Will web censorship plans make your kids safer? [POLL]

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

David CameronDo you think that ISPs and search engines are doing enough to keep your children safe online? The UK government doesn't and so yesterday they went out to bat for the kids.

Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he announced  new measures to protect children and challenged the internet's tech giants to shape up and do their part.

The speech deals with two very distinct issues - one illegal and one legal - that Mr Cameron sees as being caused, or at least made worse, by a collective lethargy.

"The first challenge is criminal: and that is the proliferation and accessibility of child abuse images on the internet. The second challenge is cultural: the fact that many children are viewing online pornography and other damaging material at a very young age and that the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.

These challenges are very distinct and very different ... But both these challenges have something in common.

They are about how our collective lack of action on the internet has led to harmful – and in some cases truly dreadful - consequences for children."

CEOP logoMr Cameron explained that much good work was already being done by agencies like the police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and he also explained that Yahoo, Google and Microsoft were engaged in a 'major campaign' to deter people from searching for child abuse images.

However, he went on to criticise that same group of internet search giants for falling short of their moral obligations and being "purely reactive" when it comes to identifying or removing illegal images of abuse.

Companies that make money from crawling the web and categorising the information they find should not simply sit back and wait for the Internet Watch Foundation to make them aware of illegal images.

"If someone is typing in 'child' and 'sex' there should come up a list of options:

'Do you mean child sex education?'

'Do you mean child gender?

What should not be returned is a list of pathways into illegal images which have yet to be identified by CEOP or reported to the IWF."

And in some cases the UK government would like them to go even further.

Search engines operating in the UK are to be furnished with a blacklist of "abhorrent" search queries - queries where there is "no doubt whatsoever about the sick and malevolent intent of the searcher".

If the search giants don't implement the list voluntarily then legislation to make them do so will follow shortly.

There will also be changes to the law to make it harder to get hold of certain kinds of extreme pornography:

  • Possessing online pornography depicting rape will become illegal
  • Online videos will be subject to the same rules as those sold in licensed sex shops

It is the changes to the way that legal adult content will be handled in the UK that has proved most contentious though.

The government plans to make pervasive network level filtering of adult content the default position for normal internet access in the UK:

  • All mobile phone operators will implement adult content filters - users over 18 will be able to opt-out
  • By the end of August 2013, family-friendly filters will be applied across 90% of the public WiFi network wherever children are likely to be present
  • By 2014 new broadband customers will have family friendly filters enabled by default with the bill payer able to opt-out
  • By 2015 all existing broadband customers will have been presented with an 'unavoidable decision' about installing family friendly filters

The Prime Minister clearly sees these measures as bringing the internet in line with other sources of adult material.

"...it used to be that society could protect children by enforcing age restrictions on the ground whether that was setting a minimum age for buying top-shelf magazines, putting watersheds on the TV, or age rating films and DVD

...when it comes to internet pornography, parents have been left too much on their own and I am determined to put that right."

Not everyone is convinced - especially not the ISPs who are reported to be at war with the government over their plans. Speaking anonymously to the BBC an 'industry source' described the filtering plans as:

"...a good idea until you think it through ... there are three reasons why it doesn't work. First it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there's the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them."

There are also plenty of commentators who think the government is either interfering in something that should be left for parents or who see this as a back door to greater censorship.

If you have ten minutes for a full and diverting dissection of the government's plans you should take in the New Statesman's 10 questions about Cameron's war on porn.

Me? Well, it's complicated, as they say.

I'd be delighted if Google were as willing to stovepipe information about suspected child abuse to the IWF as they are to tell the NSA what you had for breakfast.

I've no issue with depictions of rape becoming illegal but I am utterly confused as to how that might be implemented.

When it comes to default-on filtering I am reflexively against internet censorship. I think filters are imprecise and easily circumvented, I don't trust the government to get it right when it comes to online issues and I don't want the government doing something I can easily do for myself.

But for all that I am, just about, OK with this.

