounter sexual situations and have no idea how to deal with them is probably more harmful than seeing a nipple or two when they are young. Children learn about sexual matters from friends far earlier than you might imagine, probably not long after they reach the 'poo bum willy' stage. For anyone who is still not convinced, just consider this... We would be unable to have this discussion on line if this Bill was passed, because the words 'porn' and 'pornography' would be at the top of the blacklist ! Do you still think it's such a good idea? Parents who are worried should get off their backsides and look after their children instead of relying on other people to do the job for them, and before you ask, yes, I am a parent, although my children are now grown up. Anyone with half a brain should be able to learn how to set up their computers to prevent their children from accessing unsavoury material, or at least ask someone more experienced to help them do so, and if they can't they are not fit to use a computer themselves, let alone let their children use one. It's strange how everyone can set up a Facebook account but setting up parental control is too difficult... A porn free internet would be good, but this idea will not achieve it.

  19. p2paaa · 865 days ago

    If you need a parental control for the iPhone/iPad, check out McGruff SafeGuard.

    McGruff “The Crime Dog” - Take A Bite Out of Crime - is well known in the US for family safety.

    They also have a Windows Parental Control system (http://www.GoMcGruff.com)
    McGruff SafeGuard released a Child Safe Browser app that is a look-alike for Safari, but provides a parent with full control of the categories of websites that can be visited.

    It also provides a summary of activity to the parent via email.

    Check out http://www.GoMcGruff.com/browser
    and http://www.GoMcGruff.com/BrowserVideo

  20. Freida Gray · 865 days ago

    It seems interesting to me to see that the traditional " censorship " countries such as China & Russia appear to have a more free internet than the " free " countries do. So, which countries are now the " censorship " countries & which are the " free " countries ? It seems to me that the traditional ways of judging that no longer apply when " free " countries start filtering their citizen's internet usage.

  21. Anon · 863 days ago

    This reminds me of a quote I once head, can't remember where:

    "If they took all the porn off the internet there'd be only one website left, and it would be called 'BRING BACK THE PORN'!"

    :D

  22. Once again children+porn is being used as a trojan to lock down the internet. Resist it else big brother wins

  23. Lord Mc.nibbles · 851 days ago

    Whereas this piece of legislation is at best misguided and at worst a shallow attempt to win over voters, I don't believe there is any 'real' malice behind it. Unlike some I don't believe there is some shadowy global mega conspiracy planning on censoring the internet so they can achieve global domination, but I do understand that it is a fine example of an elected government overstepping its bounds.

    On paper it seems like a very noble cause and I agree with the sentiment. Pornography can be very damaging where a developing mind is concerned. On the other hand it will be very difficult, nay impossible, to police, but I don't think that should be a reason not to try. That smacks of giving up too easily. If you're being mauled by a bear you don't just lie there and take it because 'its too hard'. No, you fight, no matter how futile the cause. Its a matter of principle.

    On the other hand it does indeed take away responsibility and, by extension, accountability from the parents. Obviously most parents want the best for their children, but there are others who are quite happy to let the internet babysit their children for them, and its those parents we need to worry about.
    At the risk of sounding condescending I believe education is the way forward. Give the tools to the parents and teach them how to use them effectively.

    I'm not actually a parent myself though, so there is a good chance I'm missing the point of all this.

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About the author

Lachlan Urquhart is a legal academic from Edinburgh, Scotland who has completed an LL.B at the University of Edinburgh and recently concluded a postgraduate LL.M in Information Technology and Telecommunications Law at the University of Strathclyde. For more articles from Lachlan, visit his blog.