UK Government Rejects Mandatory Web Filtering


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By Stewart Tongue

YNOT EUROPE – Despite concerted efforts by at least one UK newspaper and conservatives in Parliament, plus a 115,000-signatures-strong public petition demanding mandatory web filters, the British government has scrapped plans to require internet service providers to filter adult content and other material potentially harmful to children.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced the decision Dec. 21, after a public-private consultation revealed numerous potential problems with a proposal that would have blocked sites promoting pornography, violence and self-harm unless users specifically opted in to receive unfiltered internet access. The current system in the UK, which will remain in force, allows users who do not want their children or vulnerable others exposed to the web’s darker side to install filters offered by their ISPs. Cameron’s office noted the voluntary program already undertaken by ISPs could be supplemented by “actively encourage[ing] parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls.”

The potential pits into which the government was unwilling to fall include instigating a false sense of security that could lead parents to be less observant of their offspring’s online behavior and a prevailing concern about “censorship creep.” In addition, many citizens and ISPs voiced concern that filters typically both under- and over-filter the cyber world, leading to blockage of sites that distribute “helpful information on sexual health or sexual identity” while allowing harmful sites to slip through the blockade.

Perhaps of primary importance, though, a report containing the results of the consultation indicated the public staunchly opposed the proposal because people found the measure completely unnecessary and potentially intrusive on privacy and parental rights.

“There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet by their ISP: only 35 percent of the parents who responded favoured that ¬approach,” the report noted.

As expected, socially conservative proponents of the proposed filtering scheme voiced outrage about the government’s decision. Child-welfare organizations accused ministers of favoring the financial interests of ISPs over children’s safety, citing another statistic that arose during the consultation: 40 percent of parents who responded admitted their children had accessed porn online.

Claude Knights, director of children’s charity Kidscape, called the government’s action “really disappointing.”

“We felt creating an opt-in requirement would have ensured greater safeguarding for children,” he told ChristianConcern.com. “Of course it would not have stopped everything, but it would have definitely been a big step in the right direction. Where do we stand now? Really, we are back to Square One. We have some children who are more at risk than others.”

Miranda Suit, who co-founded the Safermedia campaign in hopes of reducing the supposed harmful effects of mass media on children and families, said the government’s backdown represents a “crisis point.”

“This was a wasted opportunity,” she said. “The government has taken its eye off the ball and allowed itself to be misguided by industry figures and internet users who are not parents. This consultation was meant to give parents a say and make protecting children a top priority, but instead others have been able to take priority.”

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