I do not think that the status quo is protecting children adequately, I don't think these changes will make my children less safe but I do think that whilst they cannot solve the problems they are addressing, they just might help.

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22 Responses to Will web censorship plans make your kids safer? [POLL]

  1. Neil · 425 days ago

    Someone needs to explain to Mr Cameron the concept of Open Proxies and, if they want, TOR !

  2. michael · 425 days ago

    "I'd be delighted if Google were as willing to stovepipe information about suspected child abuse to the IWF as they are to tell the NSA what you had for breakfast."

    straw man argument? Google is already doing a lot to fight child porn. The UK does not need to force them, or Bing, to do more. These search providers aren't "willing" to give, nor do they actually give, the NSA trivial facts about online activities. They do cooperate, as required by law, with providing data related to suspected foreign terrorists.

    "I've no issue with depictions of rape becoming illegal but I am utterly confused as to how that might be implemented."

    It's a niche, taboo subject. So it's an easy target. I actually do have an issue with it becoming illegal. Their reasoning for outlawing the material is flawed. The UK might as well outlaw all videos and images that depict some sort of immoral or disturbing behavior. In addition, there are women who enjoy rape fantasies--see Psychology Today's "Why Do Women Have Erotic Rape Fantasies?". The law should be opposed on the grounds that it's unnecessary, illogical, and sets a dangerous precedent.

  3. Anonymous · 425 days ago

    Keeping children safe on the internet is like trying to keep children safe in a room filled with lions, tanks and nuclear weapons of mass destruction whilst being locked in a glass cage. In short, impossible. Just watch your kids when they're on the internet, or check their history at least.

    • markstockley · 425 days ago

      I agree that the responsibility for a children rests first and foremost with parents but "Just watch your kids when they're on the internet or check their history" just doesn't work any more. The internet isn't being accessed from public PCs in the living room at home, it's being accessed more often than not from mobile devices outside the home.

      • Said Mobile Devices are invariably already filtered by default - I've never seen a SIM supplied from any UK mobile operator that wasn't.. Set up your own home filtering (its trivially easy), and suitably strong password security on your mobile phone account to prevent changes to the filter setttings. In other words a certain type of parent should try taking some responsibility for their offspring instead of allowing Cameron to destroy the rights of everyone else in this country. Why should I have the 'privilege' of babysitting their kids?

        • Deramin · 424 days ago

          Setting up your own web filtering is trivially easy if you're not intimidated by computers and know how to do basic things. The government could do more good (maybe even globally) for far less money if they'd set up a web site to help people rate different filters, provide easy instructions for setting them up, and maybe even start a volunteer network of people who can be called to help walk you through it. We should be empowering citizens to protect themselves, not taking power and choice away from them.

    • Gila · 424 days ago

      Exactly right! The bottom line is it is neither the government's nor ISPs' jobs to look after the kiddies; it is the responsibility of their parents...

  4. Alan · 425 days ago

    I feel I should explain why I voted "no" instead of adding to the worries about having to add myself to a government owned 'deviant register' in order to opt-out. Now it's a fact of life that as people in their early teens get older they become interested in this sort of thing - how many people remember the excited looks at school behind the science block when somebody brought in a magazine that they'd pinched from an older brother to show their friends?

    While we've moved on from magazines nowadays having default filtering will end up creating a false sense of security. Most kids nowadays are more technically literate than their parents (most, not all!), so I'd imagine this will just result in lots of VPNs and proxies being used. While 24/7 supervision of children is impossible, surely teaching them that the sort of stuff they can see on-line isn't normal behaviour would be a better option? Yes, I know this isn't easy either - even standard sex education lessons usually result in a load of giggling schoolkids - but it's safe to say they're going to see material on-line anyway.

    As far as I'm aware, filtering of public networks is already an option (I've never tried looking at porn in a pub or café, but I've a feeling any pornographic material, amongst other categories, would be blocked). Not because of mandatory government enforcement, but just because it's a bit creepy to do in public.

