You may have already heard about the new legislation introduced by David Cameron, which will require all broadband providers to block adult content and install parental filters as standard. Proposed to be in action by 2014, these filters will block pornographic material. With the murder of young Tia Sharp still fresh in our minds, this is a welcome move by many.
There are rumours that the filters will block more than just pornography. For example, Wired.co.uk states that users may also be automatically opted in to filters which block violent material, eating disorder websites, suicide related websites and extremist related content. They also go so far as to say that searches for alcohol and smoking related content may be blocked.
Rather than aiming to block this content completely, the new legislation will require users to opt out of having the filters on their internet. The aim apparently being that many users will not want to, or may feel its easier not to, request to opt out and therefore will not be able to access this type of material. Those that do opt out are making themselves known – although at the moment it is not clear whether opting out will be anonymous or whether this information will be recorded in some form… you would suspect that it may be.
This all sounds well and good. I’m sure most of us welcome anything that can help tackle the viewing and sharing of illegal and disturbing content, e.g., the child pornography viewed by Stuart Hazell prior to sexually assaulting and murdering Tia Sharp. Likewise, most will agree that preventing underage users viewing hardcore porn and other extreme content, e.g., self harm, suicide, pro-anorexia sites etc. sounds like a good move. However, Cameron’s proposal has not been without criticism, in fact it is proving to be a very controversial topic.
Let me explain why…
Some believe that the censorship mechanisms will not be accurate enough to function correctly without interfering with our use of the internet. Olly Lennard writing for the Huffington Post gives the example of a computer programmed to detect and block anything that contains a naked person – how would this differentiate between a porn video and a naked person in an art installation or medical textbook?
Comparisons are already being made between our new proposed legislation and the great firewall of China. China is notorious for limiting the content allowed on the country’s internet, this includes the prohibition of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google. Now this is the point in the debate where many people start to think that the censorship may have a downside. However, it is worth noting that we should not get too carried away by the controversy at this stage. The UK legislation is not intending to ban sites completely but rather to remove the chance of accidental stumbling across extreme material (or at least removing that excuse for perpetrators).
Only time will tell what effects the censorship will have upon general internet use. I, as much as the next person, would hate my internet use to be functionally limited by over-enthusiastic filters, nor would I like to have to opt out just to be able to access my social media accounts etc (which I assure you do not contain any extreme material!). However, I am happy to withhold judgement and give the filters a chance, until I hear anything to really cause alarm, as I am happy to support anything which could help to prevent child abuse and material that fuels a pedophiles ‘desires’. Of course, those that are intent on viewing and sharing such material will find alternative methods – such as turning to the darknet (refer to yesterday’s blog entry!) but at least these filters may help to deter the less technical-minded or determined person hoping to find such material.
At the moment I could not even begin to guess at the affect these filters will have. Will they be a positive change or will they backfire, forcing perpetrators to take more extreme, perhaps less traceable actions? I don’t know. What are your thoughts?
As I said before, I guess time will tell. Anything until then is merely speculation…