Porn blocking comes in… and blocks the LGBT+LD website as porn

As many readers will remember, during the debate on motion F17 at Autumn Conference many speeches were made by technically inclined LibDem members describing how the proposed porn blocks would not work, and in particular would misclassify and block legitimate websites as containing pornographic content.

Just in case we needed confirmation that we were right, TalkTalk have provided it… by classifying the LGBT+LD portion of the party website as porn. In addition, the website of LGBT charity “London Friend” has been blocked. These are not isolated incidents. Wired has a more in-depth write-up of sites which have been blocked by TalkTalk, BT and Sky, which include not just LGBT resources but rape crisis centres and educational sites. This was also covered by Newsnight, and there’s a write-up on the BBC website here.

Significantly, both these reports note that some hardcore porn sites are not being blocked by these draconian filters.

It is quite clear that what many of us – too many to all speak in the debate – were saying at the time was right. Web filtering cannot be constructed to perfectly categorise content. It desperately worries me that essential sites on sexual health, gender and sexuality, domestic violence and LGBT+ rights are being blocked, and it is also hugely concerning that parents may rely upon these imperfect filters without realising that not all hardcore content is filtered out.

Clearly, we were right to object to the very concept of blocks. I regret that FCC did not accept the amendment to F17 authored by myself and James Shaddock at the time of the last conference, and we must now take the opportunity to publicise the evidence that web filtering does not work as widely as possible.

We should also make very clear that as Liberals we oppose such draconian measures.

* Alisdair Calder McGregor is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley.

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50 Comments

  • How about BT blocking “sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy”? That’s Sex Education.
    http://bt.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/46809/related/1

  • Yeah, the traffic on twitter on that one has been quite something, Ed. Farron says he’s on it.

    @AAEmmerson @julianhuppert Yes – I've seen it. It's very bad. Am raising it asap!— Tim Farron (@timfarron) December 20, 2013

    @brianstokes92 @julianhuppert @AAEmmerson @LGBTLD Yes – am raising this too!— Tim Farron (@timfarron) December 20, 2013

  • I must ask why the Lib Dems allowed the law to pass, then? This was entirely predictable.

  • jenny barnes 20th Dec '13 - 3:48pm

    Also see
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/peter-van-buren/welcome-to-memory-hole-disappearing-edward-snowden
    One suspects that the anti – paedo / anti porn what about the kids etc is just a cover for what the elite really want to do with the internet.

  • That would be my suspicion too, Jenny.

    TalkTalk have now apologised for blocking Plus, but not for the rest of the cack-handed implementation of this travesty: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/12/20/talktalk-apologises-for-using-porn-filter-to-block-access-to-lib-dem-lgbt-website/
    And of course, no word from BT as to why they think it’s sensible to give people the option to block sexual health and LGBT rights websites. I suspect BT are actually trolling to try to get the government to back down…

  • As Jenny says. The remarkable failure to charge anyone influential much under 80 years old in connection with child porn raises a serious question about how committed the elite are to ending such abuse or, alternatively, about how well-connected abusers are able to hit investigations into the long grass. Either way creating a moral panic then coming up with a non-workable solution suggests a darker motive.

  • There are 2 separate issues here (1 principle, 1 practice) and it is important not to conflate them.

    1) Should we have opt in or opt out filters? I understand the argument that requiring people to opt in to adult material is an unreasonable barrier to the freedom of individuals to view what they like on the internet. It is certainly an inconvenience but I’m not sure there is any fundamental principle at stake. Any adult can still access whatever they want, they just have to verify their age first. Would you consider being ID’d in a pub an attack on your liberty?

    2) How well do the filters operate? Clearly no technology is going to be perfect. Some adult sites will get through the filter and other innocent sites will get caught. It was inevitable that when network wide filters were introduced a huge number of additional sites would get caught. Could much of the unnecessary blocking been avoided by taking more time over the implementation? Absolutely. An industry working group is currently testing technology to reduce this and implement simple mechanisms to allow sites to unblock themselves. Implementation should have been delayed until this group had reported. However, just because there are issues currently, I don’t think that means that the tech is fundamentally flawed.

