Government proposes to filter legal content for child safety

This government continues to suffer from poor research, 'fag packet' proposals and a general lack of understanding - we don't want to become like China, and we don't need you to parent our children

Need we spell it out? He's watching you
Dominique Lazanski
On 18 April 2012 09:38

Today, a cross party group of MPs announced widespread filtering of the Internet in the UK. Under the proposals, the group has said that Internet Service Providers have responsibility to filter ‘inappropriate content’ from children.  This announcement is yet another example of the lack of understanding in new technologies by this Coalition Government.  More importantly, it sends a clear signal, internationally, that the UK is willing to engage in dictatorship-style policies – and it sends a message to all parents across the UK that the government knows best.

There are four reasons why these proposals are difficult, at best, to understand. First, let’s be clear about the content cited. The pornography and ‘inappropriate content’ that the group proposes to filter is legal. Yes, that is right – this is legal content. It might be content that we don’t want to see or think is socially unacceptable, but it is legal. The illegal content – like child pornography – is already addressed by the law and by organizations like the Internet Watch Foundation that voluntarily acts on behalf of ISPs and major Internet websites to police the Internet.

Second, these policies are not dissimilar to the proposals that Russia and China have put forth for international governance of the Internet, except they fall under a different rubric: national security. Both China and Russia, along with other usual suspects, are proposing international Internet regulation agreements through International Telecommunication Union treaties that will give UN regulation of content for cyber security protection. (A detailed article on this issue appears in the May Vanity Fair. In effect, this cross party group is proposing that the UK government regulate and manage legal content much in the same way Russia and China proposes. Ironically, the UK will continue to argue for a free and open Internet internationally throughout these treaty negotiations while, at home, Internet government proposals are much the opposite.

Third, filtering for legal pornography will be a bigger challenge to accomplish technically for Internet Service Providers. ISPs are not in the business of managing and monitoring specific types of Internet traffic on a day to day basis – especially if that traffic is legal. They manage the delivery of the access to the Internet. If ISPs have to change their business practices to manage specific types of content, that will take away from investment in new fixed and broadband rollout. Both time and money will be taken away from rolling out the much needed new Internet infrastructure. From a taxpayers’ perspective alone we want private companies to invest in the market for Internet access to ensure competition. We don’t want our hard earned money to subsidise broadband infrastructure when it doesn’t need to.

Fourth, let’s not shy away from the overarching, implied message that the government is sending with this kind of ad hoc policy proposal: the government knows better than parents when it comes to child protection. Sadly, we all know that there are times when parents fail to provide the best for their children, however those times are few and far between. Most parents want what is best and are aware of all of the problems that being online may bring. However, online dangers are no different than offline dangers – same problems, different generation. Parents, in conjunction with their local communities, schools, and every other support network do come together over issues like these. So far it seems to work out ok, or at least has done for thousands of years.

This government continues to suffer from poor research, ‘fag packet’ proposals and a general lack of understanding of issues that face the UK today. I only wish that the researchers behind this proposal had done a little more background analysis before deciding upon these proposals that will put us on par with Russia, China, and Iran and will, sadly, impact the much needed infrastructure investment in the UK. But the most arrogant aspect of this proposal is that the government does actually believe that it knows best – even better than parents know their children.

Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry in Silicon Valley and works for the Tax Payers' Alliance in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @dml

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