Opinion: It shall not pass: The case against F17, the motion on protecting children from online pornography

Many of you will have seen or heard about motion F17 – Protecting Children From Online Pornography. If you are here in Glasgow at Autumn Conference, you will have also heard about the campaign to stop this motion, either through a reference back or voting it down. This motion must not be allowed to pass, either as is or amended, and here we want to lay out five reasons why:

1. Impossible to Implement

The recommendations put forward in both in the motion and amendment, are simply unworkable. The Internet does not work in the same way as other broadcast media,. As an on-demand medium that exists outside the realms of governmental control, it is not within the reach of government to catalogue and categorise, as would be necessary to implement the filtering suggested.

2. Unintended consequences

There is no consideration for how such filtering processes can regularly block sites that they are supposed to allow, nor is there a guarantee that sites that are supposed to be blocked are done so.  They are simply arbitrary algorithms, picking up on things such as keywords. There is also no consideration for that fact that if one person in a household deactivates filtering at an ISP level, then it is done so for everyone else.

3. Access to Information on sexuality, sexual health, gender, bullying and body confidence.

As mentioned above, filtering works in an arbitrary way. This means that access to educational information that is so vital to the development of everyone, and in particular young people of all ages, becomes restricted. From LGBT sites like Pink News blocked because of ‘alternative lifestyles’ through to suicide prevention sites blocked as ‘explicit’, sites which educate, inform and most of all save lives are denied to those who need them most.

This means that F17 actually ends up harming children, not protecting them, and as such is counter to our existing policy, Free To Be Young, as passed in by our party in Spring 2010

4. Incompatible with previous party policy.

Along with Free To Be Young (Policy Paper 96) from three years ago, the motion and more importantly the amendment are incompatible with the Liberal Democrats commitments to digital liberties. In particular, they go against what this conference passed in Autumn 2011, Preparing The Ground: Stimulating Growth in the Digital Economy (Policy Paper 101)  and Spring 2012,  Civil Liberties (Policy Motion), with particular reference to right to privacy. Ensuring service providers are not mandated by law to collect communications data by any method that would also provided access to content information unless specifically authorised by a warrant.

5. Fundamentally Illiberal

There is no other way of putting this. This motion and the subsequent amendment to it go against everything we as liberals stand for. It goes against the right to privacy, the right to have a private life, freedom of expression, to be free from government interference. It seeks to foster a state-sponsored view of mortality upon others, rather than letting individuals make their own choices and parents their own decisions.

Please do support the moves to stop this motion passing, either through a reference back so we can create a proper, well thought out and evidence-led motion or by simply voting against the motion and amendment. The debate takes place at 5pm tomorrow. Further discussion of this is taking place on Twitter using #talknottech

* James Shaddock and Alisdair McGregor are Liberal Democrat activists from Portsmouth and Nottingham.

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • Yes, this.

  • Agree. (Though I think you mean morality, not mortality. Even the Coalition has not resorted to that. Yet.)

  • Referencing back is the way to go. Let’s not give the Mail an opportunity to portray us as pro ‘porn for kids’.

  • Out of interest, what’s the problem with the amendment?

  • Martin Caffrey 14th Sep '13 - 11:14pm

    Oh, forget about children accessing pornography, who cares? What we REALLY need is a five pence charge on plastic bags!

  • A Social Liberal 14th Sep '13 - 11:57pm

    You’ve got my vote

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Sep '13 - 2:17am

    For me the solution is more criminal prosecutions, rather than blanket censorship. It is not an easy path, but it is a better one.

    Censorship may protect people from bad things, but it replaces it with something more harmful: naivety.

  • This is not censorship it’s parental controls. Your argument can be distilled into two points a) it won’t work, b) it is illiberal. Is it illiberal that you have to prove you are over 18 to buy alcohol or to watch 18-rated films in the cinema or even to buy pornography on DVD? No. These are accepted as legitimate ways to protect children from harm. Do these systems work 100%? No they don’t. Some children still get hold of alcohol and are still able to watch 18-rated films at home. But I am yet to see a Lib Dem conference motion calling for these measures to be rolled back. So why get so hot under the collar when equivalent measures are extended to the internet?

  • Richard Shaw 15th Sep '13 - 8:54am

    @ john

    ISP-based filtering using arbitrary, blanket algorithms (which as the author points out may filter harmless sites and not harmful ones) is in no way parental control. In many ways it relieves parents of control and responsibility and misplaces it and trust in ISPs and the State. That is certainly not Liberal.

    Furthermore your comparison with alcohol control is flawed. Most people and medical evidence agree that irresponsible alcohol consumption is harmful to young people and therefore some controls are necessary. Explicit material in shops is likewise controlled (even if the harm it is suggested to cause is less proven). However ISP filters are arbitrary and will filter out harmless material and allow through some harmful. It will also inevitably filter out material in a way which distorts the spectrum human sexuality, probably in favour of ‘vanilla’ heterosexual material. As the OP says, this imposes a state or ISP version of morality and sexuality and is not something Liberals should condone.

  • Agree with Terry – opposing the motion would be foolish, so a reference back makes sense to give the movers time to think more carefully about their proposition

  • @Richard, I agree the inadvertent filtering of harmless and helpful sites is a concern but I think the case is overstated. The algorithms work quite well already and only a small number of sites are incorrectly classified, with a national database whitelisting ought to be able to take care of the majority of those. I’m not aware of any evidence that the filters will ‘distort the spectrum of sexuality’.

    In all cases where parental controls are enabled the responsibility for selecting which content is available to children is delegated to somebody else. Parents only ever choose whether to enable them or not. This proposal does not change that, parents can choose whether to enable it or not and childless adults can choose to disable it. The advantage over other methods is that parents can apply it to their entire connection instead of having to apply it to each device in the household (something that may not be technically competent to do anyway).

  • Alisdair Calder McGregor 16th Sep '13 - 1:49am

    I am glad to report that the motion was referred back (to FPC, not the original movers) for further consideration.

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