    My overall point is that just because the opt out blocks are not currently working very well, it doesnt mean that the concept of them is wrong. After all, we’ve had opt out filters on mobiles for a number of years without too many problems.

  • Alisdair McGregor 20th Dec '13 - 5:10pm

    The stuff about BTs filter options broke after I wrote the article. I had the opportunity to add a comment about it to this article, but chose not to – mostly because it could make up an entire article all by itself. BTs *deliberate* filtering of sex education is a (somewhat) different topic to the *unintentional* filtering of sex ed by misclassification as porn.

    Nick – The comment about a parallel between purchasing alcohol in a pub and the internet connection is truer than you think, but in a totally opposite way.

    Remember that it is not illegal to buy alcohol and allow your children (over 5) to consume it at home, but only an adult can purchase it in the first place. In the same way it’s only possible for the householder to obtain an internet connection, and it’s down to them who accesses it within the home.

    I would be extremely annoyed if an off license were only willing to sell me alcohol with child proof caps or some other such imposition, and it’s this that is analogous to the imposition of content filters by default.

  • Alisdair – you’re quite right. The analogy goes further than I realised. However, your example supports my point. Sure child proof caps would be inconvenient but a fundamental limiting of your freedom to drink? I don’t think so. (I also think that child proof caps would be far more inconvenient as you’d have to remove them every time you accessed alcohol rather than just the first time)

  • Alisdair McGregor 20th Dec '13 - 5:38pm

    They would be a statist imposition to resolve an issue which would be better and more easily solved by an adult taking responsibility for their child.

  • “They would be a statist imposition to resolve an issue which would be better and more easily solved by an adult taking responsibility for their child.”

    +1 to that (as a parent as well as a Liberal)

  • A. Cuerden: it’s not statutory law, it’s just airs and graces by the Prime Minister to reach the same effect.

  • Alisdair – I agree that it’s an imposition but it’s a very small one. A couple of clicks, once, is all it takes to circumvent it.

    I also agree that it would be better solved by parents discussing the issue with their children. I don’t think opt out blocks will prevent that conversation. They may even prompt parents to talk about it.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Dec '13 - 6:36pm

    Both of your main arguments against the filters are very weak.

    For a start, you reject the filters on the grounds that they are “not perfect”. Well if you’re going to set the bar that ridiculously high, we might as well never try to implement any kind of solution for anything, because nothing is perfect in this world.

    You then complain that parents will rely too much on these imperfect filters. Any parent who does so would indeed be foolish. But who is actually telling parents that the filters are a perfect catch-all means of parental control? I’m not aware of anybody on the pro-filters side who is making that claim; it’s a classic straw man.

    The filters are a limited but useful tool. As a parent, I welcome them as one of several methods at my disposal. Like any tool, they will not work perfectly all the time, and they will need to be used properly in order to work at all. Parents who understand this will find the filters very useful. Parents who do not understand this need to be educated to do so.

    If you totally reject the entire concept of the filter – even when used as one of several tools by parents who voluntarily opt in to it – then please tell me what, if anything, you would like to do instead. Bearing in mind that, by your own standards, any solution really ought to be “perfect”. Dave talks about “education”, which usually means kicking the problem in to the long grass and doing nothing.

    All you need to do about the LGBT+LD site is report it to the web companies and get them to whitelist it. Problem solved.

    The issue we face here is that as a society we have sleepwalked in to a situation whereby kids have unlimited access to hardcore porn; most parents were not warned in advance that this would happen (some will still not realise even now), and no discussion took place about whether society wanted this to happen, or whether there was anything we could do to try and protect children from the worst of it. This debate is happening about 15 years later than it should have done – so I’m afraid the filters and their whitelists have rather a lot of catching up to do.

    “We should also make very clear that as Liberals we oppose such draconian measures.”

    Pure hyperbole. There’s nothing draconian about an entirely voluntary filter.

    @A. Cuerden – No law has been passed. As of now, it’s voluntary.

