Porn filters block cathedral website, including invite to crib service

Since BT activated its porn filters, we’ve seen many examples of perfectly acceptable sites being blocked. Alisdair Calder McGregor reported last week that the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats site, hardly a den of debauchery, had fallen victim to BT’s algorithims.

The latest, and best example to date in my view is the blocking of Glasgow’s St Mary’s Cathedral website and the personal blog of its Provost, the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, as he told us on Twitter.

And he has harsh words for Liberal Democrat ministers who allowed this to happen:

I read both sites regularly and, needless to say, I’ve never seen anything anybody should be protected from on either of them. I suspect the reason they were blocked was because Kelvin writes a lot about LGBT issues and is a passionate campaigner for equal marriage. The Cathedral, being an inclusive and welcoming place even to atheists like me has an LGBT Group.

A filter that gets it so badly wrong is a filter that really is not worth having. The practical reality is that this techonolgy will block potentially lifesaving information from those who seek it. I was shocked to read in the Independent that BT’s filtering service gives people the option of filtering out “gay and lesbian lifestyle” content.  That’s just simply homophobic and could be harmful to young people who really need reassurance and help.

Kelvin’s harsh words about the Liberal Democrats resonate particularly because in 2005 he was our parliamentary candidate in Stirling. It is a matter of huge regret to me that we’ve lost such a strong voice for equality and human rights.

While we’re on that subject, the Herald covered his Christmas Day sermon in which he called on all politicians to use the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next Summer as an opportunity to press the case for human rights to those government leaders who think they’re an optional extra.  He said:

The city of Glasgow is the place where many eyes will be looking as we host the Commonwealth Games.

We must not shirk from naming that which is ill. For all is not well in the Commonwealth. Sadly, driven by the legacy of British colonialism, several Commonwealth countries should be held to account when they come to us. It will not merely be sports people who are here but their political leaders.

With Sri Lanka unable to face ­questions about war crimes; with Uganda and India even in these last few days attempting to turn the clock back for those who are gay, with human rights abuses across Commonwealth countries too numerous to mention, there must not simply be silence when so much of the English speaking world comes to sport and play.

That’s on his blog, too. That’s the sort of stuff these filters prevent us from seeing. Alarm bells should be ringing and Liberal Democrat ministers should be looking to see what they can do to rescue this situation. Nick Clegg has been very good at advocating the need for decent sex education as a way to build resilience against the sort of violent, misogynistic pornography that is actually only a few clicks away on any PC. It’s become very clear very quickly that these filters do exactly the sort of things that those opposing them (and who won the day) at Liberal Democrat conference last September predicted. This is the piece I wrote at the time. The motion was referred back to the Federal Policy Committee and we will presumably be debating a revised policy at a future conference.

If our ministers’ strategy was to show how ridiculous Cameron’s porn filters are, well, that’s abundantly clear now. They need to now go back to work and continue to argue for the right things. It’s talk not tech that is best at combating the malign influences of much internet pornography.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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14 Comments

  • They may be “Cameron’s porn filters” but we’re tainted with the same stupidity.

    O2 have only just rectified a situation where you could block your children’s access to Childline. BT changed the description of their Sex Education blocking category but probably not the function. The first concept to be blocked, in the original words, was “respect for a partner”.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Dec '13 - 5:15pm

    I like the irony of your blog post opposing web porn filters being juxtaposed with a plug for the “No More Page 3″ campaign you support.

  • “That is very, very different from wanting the mandatory blocking of websites.”

    Not that I agree with it, but this isn’t mandatory blocking of websites; it’s an optional filter which people can choose whether to use. In that sense it allows people more choice than the withdrawal of Page 3 would do.

  • I’d have thought liberals should be far more concerned about the proposed extension of the ‘Cleanfeed’ system to cover the mandatory blocking of ‘extremist political content’, but I can’t see that there has been any comment on it here since it was announced nearly a month ago:
    http://www.bit-tech.net/news/bits/2013/11/29/extremism-filter/1

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Dec '13 - 8:41pm

    @George Potter
    Er, who told you the porn filters are “mandatory”? I think you’ll find they are entirely voluntary and optional, so my comment stands.

    @Ed Wilson
    The New Statesman article claims that it was “always the plan” to block sites like Childline, but you report that Childline has now been unblocked, which suggests to me that the New Statesman writer has a febrile imagination.

    I wish Liberals would focus a little more on the substantive issues at stake here rather than gleefully jumping on technical teething troubles of the new filters. Of course these kinds of problems were going to be rife at the start, but by all accounts the web companies are acting fast to rectify them.

  • @stuart Mitchell
    I agree. What this website needs more than ever is serious analysis, not gleeful jumping on every teething problem that the government has, whether it be on this issue or others.
    What it comes down to is that’s it’s now more important to work towards securing seats at the next general election for our party and this means people have to stop knocking and grow up. We’re in government, not in opposition. When there are problems a quiet word with the relevant Lib Dem Minister is the right approach.

  • Paul In Twickenham 27th Dec '13 - 11:35pm

    But don’t we all having a sneaking admiration for the Daily Mail-filter? Does it turn off the computer if it sees the strapline “by Jan Moir”?

  • Steve Comer 28th Dec '13 - 2:10am

    When I had a Council BlackBerry the filter on it was so tight I couldn’t even search for ‘Essex County Council!’
    I agree we should focus on the substantive issue, We have recently agreed policy on the subject, so lets argue for it in government.

  • The porn filter decisions made by private enterprize shows we need bigger government than the path we are going along. I will never vote for Cam’s small state or Milli’s big state – so what size is our state to be?

  • Frank Bowles 30th Dec '13 - 8:29pm

    We are walking blindly into allowing the government to censor the internet using those bogie men of “hard core pornography” and “risk to children” to create a situation where the default will be that people accept censored feeds which can then be used to “protect” us from all sorts of websites that the Government thinks we shouldn’t see.

    Yes of course one can opt out, but most will not, or would see opting out as something shameful, perhaps an admission to being a porn user. The effect will be to bring the majority of new internet connections behind the great Cameron firewall. And then life will be so much easier. No need to take the Pirate Bay through the courts; a quiet word with the ISPs and most people can have a site that the commercial chums don’t like on the censored list.

    And as our debate at conference showed, there are many ways for bright kids to get round the filter, it will be the adults who are censored.

  • I’m still more concerned about the proposal to extend the ‘Cleanfeed’ system to cover political content deemed to be unacceptable. That really is mandatory censorship, which no one will be able to opt out of.

    Do the Lib Dems have a view on this? Have Lib Dem ministers expressed any opinion about it?

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