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Most of our readers are well aware of the ongoing debate over the protection of net neutrality and its recent legal protection thanks to the EU. However, it looks like net neutrality could potentially be under threat once again and this time it’s from the UK Government and its plans to protect their existing ‘opt-in’ based parental controls.

The Government already has agreements in place with most of the major ISPs to force Internet users to specifically ‘opt-in’ via their ISP to view sexually explicit or violent material, in an attempt to help protect children from inadvertently seeing unsuitable material online. This means the account holder has to specifically request to turn off any parental control style filters (usually at the point of signup by unchecking a box which is known as an ‘enforced’ option) and all filters will be turned on by default.

However, the new EU rules governing net neutrality would make this illegal, as all Internet traffic must be treated equally and therefore prevents Governments from delaying or blocking access to legal sites. Instead, it proposes that parental controls should only be allowed if the end user has given prior consent to filtered content and is able to withdraw that consent at any time.

Several major ISPs including Sky, BT and TalkTalk have already imposed automatic filters on their customers following increasing pressure from the Government, with Sky implementing the strictest policy back in December. The majority of ISPs give customers an ‘enforced’ option but Sky have gone a step further, turning filters on by default and only advising a new customer when they first connect to the Internet. They do however, still have the ability to change the filter settings and turn them off completely if they wish via a their account management page.

The problem is, this approach will soon be illegal under EU net neutrality protection laws. To potentially get around this issue the UK Government is reportedly threatening to introduce a new domestic law that could prevent the EU net neutrality protection from overriding its current system of using parental control filters.

However, this could have costly implications for smaller ISPs who are also expected be affected by any new laws that are implemented but may struggle to implement similar automatic filtering systems. It also brings up the time old debate of how effective such filters actually are, with many users able to easily circumvent them, and numerous cases of websites being incorrectly blocked with a detrimental effect on their businesses.  

One of the key factors in this argument is the fact that parental control based filtering is already allowed under the new EU laws but it must be done with the prior request or consent of end-users and the possibility to withdraw the consent, and thus such filters, at any time”. So rather than going to the lengths of introducing new domestic laws to protect their existing ‘opt-in’ approach, this could be achieved just by the ISPs tweaking their existing filtering systems not to ‘presume’ consent. i.e. don’t auto check the box that agrees to this or give an option at sign up in regards to Sky. Wouldn’t that be simpler and just as effective?

Whilst we completely understand the need to protect vulnerable Internet users such as children from inadvertently seeing inappropriate material and agree that parental controls and filters of this type do serve a very useful purpose in this fight we think the legalities of this issue are at risk of being significantly over complicated. Are additional laws really needed to control this issue, or surely couldn’t some sort of logical compromise be reached that would afford users the required level of protection (ideally strengthened with parental education on safe Internet usage for their children) whilst also respecting users/customers rights? With the EU pushing forwards with itstheir framework recommendations last week, I guess we’ll just have to await the Government’s response to see how this progresses and potentially affects our channel.

Have your say!

Do you think the Government’s plans for additional legislation are necessary or do you think a more logical compromise must be possible? Are you concerned that further legislation could cause significant problems for smaller ISPs forced to implement expensive filtering systems?

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