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Britain is considering mass censorship of the net: all to tackle porn

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The UK is considering default censorship of legal, adult material. Sensible, you might think. But who says what qualifies? We may wake up in a world where BT decides what is 'adult content' and Aids awareness websites are blocked as a default. Now is the time to make your thoughts known.

Ruth Coustick
5 September 2012

The Department for Education consultation considering mass censorship of the internet comes to a close this week. Clare Perry, cross-party MPs and religious groups are pushing for default censorship of legal, adult material.

They fear that children are frequently accessing ‘damaging’ pornographic material online. Whilst well-meaning, the Government’s response to this scare-mongering - a proposal to opt-in to adult material on the internet - is inept and reactionary: a form of mass censorship that will block the wrong content and be essentially useless.

The Government intends to nudge us away from deciding what we will access online, and into the hands of the network providers. It is self-evident that adults should not have to ‘opt-in’ to access material they have a legal right to. Furthermore, ISPs like BT are not qualified to decide what is ‘adult content’. It is a vague and ill-defined term with which to control access to the internet. 

Open Rights Group research has already demonstrated that the current systems for online blocking are riddled with serious flaws. Adult content implies ‘sexual content’; in fact what will be blocked is likely to include sexual health and educational sites, LGBTQ sites, bars and clubs, extremist sites and internet forums for both children and adults who, when on the same network, will have to share the same filters.  

As Child Rights International Network have argued, firewalling children’s rights in the name of ‘protection’ discriminates against sexual minorities and serves to deny children access to age-appropriate information.

There will be huge consequences for those who own unfairly blocked sites, particularly small blogs like the website of a Sheffield church that was blocked by 02 in 2011, as they will find it hard to fight the decision, wasting time and money and damaging business. 

Blocking creates a false sense of security. Trusting blindly in the effectiveness of a filtering system compelled upon an unwilling and ill-suited network provider will make parents ignorant of what their children are really accessing online. It is trivially easy to bypass filters for those who are determined, motivated, and technically adept, including the very young people these measures are trying to ‘protect’. 

For parents who are concerned for the safety of their children online there are far better options. A mix of available filtering software, parental mediation and open discussion will be more valuable than trusting in a clumsy ISP censor.

The loaded consultation tends to privilege the opinions of parents on the issues of default blocking while ignoring human rights and how these blocks will suffocate small business. This is the time to share your voices and views with the Government.

Visit the Open Rights Group website if you wish to email the consultation team and explain that these blocks will not work.

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