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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.

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

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.

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4 Responses to “Who’s really responsible Mr Cameron?”

  1. I do wish politicians would stop trying to ‘talk tech’. What I want from my electricity, gas, water, phone, and internet suppliers is to just give me those things as I request them; unadulterated.

    No possible technical ‘solution’ can actually work. The VPN suppliers, for a start, will be rejoicing at their government-sponsored boost in income. And anyway, I do not have children so why would I ever want to restrict my own access*?

    If I did have children then it would be up to me to decide whether I felt the need to impose restrictions on access, I wouldn’t expect the government to demand the privilege of teaching them to talk, to ride a bicycle, or to wash their clothes, so why should I here? There is also the not inconsiderable matter of definition. Who is to decide what is ‘unacceptable’? How, as a user of the internet, am I to know what else might have been filtered away from me without my knowledge? China, North Korea, and other countries have all prevented their citizens from full access to information of all kinds; how would I know whether my government is doing likewise? Answer, by not messing around with the supply of my services.

    And anyway, I’m an adult. If I want to look at p0rn then I am free to do so – it is, after all, _legal_ in this country. If it is poor quality or not to my taste I can close the tab, if it is good I might bookmark it for later enjoyment. But that should always be my decision, not some junior censor in an bunker somewhere.

    * For explicitness, I do not want ANY filtering on my connectivity whatsoever. Ever. Never.

  2. This has little to do with education or safeguarding children and much more to do with a blanket wide government controlled censorship program. Have a look at what else is blocked apart from porn…

  3. I have been involved in the internet Since 1993 and I think it is a step in the right direction.

  4. There are much wider implications of Cameron’s plans. They need to be seen alongside plans to involve the BBFC in rating uploads to Youtube and other sites where people load their own content and the fact that there is widespread international lobbying by big media companies. The BBFC wants to justify its continued existence in the digital era by becoming an online censor, copyright owners want to restrict where people can access media from and the Government want to restrict where and how people can discuss political and social issues. I believe that the long term objective is to reach the same situation with digital media as used to exist with books, records and DVDs whereby only big companies have to ability to reach an audience due to all the techical and regulatory blocks on ordinary people accessing the public. The era of people being able to market films and music direct to the public bypassing big companies will come to an end and all the esoteric and helpful free stuff on the Internet will become inaccessible. Rupert Murdoch will be controlling everyone’s Internet access. Most of the ordinary people who supposedly want online material rated ignore DVD ratings at present. I have written. Couple of blogs on the topic recently. http://fearthenextpage.blogspot.co.uk/

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