October 11, 2011 | Jim Killock

Censorware or child protection? We need clarity from government and ISPs

Today's news that Internet Service Providers are going to offer to "block" pornography may be an extreme example of "spin", designed to satisfy morally outraged MPs: but it could still pose significant dangers.

ISPs are discussing what they call “Active Choice”: that is, to insist that adults are given a yes / no choice before installing or using parental controls when they set up a new broadband connection.

Now, there is a world of difference between offering sensible child safety, and trying to persuade adults to live with layers of censorship.

Thus the devil is therefore in the detail, and how “options” are presented. Will adults be asked if they need parental controls, or if they want to “adult content” switched on?

We will oppose anything designed to induce adults to live with censorware which would inevitably deny citizens access to commentary, health and medical advice.

The idea that the government would try to persuade citizens to live behind private content blocks is extremely sinister. It would provide an easy way for any morally outraged group to argue to extend an unofficial, and apparently consensual, method of censorship.

ISPs need to exercise some leadership. They need to make it clear what they are proposing, and how parental controls are likely to be presented. They need to make this a conversation about parental controls and child safety: and to keep it clear of a separate debate about adults accessing pornography. ISPs do have responsibilities: and one very important one is to avoid becoming the arbiters of Internet content. It is this responsibility that underpins our freedom of speech in a digital world.