  • @StuartMitchell

    It remains to be seen whether the whitelisting process will run smoothly for ordinary folk. (I’m sure it will be fine for websites aligned to major political parties). Anyone who has ever had a problem with a company the size of BT knows it can take ages to resolve relatively simple things. If an individual running a website finds it has been blacklisted they are going to have to argue their case with each and every ISP that operates a filter – potentially dozens of companies. It is unclear what rights they have to be notified about the decision to block, or what rights they have to challenge the decision. During the challenge process their website will presumably be blocked, i.e. “guilty until proven innocent”. Any liberal should have real concerns about the power of large multinational ISPs to silence small websites, and should want to see strong safeguards over the use of these powers.

    You also describe the filter as “entirely voluntary”. This is not the case from the perspective of a website operator.

  • I administered a web filter (for my employer) for about five years.

    For c.500 users, we received an average of about 15 requests per week for access to sites, of which the majority were valid requests, usually where the site had been categorised incorrectly, but sometimes because the site was correctly categorised but was an exception to the blocking requirement (e.g. the site belonged to a client).

    We were able to recategorise sites where appropriate, or to create single-user or general exceptions where that was appropriate. It took time to do this, and the staffing levels for the recategorisation team at an ISP that has hundreds of thousands or millions of users would drive up ISP bill to a ridiculous level.

    If these filters are to be useful, then the administrator of the internet connection (ie the adult paying the bill) should be able to create exceptions or recategorise sites immediately. Indeed, if they are browsing, the block page should show a username/password box to unblock the blocked site (by creating an exception that applies to just that household).

    Because this would require the storage of a per-user exceptions list, it would still be expensive, both in storage and in processing time (the ruleset would be bigger, so the processor determining whether to permit the access would take longer).

    If you don’t do this, though, you get the situation where a site is blocked and the only unblock option is to turn the filters off altogether. Very quickly, many people will switch the filters off, which will undermine the whole concept.

    Take a look at the mobile filters – a huge percentage of people paying their own bills have turned them off; it’s mostly just employer-paid phones and children using parent-paid phones that still have them amongst people who do any significant amount of web browsing (many people have mobiles and almost never browse the web on them).

    Even the children have often had them turned off. Remember the week a couple of years ago when they blocked wikipedia? Lots of kids got their parents to turn the filters off that week. A lot fewer turned them back on when wikipedia was unblocked.

  • MatGB: *applause*

  • James Brough 21st Dec '13 - 8:47am

    John commented that with large companies, it can take a long time to get simple things changed. As an example of that, my ex-wife and I used to get our internet and phone provided by Virgin. When I moved out three years ago, she asked for the account to be transferred into her name and was told that this had been done. At regular intervals since then, she has needed to change the package and each time has been told that she needed my permission as the account was in my name. After three years and yet another conversation in which she explained that I had left and that the account should be in her name, Virgin switched it off on the grounds that I had left and therefore didn’t need it any more. I have very limited faith in the idea that switching filters on and of at customer request will happen.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Dec '13 - 9:20am

    MatGB: “Stuart, you may think the basic argument against censorship and in favour of responsible parenting is weak, I don’t. Censorship is wrong. Simple.”

    It’s fortunate then that what has been brought in is not censorship. Parents being given the choice to use these filters if they want to, with nobody forced to have them, is not censorship, it IS responsible parenting. Which makes most of your other points irrelevant.

    If the false positives issue is such a fatal drawback, how come most of the anti-filters lobby advise parents to use their own parental control software instead? Don’t they realise home-installed filters can block legitimate sites too? I’ve just switched on the parental filter on my Kaspersky Internet Security (market-leading software which usually comes out top in group tests) and found that the LGBT+LD website was blocked for containing “pornography, erotic materials (Heuristic analysis)”.

    Assuming the web companies do the right thing and whitelist the LGBT+LD, kids using such filters will actually find it EASIER to access such sites than they would if their parents took the anti-filter lobby’s advice and installed software like Kaspersky.

    Dismissing the filters because of these teething problems is simply ridiculous. If the web industry had not sat around and done virtually nothing for 15 years, and if they put the same amount of resources and initiative into improving these filters as they do in to developing means of spying on web users, then this wouldn’t be an issue. It amazes me, given the advances in technology in recent years, that people still claim it is beyond the wits of man to devise an efficient filter.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Dec '13 - 9:22am

    As a postscript to the above, I still had my Kaspersky parental controls switched on when I clicked on “Post Comment”, and Kaspersky actually blocked THIS page as well.

