18th April 2012 13:55
Claire Perry's Internet morality filter
A parliamentary committee chaired by Claire Perry MP today published its report into Online Child Protection, saying that ISPs must be forced to provide "opt-in" porn filters for all customers.
On the face of it, a reasonable proposal - perhaps you can disagree on whether it should be opt-in or opt-out, but giving parents the option to protect their children online is surely a good thing?
In fact, there are several problems with this approach - 3 main ones, and a litany of others.
Censorship isn't the right way to protect children
Firstly, filtering and censorship aren't the right way to protect children. No filter is perfect, as we'll discuss later, and the only real solution here is parental responsibility - parents need to understand the situation, and talk to their children about what they might see on the internet - whether there's a filter or not.
A false sense of security: filters fail
Secondly, as anyone who's ever had an email account knows, filters aren't perfect - whether they're for porn or for spam. The danger is that parents get a false sense of security from these filters, and as a result become complacent about their children using the internet. Meanwhile, any filter also has false positives - educational material on biology, breast cancer, or, for older children, sexual health.
There is no market failure, so there is no need for regulation
Thirdly, if parents do wish to use some level of filtering, they can already buy it on the open market. TalkTalk already offer network-level filtering, and the other main ISPs are all bringing online similar technologies of their own accord. There is absolutely no need to regulate here, instead this is an example of unnecessary red tape from a government that promised to cut down on it, which will impose costs on the whole population.
There are any number of other problems with the report - the "nanny state" overtones of Claire Perry's desire to make the filter opt-in, which in the deliberately confusing language of the report means that users will have to expressely ask for the filter to be switched off. The document is full of other patronising implications parents cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, or that the government needs to step in to help parents who are "too embarassed" (a direct quote) to have a serious conversation with their children.
There's the fact that these filters will inevitably fail, and an angry parent will one day demand compensation for the fact that their child saw some porn while they were browsing on a connection that the government promised was secure.
There's the fact that, for older children, the filters will be ineffective because teenagers will inevitably find a way around them - whether it's a proxy server or simply one of their friends handing them a USB flashdrive full of gigabytes Japanese tentacle porn.
There's the fact that the filtering technology being proposed is the same as that used by repressive governments around the world such as China and Iran, which means the UK will be directly subsidising the development of censorship technology used by the world's most oppressive regimes.
Overall then, a terrible recommendation - because it's the wrong approach to protecting children, because it adds unnecessary red tape where there is no market failure, and because it won't work and in fact is likely to do more harm than good.
Culture & Media spokesperson, Pirate Party UK
0161 987 7880
Pirate Party UK is a political party registered with the Electoral Commission.