July 27, 2013 | Jim Killock

Who exactly is responsible for the new 'nudge censorship' policy?

We have no legislation, a contradictory official government policy, and ISPs promising that they will deliver a 'pre-selected' censorship approach.

claire-perry-cc-by-policyexchangeIn essence, DCMS's Maria Miller, Claire Perry and David Cameron's staff have hijacked agreed cabinet policy, pushed for something very different and persuaded ISPs that they should implement significantly worse policies than originally envisaged.

This is what was agreed in December 2012: some kind of compulsory prompt for parents to enable filters, that “does not impose a solution on adult users or non-parents”. Network filtering was never specified, although easy 'whole home' solutions were preferred. These could be in the hands of parents, at the router, rather than being placed in dangerously easily reconfigurable centralised ISP equipment.

For whatever reason, DCMS and Perry have been pushing both network filtering and 'nudge censorship' onto ISPs. ISPs have agreed; now those of us who think government has got it wrong have nobody clear to pressurise.

ISPs appear to have caved into the overwhelming PR issue that child protection can be, especially when conflated with the separate issue of child abuse images. But by refusing to insist that the government legislate, if it wants such specific provisions, they have opened themselves up to a number of problems:

  1. Are ISPs responsible for incorrect blocks?
  2. Are ISPs financially liable for incorrect blocks?
  3. What happens when government suggests that 'terrorist content' be blocked with not 'opt out'?
  4. Are ISPs responsible for adopting the nonsense 'preselected censorship' policy – as it is not official government policy, but apparently the personal position of Claire Perry and DCMS heads such as Maria Miller?
  5. Will Claire Perry continue to have a personal veto on the nature of broadband set up screens?

Finally, we would like to know if the Lib Dems are happy for Claire Perry and Cameron to go off piste in this way.

Here's the official government policy from December, so you can read what ISPs are actually meant to be doing, and how different that appears to be from what they have agreed to with Perry and Miller.

23. Although there was only minority support among parents for the three options consulted on, the Government does not believe parents are uninterested in their children's safety online: the very high percentages of parents who think they have the responsibility for their children's safety suggests otherwise. However, the offer to parents should be reformulated in a way that ensures that children can be given the levels of protection their parents think is appropriate for them, reduces the risk of uninterested parents avoiding online safety issues, and does not impose a solution on adult users or non-parents.

24. Our approach to child internet safety should therefore evolve in ways so that it: 

  • actively helps parents to make sure they have appropriate safety features in place when their children access the internet and also encourages them to think about issues such as grooming, bullying and sexting as well as potentially harmful or inappropriate content
  • covers existing ISP customers as well as new ones prompts or steers parents towards those safety features
  • makes it easier for parents to take charge of setting up the internet access their children will have, and less likely that they will abdicate this responsibility to their children

25. The Government is now asking all internet service providers to actively encourage people to switch on parental controls if children are in the household and will be using the internet. This approach should help parents make use of the available safety features without affecting internet users aged 18 and over who can choose not to set up controls.

26. Internet service providers have made great progress to date in implementing "active choice" controls where all new customers are asked if they want to switch on parental controls. The Government is urging providers to go one step further and configure their systems to actively encourage parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls. The Government believes providers should automatically prompt parents to tailor filters to suit their child's needs e.g. by preventing access to harmful and inappropriate content. We also expect ISPs to put in place appropriate measures to check that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18. This builds on the child internet safety approach already established by the four main ISPs by steering parents towards the safety features and taking responsibility for setting up those that are most appropriate for their own children. It will also help parents think about the knowledge and skills children need to prevent harm from the behaviour of other people on the internet: we are clear from the consultation that parents are conscious of these risks as well as those posed by age-inappropriate content.

27. This is only one part of the approach which the Government is pressing for. All of the information and communication industries, including retailers and device manufacturers, should work to develop universally-available family-friendly internet access which is easy to use. The Government wants to see all internet- enabled devices supplied with the tools to keep children safe as a standard feature.


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

Comments (16)

  1. Veetee:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 01:32 PM

    So... are you saying that the ISPs will move from default-on home filtering to default-on NETWORK filtering? Or just that Claire Perry (with the initials CP, how ironic) are pressuring them to do that?

  2. Jim Killock:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 01:35 PM

    Hi Veetee, the government did not agree to any kind of “default on” as I read it. Claire Perry, Maria Miller and David Cameron seem to have personally bullied the ISPs into using (network filtering with) defaults, in what seems to me to be contradiction of the agreed government position.

  3. Veetee:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 02:43 PM

    But I am still confused: I think Claire Perry has tried to bully the ISPs into using network filtering, and we certainly need to wait and see what the ISPs are doing, but if the filters are implemented by the ISPs asking each house, is that not at *home* level as opposed to network? And in Cameron's speech from the other day, he seemed to imply default on but at a home level, and he strictly said he would not take Claire's position for network filtering in parliamentary debates two years ago. Is that not evidence that he is against network filtering? Thanks again for your time.

  4. Jim Killock:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 02:59 PM

    This is what Cameron said:

    we need good filters that are preselected to be on, pre-ticked unless an adult turns them off, and we need parents aware and engaged in the setting of those filters. So, that is what we’ve worked hard to achieve, and I appointed Claire Perry to take charge of this, for the very simple reason that she’s passionate about this issue, determined to get things done and extremely knowledgeable about it at the same too. Now, she’s worked with the big 4 internet service providers – TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT – who together supply internet connections to almost 9 out of 10 homes.

    And today, after months of negotiation, we’ve agreed home network filters that are the best of both worlds. 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.

    And, 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 to keep your children safe.

