December 20, 2010 | Jim Killock

Default censorship is a poor and ineffective idea

Yesterday and this morning we heard calls from government ministers and others for Internet Service Providers to block adult sites by default on customers’ accounts.

Such options were rejected during the Byron Review into child safety. Meanwhile, industry initiatives have created good solutions to protect minors with differing restrictions based on age, religion and other preferences based on actual knowledge of the children involved.

In short, users have to take responsibility for the content they view. Parents have to take responsibility for their children. There is nothing new in this. The alternative is a nanny state, making increasingly poor decisions on behalf of everyone.

Blanket censorship option will either be too ineffective, or too restrictive, for most people. And it hands new powers to the government, to request new types of sites are blocked by default. Perhaps tomorrow it will be extremist websites or Wikileaks.

Governments seem to think that Internet Service Providers can answer all their problems. No matter who has a complaint, the answer seems to be that ISPs should “self-regulate”.

Yet this is not “self” regulation, it is regulation of private citizens by ISPs. They are being asked to make civil policing decisions about what we view. This is deeply inappropriate and potentially highly damaging as we develop our information-based society.