UK government urges ISPs to block porn

This week the government revealed plans to approach internet service providers (ISPs), in January, in a bid to curb easy access to internet porn. Ministers are hoping for a system (provided and administered by the ISPs) where customers must opt-in. It has been suggested that if ISPs fail to devise this system voluntarily, legislation may be introduced. The main supporting argument for these changes has been to control what children can access online. More and more young children are inadvertently viewing porn sites and only 15% of parents understand how to use the controls provided on their computers to restrict such access. Another more recent worry is the ability to access such sites on mobile phones, which is obviously much more difficult to monitor. Some, but not all, ISPs have recently blocked this ability.

While ISPs have traditionally blocked illegal sites and those deemed to be widely abhorrent, many still do not block legal porn. In the past, ISPs have dismissed the idea of filtering as hugely expensive and difficult to implement. Moreover, they maintain that children’s access to the internet should be governed and monitored by the parents in the home rather than being imposed top-down. Pornographic material is only one of the many potential dangers posed to children on the internet so supervision would be necessary anyway. Technology experts also say it is practically unfeasible to block all pornographic material on the internet, given the number of ways that people are able to access it, including file-sharing networks, news groups and discussion boards. Filtering systems can be an exceptionally blunt tool that can often block out useful material which clearly has serious implications for the freedom of expression. Another concern is that this kind of policy will only push this already taboo subject further underground which could be even more dangerous to children.

Harsher critics have suggested that this is not about protecting children at all but censorship “through the back door” which could easily lead to a blacklist of websites which could expand rapidly to include sites such as Wikileaks. This would be a dangerous precedent to set. Who, for example, would decide what constitutes porn and what does not? In addition to this, others have argued that the proposed policy could act as a violation against people’s privacy. If this new system was to be implemented it would be significantly easier to track households who have opted to receive potentially offensive material. The scope for abuse with this type of policy is extremely high.

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