UK ISPs Not Happy with Heavy-Handed Government Porn Filter Proposals

In fact they are so unhappy that someone leaked a letter (from the government to the ISPs) to the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. "The letter comes from the Department for Education but it sets out a list of demands from Downing Street, with the stated aim of allowing the prime minister to make an announcement shortly," reported Cellan-Jones.

What upsets the ISPs most – even more than being asked to commit their own money to an 'awareness campaign' – is, he reports, is that "Instead of talking of 'active choice +', they are urged to use the term default-on. The letter says this can be done 'without changing what you're offering.'"

This would allow Claire Perry's prediction last month to be accurate; but it is, say the ISPs, "misleading and potentially harmful."

"It sounds like a good idea until you think it through," said one industry source. "There are three reasons why it doesn't work. First it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there's the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them."

The government has long wished for compulsory porn and obscenity internet filters, but would have difficulty getting such an act through parliament for fear of it being interpreted as simple, and potentially political, censorship. Instead it has chosen to 'persuade' the ISPs to introduce compulsory filtering voluntarily. The letter, however, is being interpreted by the ISPs as a demand that they support the government's political spin rather than maintain accuracy.

"We want", one ISP told Cellan-Jones, "parents to make informed choices about the way their children use the internet." But, "What this is about is allowing the government and certain papers to declare a victory", said another industry source. "This country has led the world in blocking child abuse images, but they just want to keep the story bubbling on."

The letter can be found in full on Cellan-Jones' report.

Meanwhile, the UK government could learn about the potential problems of a 'voluntary' filter system from the experiences of Australia. Australia had also wanted a compulsory system that it abandoned in favor of a voluntary scheme (to be administered through section 313 of the Telecommunications Act) in November last year.

Section 313 allows the Australian Federal Police to request ISPs to provide reasonable assistance in upholding the law; for example by blocking any illegal site. The voluntary porn filter uses this device to block a range of sites in a list provided by interpol. But this system is not without problems. 

"A move by ASIC [Australian Securities and Investments Commission] in April to block several sites suspected of providing fraudulent investment information resulted in the inadvertent blockage of some 1,200 other innocent sites, and the regulator has since confirmed it accidentally blocked some 250,000 more," reported Delimiter earlier this month. 

Now it would appear that at least one major Australian ISP has declined to implement the porn filter – and the Australian Federal Police is taking no action. "The AFP’s lack of enforcement action with respect to the ISP which refused to deploy the Interpol filter may seed speculation within the telco sector about the possibility of refusing such notices in future," notes Delimiter. In Australia at least, voluntary would seem to mean voluntary.

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