call +44 20 7096 1079
July 22, 2013 | Jim Killock

David Cameron is issuing bad advice to parents

Moving onto filtering today, David Cameron has created a very unfortunate debate about what he expects from Internet Service Providers.


David Cameron cc-by-nc-sa WorldEconomicForumLast week, we published a list of questions about the impacts of filtering technologies, on privacy, Internet applications and user awareness of the technology. These are a baseline of the concerns. We do not expect filters to be 'default on' but rather 'active choice': we expect adults to make a choice about what they install, as the government promised following their DfE consultation last year.Cameron states that:

"By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account the settings to install family-friendly filters will be automatically selected. If you just click 'next' or 'enter', then the filters are automatically on.

We hope he is inaccurate. Why wouldn't the set up require you make make an 'active' decision, yes or no, as previously agreed? Anything less would mean parents not engaging with the technology. It would mean accepting  that the collatoral damage from filtering would apply to many people entirely pointlessly. This won't just be pornography: it will be likely to include alcohol, gambling, web forums, and supposedly extreme political views.

However, today's comments from Cameron also constitute misleading and dangerous advice to parents. He said:

"in a really big step forward, all the ISPs have rewired their technology so that once your filters are installed, they will cover any device connected to your home internet account. No more hassle of downloading filters for every device, just one-click protection. One click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe.

"Once those filters are installed, it should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of a mouse without anyone knowing. So we have agreed with industry that those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult. So an adult has to be engaged in the decisions."

This places too much faith in technical tools that have historically proved flawed in achieving their goals.

Teenagers are usually sexually curious, and the forbidden has its own cachet. This may motivate them to try to bypass filters. It is poor advice to suggest that they will not succeed.

The filtering being suggested is only likely to work for those not actively looking for adult content, and even then no filter is perfect.

For instance devices, left unchecked, could be used to bypass filtering with extreme ease. Filtering can often be bypassed by anyone with an admin password, by using a VPN or proxy. This may sound technical, but is trivial. Many children learn how to do this to access Facebook at school.

Additionally, many network filters will only be applied to content sent "in the clear" and not encrypted content. In this circumstance, if available, SSL can be used to trivially bypass filtering - anyone capable of adding an "s" into a URL can do this. (As a consequence, pornographers may move to SSL if a large part of their adult market is enduced into a filtered Internet.) 

Thus Cameron's advice is just plain bad and misleading. Children will not necessarily be any less likely to be able to access whatever they like as the result of network filters, even if they are deterred. That may be a reasonable objective – but it is wrong to suggest that a magic bullet has solved the problem he talks about.

But that is symptomatic of the policy conundrum he has placed himself into, by pandering to a demand from the Daily Mail that 'porn must be blocked' and only accessible through an 'opt in'.

Education and parents talking to their children remain the only way for children to be helped. Cameron today should have been heavily caveating his claims, and by failing to do so, many parents will think the technologies ISPs are about to provide do a much better job than they will.

Update


We've launched a petition calling for David Cameron to drop his plans for default Internet filtering. Sign the petition here: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/cameron-stop-sleepwalking

google plusdeliciousdiggfacebookgooglelinkedinstumbleupontwitteremail


Comments (11)

  1. noko:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 01:28 PM

    I don't know if you've been paying attention, but the UK now has to censor porn by default.

  2. Big T:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 02:28 PM

    I don't think there's much to worry about in terms of freedom of active choice. We got what we wanted - the only exception being the fact that if people DON'T accept it, just click through without clicking the yes box or the no box, it will act as if you'd clicked the yes box. This is dishonest, and yes, coud create a little complacency. However, it is trivial. I say this because if you go to http://www.conservatives.com/News/Speeches/2013/07/The_Prime_Ministers_speech_on_protecting_our_children_online.aspx PM says "we need both, we need good filters that are pre-selected to be on unless an adult turns them off and we need parents aware and engaged in the setting of those filters."

    So I would take it to mean that you have 'yes' or 'no' boxes to tick before pressing enter, just the 'yes' box is pre-ticked when you load it up, and you can change then and there to 'no' if you actually look for five seconds before pressing enter.

    The rest of it, however, yeah, bit too much faith in technology. I would prefer a nationwide awareness campaign and in sex-ed classes.

    So we've won this round, the next thing to worry about is how the ISPs respond to your questions.

  3. Phil H:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 04:01 PM

    Where will the responsibility lie for the accuracy of the filters?

    If the ISPs are to be responsible for failures of the filter, they will be sued unless they are over-zealous; a parent somewhere will find something that the filter misses.

    If the Government is to be responsible for supplying a list of pages (or worse, entire sites) to filter, they will have the keys to censoring anything and everything, and it will be used to control any site with user-supplied content, lest the government switches your business off by putting it on the list.

    Filters are impossible to implement successfully. So a number of businesses will be put at risk because a parent will complain wrongly about a site and it will be added to a list somewhere. Unless there are proper procedures put in place, those businesses will have no way to seek justice and be removed.

    Unfortunately people are ignoring the truth that the ISPs are a delivery service, not a content provider. So this has all the implications of requiring the Post Office to automatically filter out any pornographic material from your post. Yes, of course that means opening your post and reading your letters.