  5. NelC:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 03:15 PM

    The way I'm reading it, the December proposal was for opt-in censorware to be supplied to households to install on their devices; what Dave and Claire are pushing now is for opt-out censorware to be installed on the ISPs' servers, where they can be easily expanded to cover whatever it is the government doesn't want us to read about this week.

    The question in my mind is why, with the December proposals already agreed to, why aren't the ISPs complaining about Dave suddenly switching games on them? Especially as he appears to have no legislative framework backing him up (Daily Mail editorials don't count).

  6. Veetee:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 01:12 AM

    My comment has been deleted?

    Listen, sorry if the question sounded a bit daft to you (as I'm afraid it possibly did), Jim, but it's really hard to get my head around all of this. You know what politicians are like -weasel words. Can I ask that you be a bit patient with my lack of experience dealing with political bullshit and let me know why it is you think that Claire Perry is now going to push for network-level filtering? I mean I've read that quote you've posted already several times and I can't see it.

  7. Veetee:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 01:34 AM

    Incidentally, there is a petition here - It's only been one week and it already has 25,000 signatures.


  8. MC:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 01:41 AM

    It all makes sense when you realise there are no rules, no real procedure........only influence.

    This is going to look great for the parent vote in 2015, and particularly for Perry personally. Not that she needs it, she was parachuted into one of the safest tory seats in the country. I suspect she has a long and illustrious career in politics ahead of her.

    As for me, Im signing up with andrews & arnold so that i can simply stop expending mental energy on the machinations of these digital book burners over whom i have no influence whatsoever. Ill keep my monthly DD to the ORG though, on the off chance democracy and common sense spontaneously reasserts itself somehow.

  9. Jim Killock:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Hi Veetee,

    Sorry, not sure what happened to your comment. We didn't delete it though.

    On network filters, to pick from the text I posted, Cameron said: “we’ve agreed home network filters that are the best of both worlds”. and “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”.

    I think that's pretty clear?

  10. Richard:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    It would be almost impossible for the filtering to be done at the router. The black-list will be highly dynamic and consist of URLs to tens of thousands of sites. It would be impossible for the home-owner to stay on top of it, and difficult enough for the ISP. Then there are dozens of different routers and the ISP would have to be able to support them all. Router-based filtering is a non-starter.

    This does open the ISPs to claims of negligence because it will be impossible to get 100% effectiveness with 0% false-positives. Some innocent web-sites will lose traffic and income. Some children will still be exposed to porn, and the ISPs will hide behind their contracts and refuse liability.

    So long as it is possible to switch off all filtering, and so long as nobody expects a perfect solution, this is a good move. But it does smell a little like the thin end of a wedge, and permanent child-porn, extreme-porn and terrorism filtering will be all the more tempting. Not that that will fix anything; the criminals will easily work around any amount of filtering.

  11. Graham:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    Veetee seems to have highlighted some (deliberate?) confusion in the terms being used here. The term "network filters" can mean two different things: (i) filters which are controlled on a per-home basis but which are implemented in the network, or (ii) filters which are applied by the ISP to their whole network (i.e. to everyone).

    I think that what Cameron is proposing is type (i) network filters for parental controls and type (ii) network filters for child porn. But he is conflating the two cases -- presumably deliberately (I don't believe he is stupid). I am concerned that when people agree to what he is proposing, some players may choose to claim that support as support for type (ii) filters for a wider range of sites (the obvious steps from child porn are something like: other illegal (but not child related) porn, illegal hate sites, other sites engaged in illegal activities (drugs, file sharing), legal but extreme/unpleasant porn, sites with information about (but not engaged in) illegal activities, sites with information about getting around network filters, tor, encryption).

    My suggestion is that we push for people to describe what Cameron is promoting as "parental controls". That is a term with which everyone is familiar and which carries little-to-no stigma for people to disable.

  12. Richard:
    Jul 28, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    Cameron is describing two different technologies.
    Parental Filters at the ISP, defaulting On.
    Search engines blocking known child porn sites and warning of search terms that would find such.

    To my knowledge, he has not suggested child porn blocks at the ISP...

    ... yet.

  13. stripe:
    Jul 29, 2013 at 05:41 AM

    after reading the above nonsense about what the statements actually mean

    time is wasting if we hope to stop another nail in the coffin of British freedom.
    this is not the land I was born in. too much freedom has already been taken by our "elected" leaders and the people who fund them.

    yes there are workarounds for this issue (that I have already shared in another thread)

    but unless we actually do something, nothing will be achieved, and more will be lost

    there is plenty of time to discuss the issues after this censorship/ban is stopped from happening.

    BUT IT NEEDS IO BE STOPPED, that is what is important in my opinion

  14. Veetee:
    Jul 29, 2013 at 03:50 PM

    Where did this issue of keeping a database arise from? There wasn't a mention of that.

  15. Jim Killock:
    Jul 29, 2013 at 08:38 PM

    @Veetee I think the assumption is that if ISPs run the filtering at a network level, they may collect data about what categories you set or unset. We’ve asked ISPs about this among other privacy questions here: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2013/isp-filtering-qs

  16. Veetee:
    Jul 30, 2013 at 01:44 AM

    @Jim. Have the ISPs gotten back to you yet? Also - a browser intercept? As in, hijack your browser? As in, illegal, malware-using hijacking of your browser that requires they break into your computer and forcibly take control the program with the ability to do that to god knows what else on your machine? For nineteen million households? Please tell me that the politicians are naive on this one - it will result in a massive u-turn when the law tells them they can't do it. If they're fully aware of this and try and force the ISPs, be afraid. If the ISPs don't, for some reason, stand up to this, be very afraid. That means compliance.