Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Stop opt-out “Adult” filtering

The Open Rights Group are encouraging people to respond to the consultation by the Department for Education on parental internet controls. Closing date tomorrow, 6 September.

I'm really busy this evening but sent off the note below.  It was done in a hurry as a stream of consciousness (including cut and pasting from earlier blog posts) and it has not been critically read. So if anyone spots anything silly let me know asap, please. I also neglected to put a defence of unwelcome speech section in e.g. if freedom of expression means anything, it must be granted to those whose views and creative work are considered by some people to be despicable, disgraceful, sacrilegious, uncomfortable and disgusting (e.g in the case of "adult material" church, political and other groups find pornography highly offensive).

A copy of this email is going to my MP. I am raising my concerns about the proposal for network filtering of adult content and default blocking.

I would like to submit the following evidence:

Blocks do plenty of harm, but little good. They always block the wrong sites. They are pretty much useless at determining what exactly constitutes "adult material" whilst always overblocking innocent sites. Filters have been blocking my academic blog at or as Yahoo! did labelling it a "dangerous download"  for years.  I couldn't access my own blog from my mobile because up until earlier this year Orange blocked all blogs.

Just this week bots have taken down the live streaming of the Hugo Awards, the world's most prestigious science fiction awards, and the Democratic National Convention!

Ofcom has pointed out in a report related to the Digital Economy Act that web blocking is unworkable. And government is committed to abolishing section 17 of the DEA on web blocking.  In 2011  far reaching decision the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, Cruz Villalón, concluded that

    "a measure ordering an internet service provider to install a system for filtering and blocking electronic communications in order to protect intellectual property rights in principle infringes fundamental rights".

In the context of child protection web blocking is counter productive and dangerous. It's not even hard to see why blocking is dangerous and stupid in this context - it leaves the crime scenes online, the criminals at large and the abused kids in danger, whilst enabling governments to pretend that they are "doing something". If a fraction of the energy that went into trying to pass such blocking provision and collating lists of worst of the worst sites actually went into tracking these abhorent child abusers, taking their servers offline, rescuing the kids involved and successfully prosecuting the offenders, there might be some inroads made into tackling the problem. So viewed purely as a child protection measure alone, web blocking is fundamentally flawed, risky and irrational.

As COADEC say "Not only does this system of blocking sites have an effect on freedom of speech, but these kinds of blocks can be devastating to digital businesses who generate revenue through their sites. Default blocking inadvertently blocks perfectly legal and legitimate businesses and organisations, and a reporting and redress process that is complicated, and lengthy, could seriously inhibit a business who launches their site to discover it has incorrectly been blocked."

You cannot fix a social & political problem with technological filters.  It's irresponsible to try and do so and I'll just leave you with Scott Adams take on the likely success of such an approach:

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