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November 17, 2012 | Jim Killock

Victory in sight: government signals climb down from "default" filtering?

According to reports this Saturday in the Daily Mail and Telegraph, David Cameron will be asking ISPs to ask customers if they have children, and if so, help them install filtering technology.

While the Daily Mail cite this as a "victory" for their campaign to switch porn off in every household, and allow people to "opt in to porn", in fact it would be a humiliating climb down.

Very many ORG supporters and others wrote individual responses to the consultation, which caused the Department of Education to spend several extra months processing their response to the evidence. In total the DfE received about 3,600 responses.

Assuming the Mail is correct, you will deserve a big thank you from the British public.

As the Mail says, experts warned them that adults needed to think about the age of their children, and what kind of filtering might be appropriate. In other words, the campaign from the Mail, Claire Perry and Christian groups would actually have endangered children by implementing a ham-fisted Nanny State filtering policy.

Essentially, the “new” proposals sound very similar to the kind of "active choice" ISPs have been proposing from this time last year. These proposals were repeatedly rejected by the Mail and Perry as being too little.

Cameron must ask is whether his proposal needs legislation at all. Given that ISPs want to run "active choice" for new customers, does the UK really need legislation, which takes Parliamentary time and fixes things in law? This is an evolving field, and is probably best left to the market to figure out.

The default filtering solution pushed by the Mail and Perry was supposedly targeted at a small number of parents who neglect their children (and thus it it was argued need to be given default filters). When policies have wide effects but are justified on the basis of a tiny number of difficult cases, you know it is going to run into trouble, sooner or later.

ORG exposed the incorrect use of statistics repeated by Claire Perry and others. We recently wrote to Claire Perry about these – but have not received a response.

ORG are the only group to have produced real evidence about the effect of blocking on the Internet. Thanks to submissions from members of the public last year, we found dozens of incorrectly blocked sites on mobile networks, that use "default" filtering today. We exposed the problems with getting blocks changed and even identified. We found customer services very poor at helping people to deal with these problems.

These problems of mobile blocking are still with us, and disrupting all kinds of sites. You – ORG supporters – alerted the DfE to these problems and the need for proper parenting. While we still need to see the proposals, it seems that the proposals are likely to be a lot saner than the Mail and others would have liked.

Our work won't stop here however. Once we have seen the proposals, we may have more work to do, and we can expect continued pressure from MPs that have been wound up by pro-filtering campaigners. We will resist legislation, which would be pure window dressing, if the reports are correct about Cameron’s intentions. We will resist calls for mandatory network filtering.

ORG will continue to fight for your online rights: we need you to join so we can fight harder, and win more victories. We're asking you to fund a new legal officer: please join today.

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Comments (3)

  1. Pete:
    Nov 17, 2012 at 08:36 PM

    Victory? I think you might want to wait for the details before claiming victory. (nb I'm a fierce opponent of this policy).

    If the proposal involves intercepting and examining the content of private/confidential communications - without consent from sender AND recipient - then that would remain unlawful (both in UK and European law).

    Meanwhile, victory or not, TalkTalk subscribers in the UK still face involuntary interception of their communications (which is illegal). And mobile phone companies continue to adhere to a 'voluntary code of conduct' that places all of their customers under surveillance (regardless of the law).

    And the manner in which this 'choice' will be imposed on parents has not been published. Nor is the list of sites which are considered 'unsuitable' for children. Nor who makes that judgement. Nor how sites a classified as 'unsuitable'.

    We haven't won yet. This is not good news, and not yet the day to celebrate.

  2. Jim Killock:
    Nov 18, 2012 at 07:13 AM

    Hi Pete, no we don't yet have a victory (I've amended the title to make this clearer). No, it doesn't deal with existing issues. But I think it is clear that Cameron is backing away from default filtering - and hopefully network based filtering too. As you say we need to see the full response.



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