Open Letter to David Cameron: Internet Filtering

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The Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Prime Minister

10 Downing Street London SW1A 2AA  

Tuesday the 23rd July 2013

Dear Mr Cameron,

As a movement that includes many technically literate individuals, parents and young people, we are writing to you to express our concerns about your recent announcements about internet filtering.  It is the wrong way to tackle the impact that you believe the internet is having on, as you put it, "the innocence of our children".

It is striking that your approach makes dealing with a social problem into a primarily technical exercise to be solved by Internet Service Providers. Many experts have already made clear that the issues you have raised are not just complex, but impossible to deal with effectively with technology alone.  

The suggestion that fool-proof filters can be provided to deal with something as difficult to define as obscenity online is foolhardy at best, misleading and damaging at worst. Your proposals will ensure that we don't properly deal with the problems you claim to want to address.

It should have been made clear to you from your advisers that filters will be ineffective and that they cause a number of serious issues in accomplishing what you aim to achieve. Filters will either fail to block the content you would prefer they blocked, leaving parents with a false sense of security, or they will block far more than intended, and will be turned off by many parents so that they can continue to access legitimate content in an unhindered manner.

These points appear to have been accepted in the Government's response to the consultation on parental internet controls, published in December of 2012¹. The approaches outlined in that document; that the government would work with industry, charities and experts in relevant fields through UKCCIS to promote parental engagement and ensure that that parents have options, are the right ones.  They are based on your own evidence and seem to be supported by industry. It is also noteworthy that most parents who responded rejected a default-on approach to filtering.

The result of that consultation was one that emphasised informed choice; that the Government would not prescribe detailed solutions to ISPs or parents.  Instead it would expect industry to adapt the principles of this approach to their services, systems and devices and would empower parents rather than giving them a false sense of security.  We do not understand why you have abandoned this direction.

We urge you to reconsider and refocus your efforts into areas where they can really have an impact.  It is vital that you accept the recommendations from your own consultation to ensure parents are well equipped to deal with the issues that you have outlined, using evidence not insinuation to support your assumptions.  We would also argue that rather than the potentially harmful and narrow route you seem to be taking, even if it grabs the headlines, you need to ensure that your approach is a holistic one.

It may be more complex, but ensuring that sex education and the teaching of technology in schools is fit for purpose is vital, and needs real support.  Ensuring that parents are equipped to properly guide and supervise their children online may be less eye-catching in the media than imposing filters, but it will work.

We would also ask that you provide more support to organisations like the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre to track down offenders and bolster support for local government departments that provide support for victims of abuse.

The Internet has been a driver of massive societal change over the last two decades; as a result we have a society that has far more access to information and media than ever before.  That situation is not going to change.  Ensuring that we give our young people the skills to deal with this new reality, and supporting parents to ensure they are able to properly guide their children in an informed manner is vital.

It is becoming clear to many people that your Coalition, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of your government, are failing when it comes to the digital age.  You have failed to deliver the frameworks required in education to ensure that we are bringing up a new generation of innovators in technical fields. You have failed to properly invest in the few initiatives that do show promise in developing the UK's digital scene, leaving those that do succeed doing so despite, not because of, your best efforts. 

We would ask that you not compound those failures by suggesting technical solutions to societal problems that they cannot solve, but instead listen to those with whom you have consulted.  It is right that you should work ensure that there are options available to parents, but to deal with legitimate problems that arise from our society being more connected than ever before, you must adopt an approach that will actually do some good in the long term.

Yours sincerely,

 

Loz Kaye
Leader
Pirate Party UK

¹ Government Response to Parental Internet Controls (PDF)

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This letter is also available as a PDF here.

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