ISPA Invited to Porn Discussions with Minister Vaizey - Analysis

On Monday a meeting will take place between UK ISP’s, the Culture Minister and lobbying organisations such as Safermedia.

Safermedia have been supported by MP’s such as Claire Perry (MP for Devizes), who have suggested such measures as required age verification to remove a mandatory block on adult content on wired internet connections (wireless internet providers already have this requirement.)

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) contends that the blocking/management of adult content is far better suited to software installed on the users computer (NetNanny being an example).

 

Safermedia argue that filtering software is ineffective because awareness is low and can be bypassed by tech savvy children. Parental responsibility cannot protect our children, we are told, because they may access pornographic material at a friend’s house.

This argument is completely fallacious, a tech-savvy child could also bypass the content filter imposed by the ISP’s (were it ever to happen), and the friend’s parents may even have had the filter removed so that they can enjoy adult material. In this scenario, it would once again fall to parental responsibility to educate the child. Not to mention that if the child is deliberately trying to access pornographic material, you’ve already lost the battle! So why waste our (read Taxpayers and ISP customers) money on a mandatory filtering system that a significant percentage will probably opt-out of?

You’ll note that so far I’ve used the term ‘Adult Content’ instead of Pornography. This is because if the system works like that already deployed for mobile internet, it won’t just be pornography that is blocked. Until I had the filter lifted, Gambling sites (including the National lottery), Forums (because anything could be posted) and various other categories of site were blocked (Vodafone users with the block enabled may like to try searching for information on any recent war – oh you can’t? It’s because firearms are involved).

So, do Safermedia expect the ISP’s (and indirectly their customers) to pay extra for a system that will allow blocking of some categories whilst allowing access to others (keeping in mind this will need to be done on a per-connection basis)? If as a parent, I wanted to block Porn but access the National Lottery website, will I be able to do this?

And what of the embarrassment and inconvenience some customers will feel in trying to have the block lifted? As Jerry Barnett of the Adult Industry Trade Association (AITA) points out “single women, or anyone who watches porn without the knowledge of their partner” are likely to feel some discomfort in having to contact their ISP to have the block lifted.

 

What method will the ISP’s use to verify the callers age? You need to be over 18 (with some exceptions AFAIK) to enter into a broadband contract, but clearly this isn’t sufficient proof. When I wanted the block lifted from my mobile, I needed to either provide a credit card number or visit a branch with photographic ID. For those without a credit card, this is very inconvenient, especially if you live in a rural area.

I’m sure that Safermedia and their supporters mean well, but what they are proposing is nothing short of stupid. Whilst the Government does have a responsibility to protect us and our children from harm (as far as reasonable possible), the proposal is a step too far. Parents simply cannot shirk their responsibility to their children. If you are concerned about your child accessing porn, then take the initiative and research content filters, some are very easy to use. Hell, pay me the right money and I’ll install and configure one for you! If there’s enough demand, I’ll write a simple howto so that parents can do it themselves.

What parents shouldn’t do is expect every other broadband customer to both pay more and suffer inconvenience (and in some cases – embarrassment) so that you can avoid learning about a fairly simple area of IT.

Read somewhere that filtering software doesn’t catch everything? I’m not going to lie to you; it will always let something slip through. But that’s no excuse, because what makes you think that the mandatory hardware filter will be any different? This is why parental responsibility and education is so important, the technology is there to help - it’s not a panacea. If nothing else, think of the potential increase to your bill when someone sues the ISP because some porn slipped past the filter.

If you feel the need for a filter, the only time it will be effective is to help prevent your children from ‘stumbling’ onto porn. If they are actively searching for porn, there is no way to 100% prevent it. A software filter (or using filtered DNS – not as hard as it sounds) is more than sufficient to prevent users stumbling onto porn by accident (although, the odd result may slip through).

A good example of this would be the Internet Watch Foundation. They provide a ‘blacklist’ of pages and sites that contain child pornography. The ISP’s then block these sites/pages which minimises the likelihood of you stumbling onto child porn (whether this leads to further interest is a separate debate). What it doesn’t do, and cannot do, is block 100% of child porn sites. Those with an interest will, unfortunately, always be able to access it.

A ‘legal’ porn filter will be no more effective than the IWF currently is. User education is still required, regardless of how much the technology tries to help.

It’s very difficult to write this without sounding elitist, but that’s the landscape as I see it. The Internet is an adult place, and no-one should claim that it’s ‘safe’ for kids. If you want to allow your kids to use the internet, educate them on what’s safe and what’s not. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but think of the following places;

 

  • Pub

  • Supermarket

  • Park

  • Soho

 

Do you let your child visit any of these places on their own (perhaps the supermarket and park depending on the child’s age)? Regardless of age, do you let them visit it alone before you’ve explained how to be safe?

We don’t let our kids learn how to cross the road through trial and error, so why let them do the same on the Internet?

In these scenarios, you don’t want your child to come to harm, and so you take steps to prevent/mitigate it. You cannot expect others to pick up the bill for something you are not willing to do yourself.

Personally, I think footballers are a bunch of overpaid idiots who often set a very bad example for children. I wouldn’t want my child to follow their example, and so might choose not to let my child follow football culture. Would it be reasonable for me to demand that coverage of football is opt-in only? Of course not. As a parent, it would be my responsibility to implement and enforce. The same goes for adult material, at least as far as I’m concerned.

The proposals are quite simply a misguided attempt to institute something that concerned parents should already be doing. They are a waste of money that will prove ineffective, inconvenience many, embarrass a few and further detract from the concept of Parental Responsibility.

Except that it’s not really about Parental responsibility or the safety of children. Safermedia is a Christian organisation with religious values at heart. Look here for details of their faith, and more concerningly here for the following statement by Safermedia’s leader;

 

Pornography must be outlawed so that it cannot undermine marriage and the dignity of women and encourage sex crime. All schools should teach Christian values.”

 

Given the noise made about this issue by Safermedia, it strikes me as odd that this argument hasn’t been used. To me, it suggests that the ‘think of the children’ argument is in fact simply part of a campaign to achieve this view. If people want to practice religion, that’s fine, but don’t try and enforce your beliefs on my life!

As a closing note, NoDPI apparently asked Mr Vaizey if he’d be willing to meet anti-censorship groups to discuss the issue, but have still received no reply.

 

 
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