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“Porn filters” fail parents and children

By Emily Butselaar / 17 December, 2012

Index welcomes the government’s rejection of a proposal for mandatory blocking of “internet filth”

On Friday (14 December), UK government announced that it will not force internet providers to block online pornography. Despite high-profile campaigns by Claire Perry MP and the Daily Mail newspaper to engineer a moral panic, sense has prevailed.

Index opposed the proposals on the basis they would have led to the filtering legal material by default; ergo censorship. Index also had serious concerns that child safety would be used as a criteria to filter a range of content beyond pornographic materialUnder the Daily Mail’s proposal, only consumers over the age of 18 who had completed a “strict age verification check” would be able to remove such a block.

The news came in the government’s response to a consultation  into internet child safety and parental controls run by the Home Office and the Department of Education. The results were emphatic; parents rejected the default block.

The report says that rather than automatic filtering, most parents “want information about internet safety risks and what to do about them. There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35 per cent of the parents who responded favoured that approach.”

Internet filtering solutions are imperfect, they are easy to circumvent and frequently block legitimate content and legitimate sites. Sites such as those of sexual health clinics or even Essex Council are illegitimately blocked and it can be difficult and time consuming to get such errors fixed. Index’s own website has found itself a victim of such over-blocking in the past.

A 2012 study by the Open Rights Group in conjunction with the London School of Economics revealed that child protection filters “block many more sites than they should.” One of the report’s authors, campaigner Peter Bradwell, said: “These blunt blocks effectively add up to a system of censorship across UK networks.”

Last year after government consultation the major ISPs, BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky Broadband agreed a code of practice, and will offer parental internet controls nicknamed ActiveChoice. Many internet service providers are already offer options to parents who want to block adult content.

TalkTalk began offering a Home Choice solution that protect an entire home internet connection rather than a single device earlier this year, but only one in three TalkTalk broadband customers have enabled it.

On Saturday Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Harriet Harman, expressed anger at the government’s response to the consultation, writing in the Daily Mail that:

The horrifying truth is that while parents are watching Downton Abbey downstairs, their children are upstairs watching degrading images of sex and violence. We need to grasp this painful reality.

Harman expressed common fears about the dark side of the web, where “pornography, bullying, violence and websites promoting suicide and eating disorders are only a few clicks away.”

Yes all of the above can be found on the web, but Harman and her allies need to recognise that no filter will ever be able to successfully block all such material, and a network filter is no match for an educated, alert parent monitoring their children’s internet use. And no filter will ever be able to help and advise a child on how to deal with a cyberbully, children’s number one concern, according to the consultation report.

Emily Butselaar is online editor at Index

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5 Responses to “Porn filters” fail parents and children

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