  4. C B:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 06:20 PM

    What I want to know is this: when this is offered to existing users (and according to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning it will be), how will the ISP know *who* is ticking the 'I want to watch porn' box? What's to stop one of the junior members of the family from getting the splash page first and making the decision for the entire household, including the actual subscriber/responsible person?

  5. Sean Lee:
    Jul 22, 2013 at 09:47 PM

    What about shared households? Each individual is entitled to the freedom to explore all the legal content on the Internet in the privacy of their own company. So whomever is on the ISP bill gets asked if they want to opt in or out, what about all the other occupants who want their freedom of choice and their privacy? You move in and then find you can't enjoy legal content, how do you do that without being subject to the morality of your housemate(s).
    Does everyone searching for a shared-tenancy now have to ask "Is the porn switched on?" Not long before it'll also be "Is the horror content switched on?" or "Is the gay stuff on?" Or is this a ploy by the ISPs to generate millions of additional subscriptions by forcing everyone to have personal broadband at "home" (which of course will be expensive to move when you move before your contract expires)?

  6. S. Herceg:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 06:42 PM

    It this legal? What about the porn industry? You're conducting a legal business, you pay your tax. So how does blocking a legal business work? Surely this would go against the EU's freedom to conduct business free of government impediment too.

  7. Harry:
    Jul 24, 2013 at 07:32 AM

    Absolutely disgusting... What sort of society model does that move toward!? Isn't this the same man that was banging on about that "big society" system? I don't follow politics, but if this guy has the audicity to implement such ridiculous changes, without significant research (or common sense), I know where my votes are going next year

  8. Paul Walsh:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    It's time the Government and the Open Rights Group came in from the opposite ends of the spectrum. One one end we have the Government looking to automatically filter pornography. And on the other end (equally damaging to the conversation), we have the Open Rights Group, putting forward reasons to do absolutely nothing.

    Existing filters are lame. They don't block enough of what they intend to block. They block way too many innocent sites. And it takes the companies behind them to change the label status of a site.

    Some kids can get around some safety controls while other kids can get around them all. But this is not a reason to do nothing. While I disagree with the Government enforcing the filtering of porn, I actually think it's a great move to finally get the ISPs to do something to help parents provide better protection for their kids when online. It's time this group come in from the cold and instead of suggesting reasons to do nothing to improve family safety, may I suggest you make recommendations on how to improve it. It is a parent's responsibility to keep their kids safe. But there are ways to make this easier for them and I believe Industry is responsible for providing some tools.

    As the CEO of the company that has indexed the largest database of pornography in the world with the lowest error rate, I stand to benefit from auto blocking with the use of our data/technology. But I am against censorship of any kind and it was my advice to the first Parliamentary Inquiry that they do not block by default.

  9. Paul Walsh:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    @Phil H your example of the post office is a weak one. You don't allow your kids to open your post so they're not going to stumble upon magazines or videos you might have ordered as a consenting adult. The Web is completely different. Content is accessible unlike any other medium. It's this same reason that TVs come with parental controls.

  10. Sirkus:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 04:50 AM

    @Paul Walsh. I believe the Open Rights Group is suggesting that education and speaking to children about online dangers is the way forward, the above article does not suggest that nothing should be done.

    This whole ploy is a vote grab for Mr Cameron, who is playing to the highest common denominator and appeasing those (many) voters who are not technically inclined. Lazy parenting is not an excuse to impose draconian filters that are indiscriminate. As a parent I would not allow my children to use the internet at home if I did not trust them to be responsible and safe. To prevent porn being accidentally accessed I also implement a filter locally.

    I do not watch pornography but I would never suggest that this ill thought out "one size fits all" solution should be implemented across the entire nation. What about sexual education/sexual health sites? The "Active Choice" filters are likely to block these sites. Are teenagers who need this information going to be prevented from accessing it. Is that really how we protect our children? By denying access to essential information.

    The truth is Mr Cameron, even if you could successfully block all pornography online (which you never will), you are not going to stop a child who is intent on viewing pornography in one form or another from doing so. Children are infinitely smarter than you are giving then credit for. I agree with the ORG, education is the way to go. Perhaps throw in a personal filter as well if you are a bit paranoid (which I am).

  11. Paul Walsh:
    Jul 30, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    @Sirkus I've yet to see an interview with the Open Rights Group where it makes technology related contributions to the conversation. We can't rely on education and speaking to children alone (even if they are the most important aspects of parenthood).

    "I would not allow my children to use the internet at home if I did not trust them to be responsible and safe". This is the single biggest problem. Parents assume their kids are perfectly safe on the Web. Some parents assume their kids are ok to stay out at night and to wonder off into streets away from home. Some parents think this kind of assumption is irresponsible. I think there is a balance. We don't make assumptions about the safety of our kids and we don't try to completely shield them from everything.

    I agree with everything you say about filtering. Existing filtering systems are terrible. And I don't believe in turning them on by default. What I believe in, is that ISPs should implement filters that allow parents to make better informed choices about which type of content to exclude.



This thread has been closed from taking new comments.