  • Just for the record we use talktalk (and have put the filter on a few days ago) and can access pinknews now.

    I was in the debate at conference on this (and voted) so totally get how this is an issue people are passionate about and where the LGBT correspondents on this thread are coming from, However… as a parent of two small children I genuinely appreciate the filter that is being provided by talktalk. It blocks the really nasty pornographic material that my children are only a few clicks away from whenever they use the internet. I think its hard for people without children to understand (I have completely changed my mind on this post parenthood) that as a parent you are desperate to preserve the innocence of childhood for as long as you possibly can (well until teenage years if possible), which is becoming increasingly difficult in this modern world. I was surprised, the system is actually pretty good, you can also choose what categories of site to restrict, including social networks or dating sites if you want to (many parents are deeply concerned about sites like ask.fm for example) and whitelist/blacklist any site you want to personally.

    I know the debate has been around teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality being unable to find information, but please do think of the millions of *young* children across the UK who are accessing the internet every day who may inadvertently be exposed to the most depraved, humiliating pornography or violent images you can imagine without this filter.

    Yes there will be teething problems but the more they get used the more accurate the whitelists/blacklists will become. I see them as a great tool to stop 99% of inadvertent access to inappropriate websites by young children (e.g. under 11 or 12) which is what I and most parents care about and lets be honest, even a remotely tech savvy teenager will bypass them in 5 minutes using a proxy or whatever.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Dec '13 - 10:05am

    @Gareth Wilson
    “Just for the record we use talktalk (and have put the filter on a few days ago) and can access pinknews now.”

    Kaspersky blocks Pink News. 1-0 to the talktalk filter.

    I totally agree with you Gareth. If these filters were in any way compulsory, those moaning about “censorship” would be right and I’d back them 100%. But an optional filter is a useful tool for parents to have available to them, and it is right (and indeed *liberal*) that people should have this choice.

  • James Sutherland 21st Dec '13 - 10:05am

    I object to Cameron and Perry demanding that ISPs install these filters for two reasons, neither touched on here.

    One is cost: TalkTalk alone have apparently spent upwards of £25m on this mess – money which ultimately comes from the pockets of every customer, whether they use or support filtering or not. Stuart buying and using the Kaspersky software is fine with me: his choice, his money (and only his own access to libdemvoice which gets cut off by it!). Making other people pay for it is not.

    The other is more technical. Normally, an ISP is like the Royal Mail: they just move lots of little containers of data from A to B, without looking inside. They see a chunk of data from me on 1.2.3.4 going to the computer on 4.3.2.1, and send it off in that direction – nothing more. They don’t know or care whether that data is part of an email, a phone call or a web page: that’s not their job. If they want to try blocking “adult” content, that all changes: they need to start looking inside those packets, analysing them to try to figure out what I’m doing and whether or not it’s permitted. That’s why it’s so expensive, and why I think it should actually be *prohibited*, not just opt-in or even opt-out: the Royal Mail are not permitted to read my mail, my ISP should not be allowed to look at packet contents for the same reason. (Long term, particularly after the NSA/GCHQ revelations, an increasing amount of data will be encrypted anyway – making it impossible for ISPs to read the content anyway.)

  • Hi James,

    On the topic of ISPs looking at your data, this is already happening for legitimate business reasons, ISP’s will manage non essential traffic to sites like bitorrent and usenet during peak hours and prioritise streaming traffic from iplayer and netflix for example. Privacy online will always be a bit of an illusion but your comparison to Royal Mail is a good one, you’re 100% correct we should defend our right to privacy when we go online, but I’m not too sure how that relates to an optional content filter I can choose to turn on or off, as I can leave it off if I want to.

    However its not just legitimate post that comes through my door every morning, I get mountains of junk mail which I never asked for or wanted. My children can easily pick the junkmail up off the doormat, imagine the uproar if adverts for porn sites, dating sites and other ‘adult’ content was coming in the post every day, I’d want the *option* to block this unsolicited content. For me these ISP filters are similar, they stop my children being exposed to age inappropriate advertising and websites, if I so wish.

