Last week, David Cameron made a passionate speech about managing pornography on the Internet in terms of protecting children from exposure to it in any form and of stamping out access to both child pornography and depictions of sexual violence.
Having accused search engine operators of effectively ‘aiding and abetting’ individuals’ search activity for child pornography and sexual violence imagery and not doing enough to block it, the PM said that all ISPs will be required to set up content filters that are set to ‘on’ by default to prevent children’s access to pornography in the home. Cameron made it clear that smaller ISP’s will not be exempt from this demand. Furthermore, he added that this requirement applied to existing customers as well as new ones. He said: “By the end of next year, they [all ISPs] will have contacted all of their existing customers and presented them with an unavoidable decision about whether or not to install family friendly content filters.”
We applaud his passion for trying to maintain the innocence of children and stamp out the promotion of sexual violence but question the placement of responsibility. Cameron said that he is “not prescribing how the ISPs should contact their customers – it’s up to them to find their own technological solutions. But however they do it, there will be no escaping this decision.”
So, let’s get this right. Government says ISPs are to be responsible for –taking whatever technical steps are necessary to block access to pornography for everybody, by default, so that those with children can rest easy. And then it wants ISPs to communicate that to all customers, including existing ones, telling them of the new rules that have been imposed and either manage requests to remove the block, or automate the process.
Rather than take a dictatorial approach to blocking content to all Internet customers, shouldn’t ISPs be allowing children’s parents or guardians to be primarily responsible for controlling what they see? It’s our opinion that content filters should be switched on at the request of parents or guardians, not by some draconian dictate from the Government. Customers contract with their ISP to provide access to the Internet, not control the content that they can see, unless of course the package they’ve chosen is specifically designed to do so.
Cameron talks of ‘educating’ parents and we’re keen to understand how he proposes to do that, as well as who he thinks should pick up the responsibility. Children today have widespread access to devices and applications to receive, view and share content. Armed with smart phones, their own laptops, tablets and web-enabled game consoles, they can access material through so many different media including snapchat and whatsapp image sharing, video streaming and other social media apps. It’s our view that Government should put greater emphasis on helping parents and guardians to better understand the cultural change that’s taking place and encourage them to take greater direct responsibility for what their children can access.
Instead, Cameron has stipulated that ISPs must swing the technology sledgehammer to protect these customers’ children and manage its application. To do that will inevitably incur additional cost which will be passed on to all customers, regardless of whether they have children or not. In a market in which the big players are able to leverage their economies of scale, such an imposition by Government serves only to make it even harder for smaller ISPs to compete against them to win customers. Perhaps that’s what Cameron ultimately wants – a market served by a small handful of big players whom it vainly thinks it can control via Ofcom. Most would agree that doesn’t generally happen.
At the moment, the PM’s requests are not compulsory by law and smaller ISPs can continue to offer an Internet service without these constraining controls. We will look out for developments of Cameron’s plan with interest. No doubt this will continue to be a much debated topic, both in terms of how acceptable it is to impose controls on customers and the impact it will have on smaller ISPs.
Have your say!
Do you think Cameron is right to introduce these ‘family friendly filters’ on all ISPs? What do you think about his latest demands? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.
- Entanet Opinion: Keeping the Internet safe – What’s the best approach?
- The Independent: David Cameron cracks down on online pornography with ‘porn block’ option
- Think Broadband: David Cameron announces his plan to keep children safe
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