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Umbrella Filtering In The UK

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Chances are that recently you will have heard of the British Prime Ministers intention to introduce a “pornwall” filtering system for internet traffic, with a view to protecting children from the nefarious and vicarious well of information which defines the internet. If you haven’t heard of this story then it is certainly one which should pique your interest, it sets a dangerous precedent for the nature of internet on a global level, be sure to stick with TechWench as be discuss the ISP’s response to the Open Rights Group’s request for greater clarity on this sinister new front in the war for Freedom of Information.

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Some Background

David Cameron’s gang of Westminster Wunderkinder have determined that the Great British Public cannot decide for themselves what they view online, they have used the departmental divining rods to arrive at a policy amounting to them fostering a doting parent role in the homes of every Briton. They recommend an opt-out policy of filtering pornography (on the ISP side of traffic) because children need protection from violent and sexual imagery, or at least that’s how they’ve spun the primary salvo in the pushing through of this legislation. And who could argue with that? Being against this bill = in favour of exposing children to inappropriate content, a tactile move by Downing Streets Masters of Spin. Off the back of what does this momentous move by the Conservatives come from? Normally major policy changes are preceded by a large scandal to ensure a wide debate within the public flares up whilst the policy is pushed through, can anyone think of any major scandal at the moment? The en-masse tracing of internet traffic by the MI6 may be one such scandal which has peoples backs up, the strategy is straight from the playbook. Divert attention from a major public interest peccadillo on the governments part and use the ensuing media focus on that story to push through legislation.

Filter What?

There has been little by way of specifics given on the nature of any kind of “pornwall” system proposed by Cameron, once again displaying their ignorance of matters technological. Indeed, when Claire Perry MP’s website was hacked and pornographic images were displayed in response to porn-filter legislation; she responded by accusing political blogger Guido Fawkes of being the sponsor of the hack and a distributor of porn, for displaying a censored screenshot of her defaced website. In a show of bluster by the confused Ms Perry she has exposed just how limited the Westminster Follies knowledge of the internet really is and yet they feel qualified to attempt wide reaching changes to the nature of the internet. So just what does the legislation intend to filter out? The Open Rights Group requested information from the ISP’s themselves as all the information from Parliament has been moralistic hot air and huffery and the information they received back is somewhat of a worry.

The following is an example questionnaire received from the ISP’s via the Open Rights Group of how the opt-out filtering system may work on the home user level;
EDIT NOTE: the category examples are based on current mobile configurations and broad indications from ISPs
(1) Screen one
“Parental controls”
Do you want to install / enable parental controls
? yes
? no
[next]
(2) Screen two [if you have left the box ticked]
“Parental controls”
Do you want to block
? pornography
? violent material
? extremist and terrorist related content
? anorexia and eating disorder websites
? suicide related websites
? alcohol
? smoking
? web forums
? esoteric material
? web blocking circumvention tools
You can opt back in at any time
[continue]
The precise pre-ticked options may vary from service to service.

(Taken from https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2013/sleepwalking-into-censorship )

Ah now then, that list is somewhat longer than violent or sexual imagery now isn’t it?
In fact that list covers pretty much everything even potentially reprehensible to anyone’s morals. It’s quite the umbrella of protection for the kiddies isn’t it? We certainly don’t want our children searching for extremist content online, the savage internet box in the corner of the living room will turn my kids into terrorists, thank goodness for the Conservatives for bringing in this legislation to protect my kids for me. Guess I can go back to being a bad parent then, the conservatives have got the moral vanguard in place. Except isn’t terrorist or extremist related content all the mainstream media outlets blart on about on the rolling news? “Bombing in Iraq, terrorists in the middle east, bombing averted, extremists, extremists, terror” is pretty much the maxim of the established news services so wouldn’t filtering content related to extremism filter their own prescribed outlets?

The greatest of implications from this list is the umbrella nature of it with categories such as “web forums” and “esoteric material” being the greatest of worries. These two terms in themselves could cut access to a very large and very legitimate number of websites which children should have access to, but this isn’t really about the children is it? That’s just how the argument has been spun to ensure its greasy passage through Parliament, you could hardly call a bill “Bill for 24/7 Nanny State” or “The Prescribed Viewing Act” though this is what the legislation amounts to.

Best Methods?

This isn’t even the best way of filtering access to pornography for children by admission of the ISP’s themselves who have recommended an opt-in system on the consumer side as the most effective and cheapest way of barring children from inappropriate content. It allows parents full access to the internet without having to call up their ISP everytime they wish to view pornography or read a website about whisky (note the “Alcohol” category option of filtering), it takes into account multiple devices in the home; long gone are the days of one internet device per household after all. There exist already many, many safeguarding systems one can install on devices which limit childrens access to inappropriate content, many are free as this is not the first time the matter of unfettered access has been broached and Camerons Conservatives are certainly not the only ones fighting for a more moral internet. Many organisations exist to limit the amount of inappropriate content online, or to limit the access, a lot of the noise on censorship comes from the Christian sects as moral wardrumming (may I draw attention to the fact that the largest consumers of porn in the US are the Bible Belt states) and so this has led to the development of easily accessible and effective content filtration systems at home, what is needed is education not draconian and umbrella legislature.

So we have determined that the major policy changes comes off the back of a scandal, that the bill isn’t aimed solely at children and that it isn’t the best method of attaining the intended result, so just what is this bill trying to do? The surveillance state has been exposed, this could be the attempt to legitimise it and establish it as law; a little legal-protection for the government from the ensuing court actions which have followed the exposure of the surveillance state.

The bill effectively states that they want to know what content you are accessing, the clarification from the ISP’s themselves further confirms this. By having databases of just what people are filtering out they are giving themselves further tools to use in the maintenance and expansion of the surveillance state. For instance, Customer A doesn’t want extremist or terrorist related content blocked. Why? We better keep a careful eye on this Customer A fellow. See the problem? It gives the government a whole new level of monitoring and a new method to compartmentalise people into little boxes with variously coloured umbrellas stamped on them.

Solutions?

The matter of inappropriate content online is not one which is easily solved, just as the matter of inappropriate content offline still hasn’t been solved. If kids want to see an 18 rated movie then in reality there is little that can be done to stop this, disallowing them to view it in your home works but what if they are viewing at a friends house who’s parents are a little more lax with their media security. Consider the standing joke of Playboy Magazine issues being stuffed under mattresses to hide them from parents, if kids want access then they will have access. Maybe the answer isn’t to introduce damaging legislation which puts Britain on a par with China in terms of freedom of thought and information. Maybe, as it has always been, the answer to the problem lies in the parents after all it is their responsibility not the states. Camerons Cronies know this as well as anyone does and so this legislation is just another slimy tactic in their attempts to introduce blanket censorship of information with a view to expanding the Panopticon society we have largely sleepwalked into already. We are just waking up to the level of surveillance we are under; they are making their final plays in securing that level of surveillance. I would ask that all readers of UK Citizenship sign the e-petition against this bill which can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746 a petition which has already garnered nearly 30,000 signatures since its launch last week.

If you have enjoyed this article then be sure to return to TechWench for more news and views on the changing face of the digital zeitgeist we are living through as we bring you topical and relevant information day to day.

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