The moral crusade of default internet blocking and why Government must see it as a nonstarter
Default internet filtering across the UK, mandated by Government, is the wrong way to go about protecting our children
The Department for Education consultation into the introduction of default blocking of internet content closes today with over 2,000 responses and a petition of more than 110,000 signatures being presented to Downing Street.
The default blocking proposals would mean that customers would have to request for their internet service provider to allow them to access “blocked content”. Campaigners want to see internet content, which is currently legal to view, being blocked but have yet to provide a clear definition of what will be blocked if the proposals go ahead.
It is becoming increasingly clear that those calling for a default blocks are motivated not by protecting children but making a moral judgement on what we should all be able to see online. The groups behind the petition highlight how this debate has gone far beyond one of child protection and has sadly become a moral crusade.
Hardly surprising that in the past those connected to the petition have campaigned against the BBC’s decision to broadcast The Jerry Springer opera, accused the X Factor of being soft core porn, and promote work by the Witherspoon Institute, which has an equally morally-tinted approach to ‘research’.
It should not be for the Government to decide what legal content should be available, nor for religious groups to dictate to parents how people should raise their children.
Today, Big Brother Watch, along with ARTICLE 19, Consumer Focus, The Coalition For A Digital Economy, Open Rights Group, Index on Censorship, Taxpayers' Alliance, and Foundation for Information Policy Research, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister voicing concerns, favouring instead an “active choice” system.
Two independent Government reviews, the Byron Review and the Bailey Review, have already rejected the proposals and said it should be parents who decide what their children see online. The reviews considered a wealth of academic expertise, parental concerns and technical input and both arrived at the same conclusion: parents are the best people to decide what their children can see.
The Government should absolutely not succumb to a campaign that aims to shout as loudly as it can whilst using statistics that can by no means be considered as academic. To ignore not one but two in-depth and comprehensive reviews and instead adopt a system of “default blocking” would be a short-sighted and dangerous step, while doing little to empower parents or children.
Secondly, recent research by the Open Rights Group and the LSE Media Policy Project into default adult content filters used by UK mobile broadband providers has highlighted significant issues, such as the mistaken blocking of perfectly innocent websites that had nothing to do with adult content.
For instance, try searching for ‘Essex Council’ and you may find that you have some problems. The over-blocking of legitimate sites undermines the UK’s attractiveness as a place for digital businesses to grow and erodes all citizens’ choice while doing little to empower parents or ensure that children stay safe online.
Finally, Big Brother Watch has warned before that the only way you can truly expect to adopt the network level filtering being called for is to monitor everything everyone does online. So when one of the campaign’s leading figures, Miranda Suit, praised China’s approach to internet governance you can understand why we think that it’s right to question the motives of those calling for a default block.
Let us be very clear: We do not believe that default filtering across the UK, mandated by Government, should be the way forward. Instead the emphasis should now be on improving parental control filters, so that parents have the right tools to protect their children from harm and can teach them how to be safe as they start to explore the world for themselves.
Read more on: internet blocking, department for education, default internet blocking, downing street, internet service providers, protecting children online, The Jerry Springer Opera, the X Factor, Witherspoon Institute, ARTICLE 19, Consumer Focus, The Coalition For a Digital Economy, open rights group, Index on Censorship, taxpayers' alliance, Foundation for Information Policy Research, emma carr, Emma Carr Big Brother Watch, Big Brother Watch, Byron Review, Bailey Review, LSE Media Policy Project, Essex Council, Miranda Suit, China and the internet, and internet regulation
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