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Government ‘Ignores Parents’ And Presses On With Default Porn Blocking

David Cameron reverses decision issued by Department of Education last week

On by Thomas Brewster 1

The government appears to have backtracked on plans not to demand default porn blocking, which would automatically prevent access to websites containing explicit material, outraging rights campaigners.

Late last week, the Department for Education released findings from a consultation it held with parents and other interested parties, in which it said a light touch approach would be taken and no default blocking would be implemented.

The consultation response said there was “no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP”. However,  there was “marginally more support” for default filtering at the network level, when compared to other protective measures.

Potty porn blocking?

But in the Daily Mail today, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined how automatic porn blocking will be enforced. He has also employed MP Claire Perry, who has been campaigning for the default filtering throughout the year, as adviser on preventing the sexualisation of children.

Perry has even been put in charge of implementing a new web filtering system, which will require computers to check the age of the person setting the controls.

There was no information on how machines would be able to detect whether that person was lying about their age. One of the biggest criticisms of automatic blocking has been that children are at least as tech savvy as their parents and will be able to circumvent filters.

The NSPCC has even backed an opt-in system, although it welcomes moves to protect children more.

But despite all the technical issues, the cost on ISPs, and the potential for perfectly legitimate sites to be blocked, Cameron appears to be ignoring the Department for Education’s report and cracking on with default blocking. “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,” Cameron said.

“No other Government has taken such radical steps before. And once all this is in place, Britain will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world – bar none.”

Ministers are now thought to be pushing ISPs to produce detailed plans on how they will implement default blocks by February.

Whilst default blocking won’t be done at the network level directly, Cameron wants a system where parents are asked, when starting up a computer for the first time, whether they have children in the house. If they answer yes, they will be automatically prompted to set up a filter.

If parents click through without going into detail, blocks on pornography and self-harm will remain up. This means the system will be opt-out, rather than opt-in.

That means, somewhere within ISPs, a preconfigured filter will have to be established, which requires the user to turn it off, or leave it on. It may not be blanket blocking, but the blacklist within ISPs could be deemed as a network-level filter.

“As near as damn it, we have got what we want and most campaigners are quite happy. The industry has, with a few notable exceptions, been quite slow but there is now good momentum. It will be my job to make sure it all gets implemented,” added Perry.

She said adults who sign mobile contracts for their children should be given the chance to set up porn blocking.

BT said it had no further statement other than what it said earlier this week.  “We welcome the government’s consultation on this important matter,” a spokesperson said.  “We look forward to working through UKCCIS (the UK Council for Child Internet Safety) on taking forward the approach advocated by government in its response.”

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told TechWeekEurope the new proposals hinted at a more complex system for parents to deal with, rather than a simpler solution.

“This policy becomes more chaotic by the day. The details in the Daily Mail article suggest a mix of device and network filtering that would actually make it much more complex for parents to protect their children, while imposing a significant burden on internet businesses without any meaningful consultation,” he added.

“Quite why such an intervention has happened nearly a week after the Department for Education published government policy on this issue is unclear, but it will concern anyone who wants policy made about critical national infrastructure to be carefully considered with a wide range of stakeholders rather than the narrow interests of certain newspapers being the overriding concern.”

The Department of Education had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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Thomas Brewster
Author: Thomas Brewster
Security Correspondent, TechWeekEurope
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Last comment




One reply to Government ‘Ignores Parents’ And Presses On With Default Porn Blocking

  • On December 21, 2012 at 10:32 am by John Appleseed

    Well, why not block sites that display violence, gore, and maybe also start pulling wargames from all stores. While we are at it, also block any conversations based on a religion other than the parents’.

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