UK ISPs continue to resist calls to block online porn

You may recall that in October 2011, we reported on plans by the British Government to force internet service providers to restrict access to online pornography by default, requiring users to ‘opt in’ to view explicit sexual content (or opt out of the mandatory filters, if you prefer).

While those proposals have not yet been fully implemented, the idea remains alive and well, and Prime Minister David Cameron this week reiterated his support for the broad strokes, so to speak, of the concept. But the UK’s ISPs aren’t at all happy with the proposals, and have hit back at the plans, accusing the Government of viewing such content filters as “a silver bullet".

Nicholas Lansman, the secretary general of the UK’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), told The Telegraph: “Forcing ISPs to filter adult content at the network level, which users would then have to opt out of, is neither the most effective nor most appropriate way to prevent access to inappropriate material online.”


Inappropriate, in so many ways.

Lobby groups and charities on the other side of the argument believe that this is simply obfuscation on the part of the ISPs, who have no wish to be saddled with this kind of responsibility. The ISPs, meanwhile, believe that the proposals aren’t just technically unsound, but also undermine the role that parents should be playing in monitoring the content that their children view online.

Mr. Lansman added that network-level filtering "is easy to circumvent, reduces the degree of active interest and parental mediation, and has clear implications for freedom of speech. Instead, parents should choose how they restrict access to content, be it on the device- or network-level, with the tools provided.” Such comments will no doubt anger the charity Mothers’ Union, one of the strongest proponents of the plans, who last year produced a report which it shared with Prime Minister Cameron, which not only supported the idea of ISP network-level filters of adult content, but also proposed enforcing age restrictions for music videos and a nationwide reduction or ban on inappropriate slogans on children's clothing.


The debate continues over who should protect children from adult content - parents or service providers?

The position of the ISPs is that rather than mandating that web providers should do parents’ work for them, “Government should concentrate on helping educate consumers to ensure they know about the tools already available to them to restrict unwanted content.” The Government’s position doesn’t seem to have weakened, however.

Prime Minister Cameron yesterday told the House of Commons that he still believes online child protection to be “a very important subject”, and promised to continue working with ISPs “to deliver these systems". He also said that he would carefully review the findings of a cross-party Inquiry, set up by the Government last year, which has reported that ISPs are failing to go far enough in blocking inappropriate content.

While the UK’s four largest internet service providers – BT, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media and TalkTalk – agreed last year to work with the Government on introducing filters and a mandatory opt-in to adult content, only TalkTalk has so far formally announced its plans to force its customers to choose whether or not they would like access to online pornography. Since the measure was introduced last month, TalkTalk reports that one in three of its new customers have opted to keep pornographic content blocked on their accounts.


Lower image via Sky News

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