    With regards to the existing blocking on mobile phones, I had to remove this from my account not to view adult material, but because there were so many non-adult sites being blocked that it became impossible to use!

    So yes, T-Mobile have me on their 'deviant register' :-|

  5. Juan DaRiguera · 425 days ago

    This is political grandstanding. It all sounds great, but when it comes down to the actual implementation, it will turn out like every other meddlesome state attempt to micromanage behavior. It will eventually criminalize everything the state does not control.

    The assumption that politicians and bureaucrats are smart enough to create artificial laws that can change human nature is a collective fantasy that is so deeply entrenched most people never even question it. They're trying to legislate responsibility into existence. It has never worked, and it won't work now. In the end, it will do more harm than good. The entire focus is negative, and that's what the results will be.

    The solution to complex societal problems is not an interminable succession of increasingly complicated punitive laws. The result of punishing people for being irresponsible is an exploding prison population. Meanwhile, the concept of rewarding people for being responsible remains completely ignored. Until we learn to focus on creating what we want instead of eliminating what we don't want, society will remain locked in a tailspin.

  6. JRD · 425 days ago

    I voted "no" out of principal, but I think you are asking the wrong question.

    The question shouldn't be, "will your kids be safer?" The question should be, "is it worth it?"

    The answer to that question is definitely no. You are setting up an infrastructure for censorship that will be abused and will suffer from feature creep. This is not a slippery slope argument; this is exactly what the government does when it wants to control the populace: it starts small and then expands the scope.

  7. Charlie · 425 days ago

    I'm pretty show that if you Google the term 'Child Porn' you will NOT find many actual results. The Government seems to be using the scare generated from illegal content and the whole 'protect the children' stand to grasp a greater control on the internet. Search engines already work with groups such as the IWF to block child abuse on the internet. If deployed these web censorship plans will only grow to give greater control over what we see on the internet.

    The tabooness of sex means the issues of children and sex are not for the most part properly dealt with. I think people forget that it is difficult to accidentally come across pornography on the internet and the 'children' or for the most part teenagers who do find it want to.

    I believe that the politicians are out of touch with what the youth of this country think. This issue concerns children and yet no one wants to ask them about this issue.

  8. Colin · 425 days ago

    Welcome to China.

  9. Harry · 425 days ago

    This will spread the word of proxies. People will not be able to access sites, then they will search for ways to get around it, i.e proxies. Therefore there is no reason in doing this at all.

  10. Charlie · 425 days ago

    Also just to mention, I am still in secondary education in Britain and in our 'sex education' lessons have never mentioned the topic of pornography. Sure we know the names of male and female genitals and use contraception or you'll get STDs but I feel that there are large elements about sex that aren't taught. Kids will not be safer because simply blocking adult content (or at least attempting to do so) will not educate us on the problems associated with pornography. I dare say the excitement of finding ways round the porn blocks will encourage more children to look at such things!

  11. Pat K. · 425 days ago

    Part of the problem is that there is no way for Google to determine who is sitting behind the keyboard. Regardless of one being for or against porn on the internet, between consenting adults it is valid and legal and should NOT be censored; that being said there is no easy way to tell when little 8 year old billy is searching for porn or his dad. For me, the issue lays with the parents, it is up to them to police their own, Google cannot do it for them. To many parents just ignore the whole thing, burying their head in the sand.
    As for illegal content, there is no discussion, users have the right to search for whatever they want, that's what an open internet is all about, however if it's illegal, then providers have the right to report them. Making companies like Google into internet cops is a slippery slope that we don't want to get into, IMO, as I am sure they will agree. And remember, "you cannot legislate morality!"

  12. Ryan B · 425 days ago

    Children not looking for porn will probably be safer. Children looking for porn will find ways round it.

    But my experience of porn filters at work is that when you're searching for solutions to obscure IT errors/problems and get search results for blogs that are hosted on a site which I assume must also happen to have a porn blog on it somewhere, you'll run up against the porn filter for pages that have no porn content whatsoever because the whole site has been blocked for porn rather than just those parts of it that have the porn content. Non-porn content is going to end up being censored by these filters, but who do you complain to to get it unblocked?

