The UK Internet Filter

January 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The New Statesman reports:

There is no porn filter, and blocking Childline is not an accident

The idea of an internet porn filter has always been a political fiction, a conveniently inaccurate sound bite used to conjure images of hardcore fisting and anal rape in the feverishly overactive imaginations of middle Britain. What activists actually called for – and ISPs were forced to provide – is an ‘objectionable content’ filter, and there is a vast, damp and aching chasm between the two.

The language of the mythical ‘porn filter’ is so insidious, so pervasive, that even those of us opposed to it have been sucked into its slippery embrace. And so even when it turns out that O2 are blocking the Childline and Refuge websites, or that BT are blocking gay and lesbian content, we tend to regard them as collateral damage – accidental victims of a well-meaning (if misguided) attempt to protect out children from the evils of cock.

But this was no accident. It is a good lesson of why filtering is best done by individuals.

Working through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the coalition has put in place a set of filters and restrictions as ambitious as anything this side of China, dividing the internet into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ categories, and cutting people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

“As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on “violent material”, “extremist related content”, “anorexia and eating disorder websites” and “suicide related websites”, “alcohol” and “smoking”. But the list doesn’t stop there. It even extends to blocking “web forums” and “esoteric material”, whatever that is. “Web blocking circumvention tools” is also included, of course.”

And the restrictions go further still. Over the weekend, people were appalled to discover that BT filters supported homophobia, with a category blocking, “sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptive, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.”

These filters are automatically applied to all ISP accounts, unless you specifically ask to be exempted. It shows the dangers of allowing a filter for one sort of material, and then seeing it gradually get extended elsewhere. I believe you should prosecute those who upload or download illegal material, but you should not force ISPs to filter the Internet.

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28 Responses to “The UK Internet Filter”

  1. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Blocking one of the campaigners for the filter was amusing I thought.

    The opt-in filters also deny access to the Parliament and Government websites and the sites of politicians, including Claire Perry, the MP who has campaigned prominently for the introduction of filters.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/o2-changes-porn-filterafter-charity-sites-blocked-9023209.html

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  2. Ed Snack (1,733 comments) says:

    Next up, blocking inconvenient opinions opposed to the government of the day and their cronies…

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  3. Viking2 (11,125 comments) says:

    The only thing missing from this action are Hitlers boots.

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  4. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    DPF,

    It shows the dangers of allowing a filter for one sort of material, and then seeing it gradually get extended elsewhere

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it. This sort of thing is mere pandering to prudish old folk who don’t have the foggiest idea how the internet works.

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  5. anonymouse (693 comments) says:

    Given that the Big ISPs in NZ are part of the DCEFS, has anyone had a look at things that get blocked here, or is it a case of the UK filter being much much broader than the one in NZ,

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  6. Psycho Milt (2,246 comments) says:

    This sort of thing is mere pandering to prudish old folk who don’t have the foggiest idea how the internet works.

    The nation’s MPs, in other words…

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  7. Scott (1,696 comments) says:

    I see nothing wrong with filters and would like to see more of them. There is enough bad stuff on the internet. It’s time for common sense and decency to make a comeback.

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  8. Lucia Maria (2,202 comments) says:

    Just goes to show that it’s better to make porn illegal, and the type of stuff that I would start with would be the violent rape porn that churn through the female actors in a matter of months because of the physical damage it does to them.

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  9. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Scott (1,547 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I see nothing wrong with filters and would like to see more of them. There is enough bad stuff on the internet. It’s time for common sense and decency to make a comeback.

    http://www.quickmeme.com/img/04/04de150247cb24a2f0f58bc1151c5c8fa347cf49d6c58603867cc91a18eb25b8.jpg

    Aww Grandpa :)

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  10. nasska (10,611 comments) says:

    …”It’s time for common sense and decency to make a comeback.”….

    Your old champion Graham Capill used to be big on morality Scott. Since he probably has a bit of spare time on his hands you could get him to give you a few pointers on how to sell the campaign to the punters.

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  11. thor42 (900 comments) says:

    The UK is well and truly a police state (and has been for years).
    What’s the bet that this filter blocks UK people from sites that criticise Islam, categorising them as “unacceptable”?
    Given that UK police now trawl Facebook and Twitter for any UK users who post anti-Islam content, I think the chances are quite high that any anti-Islam content will be blocked.
    Assuming that it is, the UK have just introduced one of the things that the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) has been fighting for – the outlawing of “criticism of religion”.
    The OIC can now instruct Muslims in the West to do whatever they like, and anyone criticising the actions will be deemed to be behaving “unacceptably” and will be nabbed by the UK police.

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  12. thor42 (900 comments) says:

    I should mention one other aspect to this.

    When a government ignores the concerns – the very valid concerns – of the people (or blocks sites that air such concerns), then the only thing left is to take to the streets. I’m not just talking protest either (people have already protested in the UK and have been ignored). I’m meaning civil war.

    Blocking things like this is an extremely dangerous move as it removes a critical “safety valve”.

    I am surprised that the UK has not already descended into civil war (given the concerns about immigration there). This step should bring civil war there a lot closer.

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  13. nasska (10,611 comments) says:

    …..”This step should bring civil war there a lot closer.”….

    I used to think that. I even expressed it here as an opinion a couple of times but now I reckon that the British have left it too late even for civil war. The damage has been done in a sufficiently stealthy manner as to make the average Pom totally unaware of where he is placed in his own country.

    It’s a textbook case of how to take over a nation without firing a shot. The social engineers of the UN will be pleased.

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  14. thor42 (900 comments) says:

    @nasska – “The damage has been done in a sufficiently stealthy manner as to make the average Pom totally unaware of where he is placed in his own country.”

    I agree. The fact that the UK government is still rating quite highly in opinion polls shows that what you say is correct. The UK people have no idea what is happening.

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  15. Bob (478 comments) says:

    What puzzles me is how pornography can be screened. It is so easy to label a sex site with an innocuous title. Sometimes a website will list both harmless material and pornographic material. Applying a block would require a large team doing nothing else but going over virtually millions of websites.

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  16. thor42 (900 comments) says:

    @Bob – I don’t have any answers as to the “how” but I would say that this filter blocking porn is the least of the worries that the UK people have.

    It *suits* the purposes of the UK government for this to be simply seen as a “porn filter”. That’s an easy “sell” to the public and it completely diverts attention from whatever else the government sees as “unacceptable” and is blocking with this filter.

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  17. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    Wouldn’t be surprised if even genuine comments were blocked on blogs as if they are “spam”. Content filters that edit one’s comments from so called “objectional” material.

    For example when

    and then I discovered that the

    which is pretty vital information people should know.

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  18. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    It’s way beyond the point of civil war. It’s moved into the time for uncivil war.

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  19. eszett (2,331 comments) says:

    ZenTiger (384 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 11:03 pm
    It’s way beyond the point of civil war. It’s moved into the time for uncivil war.

    Not sure if this a joke or not, but if it isn’t, what exactly are you wanting to go to war about?

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  20. eszett (2,331 comments) says:

    Lucia Maria (1,845 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 5:57 pm
    Just goes to show that it’s better to make porn illegal

    This, on the other hand, is definitely a joke.
    You mean like in some Muslim countries where you cannot buy a Cosmopolitan because it is considered porngraphic?

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  21. Fentex (855 comments) says:

    The UK is well and truly a police state

    I seem to recall noting that U.K civil liberties took a deadly hit in the 1980′s when police were given the authority to disband any group of four or more people and freedom of association died, at least in law. I think it was, I may be miss-remembering much of this, a reaction to the Brixton riots.

    With their appalling recent legislation against free speech known as “Hate Speech” laws (which outlaws speech that distresses people thus essentially re-establishing preposterous blasphemy laws) the people of Britain are sorely restrained in their freedoms.

    Internet filtering, internal secret police and restrictions on speech are not about public safety, they are about security for the states supremacy over individuals and are all insidious evils.

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  22. Yoza (1,521 comments) says:

    Fentex (430 comments) says:
    January 10th, 2014 at 1:17 am

    With their appalling recent legislation against free speech known as “Hate Speech” laws (which outlaws speech that distresses people thus essentially re-establishing preposterous blasphemy laws) the people of Britain are sorely restrained in their freedoms.

    Internet filtering, internal secret police and restrictions on speech are not about public safety, they are about security for the states supremacy over individuals and are all insidious evils.

    The ‘ASBOs’ and ‘IPNAs’ are also vehicles for stamping out non-conforming ‘miscreants’.

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  23. Yoza (1,521 comments) says:

    Oh, I see the IPNA got stomped on in the House of Lords.

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  24. Lucia Maria (2,202 comments) says:

    eszett (2,190 comments) says:
    January 10th, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Lucia Maria (1,845 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 5:57 pm
    Just goes to show that it’s better to make porn illegal

    This, on the other hand, is definitely a joke.
    You mean like in some Muslim countries where you cannot buy a Cosmopolitan because it is considered porngraphic?

    Eszett, if you had quoted my entire comment, then you would have answered your own question.

    No, I do not mean Cosmopolitan, I mean violent rape porn that churn through the female actors in a matter of months because of the physical damage it does to them.

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  25. Fentex (855 comments) says:

    The ‘ASBOs’ and ‘IPNAs’ are also vehicles for stamping out non-conforming ‘miscreants’.

    I’m not so sure I dislike ASBO’s entirely. Sure they’re thrown around freely and foolishly and appear largely ineffective but I think the idea of a formal public indicator of disapproval as part of an escalating due process for anti-social individuals isn’t an all bad idea.

    If it could be made to work, to leverage peer/social pressure, it could hopefully discipline people who might otherwise have to be sanctioned more heavily shortly afterwards and take a shorter route straight to prison.

    Society does have a right to discipline the anti-social. Obviously efforts to do so may be ineffective, inappropriate or suborned to evil ends, but that doesn’t mean all efforts should be abandoned.

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  26. Yoza (1,521 comments) says:

    Fentex (433 comments) says:
    January 10th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    If it could be made to work, to leverage peer/social pressure, it could hopefully discipline people who might otherwise have to be sanctioned more heavily shortly afterwards and take a shorter route straight to prison.

    Society does have a right to discipline the anti-social. Obviously efforts to do so may be ineffective, inappropriate or suborned to evil ends, but that doesn’t mean all efforts should be abandoned.

    They are little more than devices to partition the mentally ill and the poverty stricken from the view of the well heeled. Its a way of getting the state to provide a gated community where the undesirables only know they have encroached into the areas of privilege when they are confronted by members of the security apparatus. When comparing degrees of sinister, the asbo works hand in glove with legal devices like internet filters as a means of limiting how the general public is allowed to perceive reality. Reflexively reacting to behaviours that make people uncomfortable by trying to hide them from view is a path back to the ‘good old days’ of outlawing homosexuality.

    As George Monbiot points out, “Inevitably, more than half the people subject to asbos break them. As Liberty says, these injunctions “set the young, vulnerable or mentally ill up to fail”, and fast-track them into the criminal justice system. They allow the courts to imprison people for offences which are not otherwise imprisonable. One homeless young man was sentenced to five years in jail for begging: an offence for which no custodial sentence exists. Asbos permit the police and courts to create their own laws and their own penal codes.”

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  27. SPC (5,334 comments) says:

    http://norightturn.blogspot.co.nz/2013/11/misson-creep.html

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  28. eszett (2,331 comments) says:

    No, I do not mean Cosmopolitan, I mean violent rape porn that churn through the female actors in a matter of months because of the physical damage it does to them.?

    No, Lucia, you said is that’s what you would start with.

    So what do you mean by “violent rape porn”? Any nonconsensual “porn” woudl be illegal today, as would any nonconsensual “violent” porn. (BDSM would be “violent” to a degree, but consensual and safe).

    So what would you deem illegal? Are you now the judge of what is acceptable porn and what is not

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