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September 07, 2012

Open Letter to the Prime Minister regarding parental internet controls

6th September 2012

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Department for Education consultation on parental internet controls

We write to you as the consultation on parental controls closes. In recent years there have been two comprehensive reviews into the issue of child safety online, the Byron Review and the Bailey Review. They considered a wealth of academic expertise, parental concerns and technical input and both arrived at the same conclusion – parents are the best people to decide what their children can see.

To ignore these in-depth and comprehensive reviews and instead adopt a system of ‘default blocking’ would be a short sighted and dangerous step, while doing little to empower parents or children. As Ofcom recognised, blocking is trivial to circumvent and it is likely a default blocking system would lull parents into a false sense of security. A more complex, connected world needs parents to engage more with their children on issues of safety, privacy and personal development – default blocking undermines this dialogue.

Government agreed that industry would have until October 2012 to implement the Active Choice model, one that puts parents in control of whether filters are applied to their home Internet connection or the devices their children use to go online and allows them to choose which solution best suits them. Last year the Foreign Secretary said “It is important to distinguish between government encouraging people to make more use of existing protections as a matter of choice, and the government deciding what people can and cannot do online.” We hope that the Government stands firm to this and continues to support the Active Choice system as the best option for children, parents, the economy and civil liberties.

Recent research by the Open Rights Group and the LSE Media Policy Project into default adult content filters used by UK mobile broadband providers has highlighted significant issues, such as the mistaken blocking of perfectly innocent websites that had nothing to do with adult content. The over-blocking of legitimate sites undermines the UK’s attractiveness as a place for digital businesses to grow and erodes all citizens’ choice while doing little to empower parents or ensure that children stay safe online.

We do not believe that default filtering across the UK, mandated by Government, should be the way forward. Instead the emphasis should now be on improving parental control filters, so that parents have the right tools to protect their children from harm and can teach them how to be safe as they start to explore the world for themselves.

Yours,

Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch
Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19
Mike O’Connor CBE, Chief Executive, Consumer Focus
Jeff Lynn, Chairman, The Coalition For A Digital Economy
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
Dominique Lazanski. Head of Digital Policy, Taxpayers Alliance
Professor Ross Anderson, Chair, Foundation for Information Policy Research