Ten week consultation on opt-in adult content filtering to launch
UPDATE Friday 29th June, 11am The consultation website appears to be off-line, due to issues with the survey on the site. We will try and monitor and re-instate working links once it comes back again.
Those who thought that the voluntary Active Choice system that will be implemented by the four major broadband providers (TalkTalk has their system already running) in addition to existing default adult content blocking on mobile phones would be the extent to blocking of the 'adult' content would go are in for a surprise.
Today should see the launch of a ten week consultation period, that will look into which of three systems should be forced upon broadband providers if it is decided the voluntary approach is not working. The three options under consideration are:
- Some Internet content automatically blocked, and account holder has to ask for blocking to be removed at a later date. This is the current situation with mobile phones in the UK.
- A system where on a computer or other device you are automatically asked some questions on what you want your children to be able to access.
- A combination of (1) and (2), with the same questions as (2), but some items are ticked by default.
Parents, adults, business and under 18's are encouraged to fill in the survey, and while it is nine pages long, a good many of the questions apply only to businesses filling in the survey.
The Telegraph coverage suggests that the common comment on these sort of proposals that blocks are not 100% effective is understood by ministers, but we are not sure if the problems of over blocking are fully understood. The categories of material that would be covered by the blocking are pornography, sites that promote suicide, self-harm, gambling or eating disorders. The inclusion of gambling presents a big dichotomy since it is perfectly legal for a 16 and 17 year old to buy and win on the National Lottery, but this blocking may stop them from checking tickets online.
Tim Loughton, the children's minister, has attacked what he calls the 'cottage industry' of proxy websites suggesting they only exist to provide access to adult content, forgetting that systems such as Tor are in part financed by the US Government.
There are many areas where blocking will prove difficult, for example the rise of e-books means many children can now carry one of them rather than heavy literature, but will the blocking be granular enough to stop access to hugely popular e-books like Fifty Shades of Grey, while allowing them to download the works of Shakespeare for their English Literature exam?.
The 'cult of sexting' is raised as a major concern, but seen as this revolves around simple SMS and MMS exchanges between phones, or transfer of material over bluetooth, short of blocking SMS/MMS and bluetooth for under 18's we fail to see how any form of Internet filtering will stop this activity.
Update: 11:00am. We have now updated this article to include the three options outlined in the consultation document. The consultation is now available online.
The survey could have been laid out better in a good many places, particularly where it was asking about the number of children and their ages in a household, where the two answers must be given in simple text field, which will require human processing to analyse. Filling in the survey as a parent, one was left wondering whether the violence in cartoons such as Tom and Jerry or films like Spy Kids requires the ticking of 'do you know for sure that your children have been exposed to violence' box?