Why the proposed porn filter is a bad thing

PornI’ve been trying to get my head around Prime Minister David Cameron’s decree, that UK ISPs will be obliged to block porn sites by the end of 2013. The idea is that it will protect children from viewing porn either by accident or design.

The four biggest UK ISPs, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, are the ones being talked about in the media and it caused a bit of embarrassment to the Prime Minister that TalkTalk’s Homesafe filtering is owned by Huawei who themselves have been accused of spying for the Chinese government. Whether the Chinese get to check every URL we view in case it’s porn is a side issue however.

What’s more of a concern is exactly what will be blocked and is a porn filter the thin edge of Internet censorship?

We’re not talking about images such as Page 3 of the Sun here but child pornography and pornography depicting rape. First up of course is whether a filter will work in the first place. No filter is perfect so the kiddies the filter is supposed to protect will still potentially be able to see hard core porn. In fact whilst parents will probably be prevented from accessing porn, in reality kids today are more Internet savvy than their parents, are aware of proxy browsing and will quite happily access anything they want on the net.

So the filters won’t necessarily catch everything, but even worse what are you going to do if your website is somehow mis-classified and gets added to a porn list? More to the point who’s in charge of these lists and who decides what should be blocked, what’s allowable and how you can get your website off the list before you go bankrupt?

The government doesn’t want the responsibility and they’re not even going to legislate for mandatory porn filters. They’re also incidentally not going to pay for them, but want ISPs to foot the bill.

With no legislation smaller ISPs may refuse to implement filters, but even if they do by shopping around ISPs it may be possible to view content through one ISP that’s not available through another. With no central registry who’s to say what’s blocked and what’s not.

There’s also the issue of opt in/out out. David Cameron wants all households in the country automatically opted in to the porn filter. Good luck telling your partner that you want to opt out because you watch a bit of porn without their knowledge.

On BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, David Cameron discussed the proposed porn filters saying: “This is not censorship, this is not the government saying “Right here’s what will be blocked”, this is the government working very hard at talking with all these companies agreeing with them a new protocol”.

Nice idea, no one can seriously object to blocking extreme and illegal porn from children. The problem is it won’t work and a mandatory opted in porn filter will simply leave parents assuming the Internet is a safe place for kids and that they bear no responsibility for monitoring their offspring’s internet access.

Finally what next? So the government hand over a blanket unregulated porn block to ISPs to implement, how long will it be until they use their assumed unlegistlated powers to start dictating what else we can or can’t view online?