July 30, 2013 | Ed Johnson-Williams

A quick guide to Cameron's default Internet filters

Last week, David Cameron announced plans to introduce default adult Internet filters for everyone. Here's our quick guide to the issues around default Internet filtering.

David Cameron wants all British Internet users to make an "unavoidable choice" on whether to switch on default filtering.

Crucially, he thinks people should have to actively opt out if they don't want Internet filters. The boxes that accept the filters would be pre-ticked.

Households that leave the filters turned on would, in theory, be unable to access websites with material categorised as inappropriate for under-18s.

Why is David Cameron proposing default Internet filtering?
David Cameron sees default adult Internet filters as the easy way to protect children online. "One click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe" is how he described his plan last week.

Will the filters only block pornography?
No. The filters will block all sorts of websites. Open Rights Group has spoken to the Internet Service Providers who would be responsible for implementing Cameron's plan.

If you are in a household with filters turned on, you would be unable to access websites that fall into categories such as web forums, violent material, alcohol, smoking, web blocking circumvention tools as well as suicide related websites, anorexia and eating disorder websites and pornography.

Are filters a reliable way to regulate access to the Internet?
Based on the evidence so far, no. UK mobile operators like O2 and Vodafone already block websites that are thought to be unsuitable for under-18s. There are problems with mobile blocking that will probably be replicated with broadband blocking.

ORG's found that mobile operators regularly block websites that shouldn't be blocked. Sites that have been blocked by mistake include church websites because they mention wine, shops selling tobacco pipes, political blogs miscategorised as hate speech, lingerie shops for no clear reason and many more.

There are also concerns that people will find it harder to access crucial advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships as these sites may be mistakenly blocked.

If a site is blocked by mistake, how hard can it be to just unblock it?
When people find mobile operators blocking websites by mistake, they have found it very difficult to get them to remove the block. It may be hard for website owners to know if their site has been blocked.

Broadband providers would need to train their customer service staff to quickly handle complaints about incorrectly blocked websites.

Adults will be able to choose to switch off filters. Won't they just disable them immediately?
People tend to accept defaults. The 'nudge theory' that Cameron uses to try to influence our decisions and behaviour takes that as a given.

Encouraging everyone to accept adult Internet filters means millions of adults will lose access to all sorts of material rightly or wrongly categorised inappropriate for under-18s.

How would you turn the filters off after you'd turned them on?
David Cameron says "filters can only be changed by the account holder." His intention is to stop children turning the filters off without their parents' knowledge.

This approach will also cause some problems though. We know that sites will be blocked by mistake. So, for example, people in an abusive relationship who want to access a site about domestic violence may be unable to do so. That site might be blocked by mistake and they wouldn't be able to turn the filter off to access it without the abuser knowing.

What are the alternatives to default Internet filtering?
Parents should be able to manage their children's Internet access and some people do want household-wide filtering. Cameron's message of 'Set it and forget it' is unhelpful though as it risks giving people a false sense of security.

People should be asked to make an active and informed choice about what sorts of websites devices in their household can visit. This means that the boxes to choose which filters to turn on should not be pre-ticked and there should be real transparency about which sites the filters would block.

The Governent should ensure parents are aware that turning filters on does not immediately make the Internet safe. Government should also encourage parents to talk to their children about what they do online and offline.

The Government hasn't done enough to encourage and promote easy-to-use device-based filters.

Some sexual health groups have called for the Government to ensure children have high quality sex and relationship education (SRE) but the Government recently voted down mandatory SRE.

What can I do about default Internet filtering?
Open Rights Group has launched a petition calling on David Cameron to drop his plans for default Internet filtering. Click here to sign the petition.

Comments (5)

  1. Diederik Huys:
    Jul 31, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Blocking and forbidding is never the answer. Young people should be made aware of the things that happen in modern society, and learn how to handle them. Make people strong by education, not weak by pampering.
    Do not open this box of pandora; once this is done, all control over the phenomenon will be forfeit.

  2. stripe:
    Jul 31, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Have got a couple of you-tube screen-casters to promote the petition on their shows this weekend, and been hitting all my haunts in IRC
    hope this helps
    would anyone be interested in appearing, "on this week in law" on the twit network? (biggest tech tv network on the internet)? just an idea

  3. Adam:
    Aug 06, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    I'd go so far to say the very act of censorship is far more evil than anything that could be censored. If the warmongers that rule are concerned about child abuse, censorship will make things worse as joe public will be denied the true facts. Also those who put images up of illegal acts will be shootin themselves squarely in the foot. What good will censorship achieve?

  4. Adam:
    Aug 06, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    If the pictures hadn't come out of Vietnam showing children burning alive from napalm, the War may still be going? The photos, terrible as they were, led to a massive anti war movement and end to war- Cameron and his 'we know what's best for you' will disempower you!

  5. Rasmus:
    Aug 07, 2013 at 02:16 PM

    I'd be alright with this sort of filter as long it was an opt-in feature and not an opt-out feature. Defaulting to internet censorship is disgraceful.
    And for the examples of teens searching for information about various things such as domestic violence, side-effects of various drugs, information about sex and puberty and what not, I have a hard time believing they'd mistakenly censor big authentic websites which provide information on these matters, especially websites that might be sponsored by social services and the government.
    The only censorship I support is our censorship of child pornography and acts of violence, such as rape.