  13. Joshua B. · 425 days ago

    Absolutely NOT! The government shouldn't regulate Internet traffic. That should be the responsibility of parents.

  14. Before you know where you are we'll all need a licence to access the Internet, and then there will be a premium tax too.

  15. pablo · 424 days ago

    who is afraid that his children to spoil by the internet, perhaps should
    rather more take care about his children than let the tv, gameboy, internet
    and especially politicians to be care about the education and protection.

  16. Andrew · 424 days ago

    For what my opinion may be worth what Mr Cameron is suggesting is not workable as people will do whatever they wish without his consent!
    He will not stop people from searching for porn sites, it is a part of human nature.

    The truth of the matter is, it is down to the parents to make sure their kids are safe online.
    The entity known as the Internet is self governing despite what any Government might want. To police it will cost an absolute fortune to the tax payers in this world.
    yes we are already taxed on using the internet through your TV license especially here in the UK.

  17. Jack · 424 days ago

    I'm glad I seem to have voted with the rest of the readers here. Legislative persons have an impossible task when kids are involved. The bottom line is that it's a parent responsibility to get kids to realize what they are doing. I know that's tough, but giving a young kid an iPhone is asking for it. Ensure the child understands that some areas need to avoided, like sexing, not a good idea, but will probably grow as technology expands.

    One problem is that you can't tell when hormones take hold. Restricting natural curiosity is never a good idea. Making this stuff unavailable could be considered child abuse from another viewpoint.

    While in another state, I met a lady with a 13 y/o daughter. She was following her parents reasoning not talking about sex, even after her own experience. She was also only 14 when she was impregnated. I, curious, questioned her about what was taught her by her parents, which she stated they told her nothing, sex was an avoided topic in her home. This may seem impossible, but I've run across it a few times, also as a peace officer. And she was putting her own daughter in danger by assuming her hormones were not active yet. I urged her to break the silence, for nothing less than her daughters safety and health.

    You cannot legislate morality and you cannot force yours on someone else. I often wonder how many of these 'legislators' use 'protect the child' as a way to introduce legislation that is targeted at adults.

    Some of these laws may be created with good thoughts, but the implementation of them is faulty. To make a law that state 'knowingly', which in todays technology may be impossible to prove or prove correctly, is an utter pipe dream. Many people download lots of stuff then go through it. If they download something, and there is an image someone determines as child porn, it being on your computer is 'so called proof' that you knowingly downloaded it. Of course if you have 10 GB's of these types of photo's there is probably a problem.

    Can you imagine if malware put child porn on your computer every chance it got? How many would be labeled sex offenders, when they could have had no idea. This is a far example, but I'm basing it on how many machines end up with malware on them. Are you aware of what someone stamped with this have to deal with? They are the lowest of the lowest, no jobs nothing.

    Add to this that the human sexual experience is a many multifaceted gem. How to do this with laws yet still maintain a free Internet, is a valid question. I don't need someone telling me what to read or look at. This is just another form of censorship that the Internet does not need and will never tolerate. I hope.

    Legislation is not the answer, only good parenting showing their sons and daughters how to be 'moral' by their definition is the only way out of this. Most of what is considered bad is really in the mind of those that find it disgusting. I sometimes think they have a mind in the gutter to come up with some of the things I've heard. ’It made me horny so everybody will be made horny. ’ BS...

  18. Joe90 · 424 days ago

    This just won't work.

    Every kid in the school will know a way round it within a few weeks, infact I think it will make even more of them go surfing for porn as a sort of challenge.

    This is just the Gov making their first move to own the internet and use it to monitor whatever they like in the future.

    Look after your kids or be taken to court would be a better way of doing things.

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About the author

Mark Stockley is the founder of independent web consultancy Compound Eye and he's interested in literally anything that makes websites better. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkStockley