Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown down the gauntlet to various internet service providers (ISPs) to block online pornography and has challenged large technology firms to get behind his crackdown by providing automatic family filters across the UK, unless customers opt out of the service.
Cameron, who believes that online pornography is “corroding childhood”, has asked all ISPs to remove the current “opt-in” filters and replace them with an automatic filter that blocks access to certain websites, customers will then have to manually remove the filters and ask their ISPs that they wish to access sites that the filters will be blocking.
These are restrictions that Cameron wants in place very quickly, with the PM calling on businesses to put the policies in place for new customers as soon as possible and for existing customers to be asked whether they want in or out of the filters by the end of the year.
The war against the internet does not stop there as Cameron is extending his fight to search engines, such as Google and Bing, so that certain searches are not returned to a user, even if the aforementioned filters are down.
This crackdown was started due to illegal and child pornography, indeed it is these sorts of subjects that Cameron want search engines to block, but it appears that there has been an expansion to all forms of illicit images on the internet, as the Prime Minister seems to fear the effect that pornography has on children.
Generally politicians and new technologies do not mix very well, usually politicians end up looking silly and rather out of touch, however despite the boundaries of politics and technology being crossed previously this could be the first instance of a British Prime Minister attempting to take on the internet on such a large scale.
The technological aspect of the move comes for the ISPs, the search engines, and the wider implications of Government legislation blocking parts of the internet. Indeed David Cameron claims he expects a “row” with ISPs, a row which he has already begun by claiming that internet providers were “not doing enough to take responsibility”.
To reiterate his tough stance against big businesses who have monopolised the internet Cameron claimed he is ready to “force action” by introducing legislation to make his wishes law, as well as demanding that firms use their “greatest brains” to overcome any possible “technical obstacles”.
His cause is a respectable one, after all who can argue against their Government clamping down on violent and child pornography, however there seems to be a real lack of understanding from the Prime Minister in how the internet works, which has resulted in a number of issues that arise from the plans.
Firstly there is the simple overlooking of the ways around legislation attempting to control the internet. Children will find ways around any sorts of filters that ISPs attempt to put in place, just look at the story of Pirate Bay, all major ISPs have blocked access to the site but that certainly has not stopped all activity from the site in the UK.
Aside from certain logistical issues there are problems in clarity over the plans and even the legality of the proposals put forward by the PM. There are strict laws under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which limit the amount of communications that can be intercepted by authorities, meaning that intercepting browsing habits, which would be a necessity under these plans, could be illegal in some cases.
There are also issues over Cameron’s stance over pornography itself, is he hoping to outlaw all pornography one day? Who will define what pornography is under these policies? How will it be established what should and should not be blocked? These are all questions that are yet to be answered by the Prime Minister, who as of yet is avoiding the nitty gritty detail of the policy plans.
This seems to be a task that will not be easy to pull off and ultimately Cameron may regret going to war with the internet, critics are already climbing all over the plans and finding flaws in the reasoning. One big question is how much will all this cost to set-up and run? With the Government deficit still high and spending still scarce from the coalition how much money can Cameron through at this project?
The plans have already been dealt a blow in the form of small ISPs, who have said that without proper legislation they will continue to offer unrestricted internet access to its users. Some of the owners of these smaller firms claim that they will be avoiding the filters if possible, in the interest of free speech, which is another massive issue that Cameron will have to deal with if he wishes to push through these plans.
Cameron’s goal is a good one, blocking young children from accessing pornography and banning all access to illegal pornography is something that needs to be implemented somehow, it just seems that Cameron has not approached the situation with clarity and there are a whole host of questions that need to be answered. The issue that arises from this long list of questions is speed, Cameron wants search engines to completely block black-listed terms by October, this will not be possible if there is not complete understanding between all parties involved. Ultimately it is this lack of clarity that could ruin the Prime Minister’s plans.