    It really is worth reiterating that once a child gets a reasonable amount of technical ability they will have no problem bypassing them using a proxy service of some sort, so I would imagine by the time a child is a teenager they’ll be able to access any site they want with a little bit of persistence. These filters in practice will only block young children from viewing content, which imo is what parents really care about.

  • jenny barnes 21st Dec '13 - 12:08pm

    Not all parents are benign, especially if their children are different in some way. LGBT is a strong example. Some children get support, some get beaten, some get thrown out on the street. Do we really support allowing abusive parents to deprive their children of potentially life saving information? I hope not. The BT gay/lesbian filter is appalling.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Dec '13 - 12:27pm

    @jenny barnes
    That’s why it’s right that pressure should be put on BT to modify their filter. But as I’ve already demonstrated, alternative parental control methods advocated by the anti-filter lobby actually INCREASE the possibility of children being denied access to such sites.

  • This is a classic “something must be done” response. It won’t stop kids looking at porn if they want to and I am yet to be persuaded it will make kids one iota safer.

    In Claire Perry’s report p31 Will Gardner raised the spectre of little kids looking for Cbeebies but putting “CBoobies” into Google by mistake, with disastrous results. David Cameron also mentioned this in an interview. Well, go on then, put “CBoobies” into Google and see what comes up. It’s hardly anything to frighten the horses.

    This measure will increase the popularity amongst teenagers of proxies such as hidemyass.com to circumvent ISP filters. I heard from one recent school pupil that his IT teacher actually told the pupils to use a proxy to find out information that was blocked by the school’s filter.

    VPNs and TOR are also likely to become more popular. Beartunnel.com is very user friendly. In a few seconds you can be in Japan, or Canada, or the US, or Germany, and completely fool the ISP filter.

    Tumblr, Facebook, Vimeo, Instagram, YouTube.. all these can be used to view salacious images but are not blocked by the ISP filter, as far as I can establish.

    And what about kids just sending emails to each other with images attached? Not filtered.

    PCPro did a piece on this last August. I stand corrcted if anyone knows whether any of this has been resolved:

    http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/383455/a-year-on-talktalks-porn-filter-flaws-remain

    You can use the simple expedient of Google image with search safe off to get round the filter.

    But my favourite is this one. One can use Google Translate to put in a URL of a porn site and view it unhindered by the ISP filter. So parents think their child is hard at work on their French homework, protected by the ISP filter, while they are looking at porn sites.

    My main gripe in all this is that it leaves us with smug and happy parents who think they have cracked it, while their kids run rings round the filters, thus deteriorating the parent/child trust relationship.

  • Simon Banks 22nd Dec '13 - 2:31pm

    Nick:

    There are a number of problems with opt-in systems. What verifiable proof of age will be accepted? This is likely to be something like a National Insurance number, a scan of a birth certificate, employment details or details of a credit card. An enormous increase in the traffic of such sensitive information, gold-dust to fraudsters and identity thefts, would result. Who keeps the information of who’s opted in, where? How secure will it be? Not only a potential breach of liberty, but opportunity for blackmail and state pressure on people asking awkward questions may be in prospect. Finally, of course, the question that has been well-aired here – who decides what’s porn and why. Leave it to the companies and inevitably junior people, not necessarily in the UK or conversant with British culture, will make often biased or ill-considered decisions; or it’ll be done automatically by some computer system that’ll pick out word like rape or indeed beaver (which has happened in the U.S. – tough on mammalian biologists).

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Dec '13 - 3:49pm

    @Paul Walter
    “This is a classic “something must be done” response.”

    As opposed to the classic “nothing must be done” approach favoured by Liberals. I don’t see anybody here offering any better ideas, or making a strong case for why turning the filters off would be better than leaving them on. The LGBT/education websites issue is reportedly already being addressed, so it may not be much of a problem.

    All the anti-filter arguments here are illogical and contradictory. You (I’m addressing Paul Walter and MatGB specifically here) claim that the filters cannot work and will be easily circumvented. Yet you also say that the filters will stop kids from finding out essential information. You can’t have it both ways. If the filters are completely useless then you have no need to worry about kids being kept away from educational sites. If the filters *do* work for some users, then the filters *will* stop some kids from viewing porn, and an alternative to switching them off altogether is to make them work better – and reports here suggest that the web companies are already acting on these concerns.

    And still you persist with this nonsense that the filters have to work perfectly for all users in order to work at all. This is baloney – if the filters resulted in even a 10% net reduction in the number of kids viewing hardcore porn, that would be a good thing.

    Another contradication is that you tell us a lot of parents are monsters who would deny their children access to vital information, yet at the same time you tell us we shouldn’t be bothering with any sort of society-based solution because we should be giving total responsibility to parents. You see the problem there? Parents have primary responsibility for these things but I do believe it is an issue for society as a whole as well – partly because some parents are just as monstrous as you describe. If that makes me anti-liberal in your eyes, I’m proud to be so.

    By the way MatGB, the people I have encountered advocating home-based filters were mostly on this site.

  • Tim: these sites are being blocked incorrectly. I stand to be corrected but I don’t think any filters (at least not the main ISP’s ones) have an option to intentional block victim support sites. Even if they did, that would be an argument against all filter systems, including existing opt in ones.

    Simon – it shouldn’t be too big an increase given that these companies presumably already the bank details of the account holder. That said, I do also have concerns about a database of people’s preferences. I don’t know enough about database technology to know how it would be kept but presumably, like bank account details, it can be kept very secure. In terms of who decides, clearly there are currently problems. No system will be error free. The important thing is that there a clear and simple mechanism for whitelisting sites

  • James Sutherland 22nd Dec '13 - 7:44pm

    “I don’t see anybody here offering any better ideas, or making a strong case for why turning the filters off would be better than leaving them on.”

    It isn’t a question of turning them off, but not installing them in the first place – saving upwards of £100m which can then be invested in a better service for us all. (TalkTalk’s system alone was apparently priced at £25m.) Some want filtering, some don’t; personally, using local (and more effective) filters for those who want it seems a much better use of resources.

    Personally, I’m just sticking with an ISP which does not have filters. (Not “turned off”: simply not present in the first place.) As long as nobody takes that option away it doesn’t matter too much to me what other ISPs do. Can anyone thing of a good reason why my current ISP should be stopped from offering this service to customers who want it?

  • Tim – I stand partially corrected. Blocking sex ed sites is a bad idea. However, I don’t see a block for victim support sites. It also doesn’t change my point that your argument is an argument against all filters, including the previous opt in ones. Are you arguing that all filters are wrong and should be banned?

  • “As opposed to the classic “nothing must be done” approach favoured by Liberals.”

    Or indeed the even more classic Liberal Democrat approach of “let’s understand the problem first, if there is one, through a process of governmental and parliamentary scrutiny, and then develop solutions which favour individual education and empowerment over corporate or governmental intervention”.

    I am yet to be convinced there is a problem here which requires inaccurate filters to solve it. I understand that there are enormous problems with online grooming and online bullying, and I am in favour of much greater investment in CEOP to crack down on those abuses.

    With the online filtering debate, there appear to be two types of child at issue here:

    1. Teenagers who are actively looking for porn and will find it whatever filters are put in place. I think there is a consensus that parent/child communication is the way forward here. That is certainly my view. I would say that there needs to be parental education about the internet, but I think that is coming naturally as parents from a new generation, who were brought up on the internet, come on board. (By the way, I think there is a major issue with some politicians not understanding the internet. I am not impressed by David Cameron’s grasp of some essentials, for example. And even Saint Vincent of Cable once referred to “the Google”.)

    2. Infants who might stumble upon horrific websites. I remain very unconvinced that there is a problem here, having read Claire Perry’s report. Google is relatively benign in the results it comes up with. You really have to be quite determined to come up with anything nasty and then you would have to click on the site to see it. And Google is progressively withdrawing more and more sites from its results. I understand that most pornographic sites have an entry “Are you over 18 years old?” stop screen. I am yet to see evidence that there is a problem here, except in the minds of parents and politicians who do not understand the internet. But I would be very interested to hear such evidence.

    One of the arguments put forward by the Perry report was that parents are using “Netnanny”-type software less, so government needs to enforce filters to fill the breach. What utter nonsense! It’s up to parents to decide what filters should be in place and it could be that the reason filter software is being used less by parents is because parents are understanding the net more and communicating more appropriately with their children.

    Which leads me back to the opening point of the new filters being introduced by ISPs.

    I, quite frankly, have given up trying to follow what’s opt out and what’s opt in.

    Cameron seemed to be threatening that ISPs would have to impose default filters unless specifically asked by users not to switch the filter on for their home.

    What we have now is ISPs giving the option of a filter, which can be turned down.

    I am reasonably comfortable with that situation, although I don’t only think it is pointless. I know it is pointless.

    However, the reason why I will keep banging on about the pointlessness of these filters is because I don’t want to see the situation where such filters are further beefed up and become the default. Certainly, if there was any possibility of that happening, this whole debate would need to be thoroughly picked over by parliament. That is what is lacking so far in this debate.

    We appear to have had the threat of a coup d’etat on this specific narrow issue where the British Constitution (or lack of it) is in danger of being rewritten to say that matters of online filtering shall be decided by the Members of Parliament for Devizes and Witney.

    Coming back to the point about the classic Liberal approach: I think what we are seeing here is a classic Liberal instinctive repulsion at anything which smacks of censorship. We are often accused of being Nanny statists, well here is an instance when our true liberal instincts are shown. We are against censorship and corporate interference, and there are not many things more liberal than the internet. That is why we are passionate about this, I feel.

    But the central point is actually that you cannot control the internet. It grows and mutates too often. You can control bits of it and you can control parts of it to an extent, but you can’t actually control it completely. So, in the case of this narrow debate about online filters, I would say, well don’t try then. But, I emphasise, online grooming and bullying is an entirely different matter and I think that, rather than focussing on pathetic filters, we should focus all our efforts on bolstering CEOP and education to eliminate online grooming and bullying. Those are the real issues here, not this middle class parlour game about filters.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Dec '13 - 10:32am

    @Paul
    Sadly I’ll be engaged in a Christmas cookathon much of today so don’t know when I’ll get a chance to respond properly to your obviously very thoughtful post.

    But one thing does jump out at me :-

    “Google is relatively benign in the results it comes up with… And Google is progressively withdrawing more and more sites from its results. I understand that most pornographic sites have an entry ‘Are you over 18 years old?’ stop screen.”

    Paul, you are seriously wrong on this. Google cheerfully serves up copious amounts of links to the strongest porn imaginable, much of which would be classed as illegal if you were caught in possession of it. The vast majority of this stuff has no stop signs whatsoever.

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Go and have a Google yourself, if you have the stomach for it.

    You condemn politicians for being ignorant about the Internet, but your own idea of what’s available seems to be based on the way things were back in the 90s, when stop screens were indeed the norm. Things are very different now.

    “let’s understand the problem first”

    Absolutely.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Dec '13 - 10:42am

    The more I think about Paul’s post, the more it alarms me. If a highly intelligent, politically sophisticated and (apparently) tech-savvy person like Paul can be so unaware of what is available, how can the average parent be expected to know, and how can we even have a meaningful debate about it?

  • Stuart, pease point me ot hard evidence that signigicant numbers of infants have been harmed by accidental visits to horrific websites.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Dec '13 - 1:45pm

    @Paul Walter

    https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/news/newsRelease.asp?newsPk=2108

    Note in particular the finding that “accidental exposure to pornography is more prevalent than deliberate access”.

    I have a question for you. Are you in favour of the filtering that takes place based on the Internet Watch Foundation blacklist?

  • Andrew Colman 23rd Dec '13 - 2:47pm

    This kind of problem (innocent sites being blocked) is the main reason why I am against state censorship and believe the job of controlling what kids see should be left to parents.

    Evil exists, whether we like it or not, whether censored or not . It is important for parents to educate their children so they can handle evil when it appears.

  • UK porn filter defeated in hours by chrome plug-in

    http://www.t3.com/news/uks-porn-filter-defeated-in-hours-by-chrome-plugin

    This could be used as an argument for not having these filters. But for me I think its a strength. Once a child reaches teenage years and gets a bit of tech knowledge behind them they’ll circumvent these filters no problem. By that time they’ll be able to see all sorts of nastiness by passing videos via bluetooth to each other at school. BUT – it will protect young children from pornography and violence. Which is what most people care about.

    Of course these filters dont take the place of good parenting, they’re just one tool in the arsenal.

  • Thanks for that Stuart. Yes.

  • Passing through 23rd Dec '13 - 11:04pm

    I see the 02 filter currently blocks Childline but not McDonalds.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/12/23/bt_changes_wording_of_education_filter_after_complaints/

    I wonder if we all think very hard if we can come up with some sort of bad scenario where an abusive parent mightn’t want their child accessing a website such as Childline?

    Still I’m sure a Happy Meal will make it all better.

  • “The more I think about Paul’s post, the more it alarms me. If a highly intelligent, politically sophisticated and (apparently) tech-savvy person like Paul can be so unaware of what is available, how can the average parent be expected to know, and how can we even have a meaningful debate about it?”

    So, I just searched Google for sex, tit, bum, penis, willy and vagina. Save for two porn links at the bottom of the tit search results page and a relatively tame photo of a vibrator on the willy one, there is nothing harmful which comes up on the search pages.

  • Paul Walter 24th Dec ’13 – 9:06am “So, I just searched Google for sex, tit, bum, penis, willy and vagina.”

    Your comment reminded me of the following from the days of Flanders & Swann on the BBC long before the internet, and the moral panic of today ( I have no hard evidence that this harmed me as a child) -

    P** P* B**** B** D******
    Flanders & Swann

    Ma’s out, Pa’s out, Let’s talk rude!
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
    Dance in the garden in the nude,
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
    Let’s write rude words all down our street,
    Stick out our tongues at the people we meet,
    Let’s have an intellectual treat
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

    Sunday again on CBC,
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
    And Norman Mailer is coming to tea,
    Pee Po Belly Bum Pants!
    Alan Ginsberg reads on and on,
    But we’re having a happening when he’s gone,
    Come to the party in the john,
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

    Disney’s planning a double bill,
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
    Christopher Robin meets Fanny Hill,
    Pooh Bear Belly Bum Drawers.
    On stage and screen we can all work hard,
    Throwing toilet rolls in our own backyard,
    Who’s afraid of the avant-garde?
    Pee Pee Po Po Belly Belly Bum Bum, Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

    What gets the prizes and wins awards?
    Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
    What did Prince Phillip tell the Lords?
    Well, never mind that.
    At Oxford and Cambridge, and Yale and all,
    and at Berkely, they really have a ball,
    ‘cos the higher the brow, the harder they fall,
    For Belly Belly Bum Bum Belly Belly Bum Bum Pee Po Belly Belly Bum Bum, Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

  • @Stuart –

    That study you linked was massively hyped (particularly by the OCC, who commissioned it), but a closer examination shows its results to be rather underwhelming. It finds correlation, not causation. It is hardly surprising that those who watch porn at an earlier age also do drugs at an earlier age and become sexually active at an earlier age. What the study does not do is tell us whether the one caused the other. That is anyone’s guess, but one possibility is a general lack of social inhibitions. That would explain the drug use, which has no obvious link to porn other than the fact that, like porn, a certain lack of social inhibitions is required before engaging in the activity.

    Hundreds of studies have tried to find a causal link between porn and negative societal effects. They have all failed, and some have even found correlations in the opposite direction (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-sunny-side-of-smut).

    Why then, is the OCC presenting correlation as causation? The answer is because they want to. Both the Children’s Commissioner and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner are heavily invested in the anti-porn campaign, and regularly trot out unsubstantiated claims about the effects of porn when interviewed by the media.

    The lead researcher of your study, Miranda Hovarth, is also incredibly anti-porn. As you can tell by googling her previous research, you will notice that she has dedicated a great deal of her career to finding links between the sexualised media and sexual violence.

    I’m sure she’s found many correlations. Correlations on almost anything are easy to find, but tell us nothing about what causes behaviour. Politicians, pressure groups, and the media are fond of overlooking this minor detail when it suits their agenda. In the the 80s and 90s, for example, hyped-up correlations between real-life violence and violence on TV were regularly used to fuel the moral panics on that issue.

    The same thing is happening here.

  • Many thanks indeed, JimGB for that.

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