ExpressVPN

UK’s internet ‘porn filters’ block much more than porn (surprise, surprise)

We always knew that UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s rallying cry of ‘protect your children from the evils of internet porn’ was a cynical and manipulative effort to introduce internet censorship that goes much further than simply blocking children’s access to pornography (for which there is no evidence of it doing harm to children anyway).

This week the UK’s ‘big four’ internet providers (Virgin, Talk Talk, Sky and BT) started to implement Cameron’s parental filters, a move that was achieved bypassing open parliamentary debate, and which instead relied on secretive negotiations between the government and ISPs.

Almost immediately reports flooded in of sites such as ChildLine, the NSPCC and the Samaritans (02), award-winning British sex education site BishUK.com and the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (TalkTalk), Sexual Health Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline, and domestic abuse tackling website Reducing The Risk (BT) being blocked (to name just a few).

BT’s new filter covers not just porn, but  17 categories of internet content that parents can restrict their children’s access to, and covers a huge swathe of information (Pornography, Drugs, Alcohol & Tobacco, Hate & Self-harm, Nudity, Weapons & Violence, Gambling, Dating, Social Networking, File Sharing, Games, Media Streaming, Obscene & Tasteless, Fashion and Beauty, Homework (for blocking sites during certain hours), Search Engines & Portals, and Sex Education.)

This means that abusive and controlling parents can prevent vulnerable children from accessing vital services and information designed to inform and protect them. The last category, Sex Education, shocked many observers by including apparently homophobic filters,

‘Sex education will block 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.’

Following public outrage, BT has removed reference to ‘gay and lesbian lifestyle’, although it is probable that only the description of the category rather than the substance of the filtering (which is provided by an un-named ‘3rd party specialist supplier’) has in fact changed.

There is also a big lack of transparency when it comes to finding out which websites are blocked, as this Twitter conversation between a website owner who wanted to discover if any filters applied to his site,  and BT, demonstrates.

Adult bill payers can choose to opt-out of the filtering (it is turned on by default), but this does nothing to help vulnerable children from oppressive and potentially abusive parents denying them access to vital internet services, and we have to wonder how long it will take before political websites start to appear on the filtering lists.

VPN is a fantastic way to circumvent such censorship, and good free VPN services such as CyberGhost allow even minors without the ability to pay for a premium VPN subscription to access this important technology. Alternately, Singapore-based programmer @nubela has modified his Go Away MDA Chrome browser extension (designed to bypass censorship filters in Singapore) to bypass UK censorship. Go Away Cameron does not work on a list of blocked sites, but detects government blocks and goes around them,

‘I don’t have, nor will I ever have, an exhaustive list of UK banned sites,’ says @nubela, ‘What I can do is to merely detect whether the website returns you an error message saying the UK blocked it. (This is when the extension kicks in). This will work anywhere, and with any websites that are blocked by firewall, universities, workplaces, nanny filters, or well, censorship.’

As a UK citizen I am appalled that Britain now joins the likes of China and Iran as one of the most censored countries the world. Even many adults, through lack of technical understanding and fear of negative social perceptions may find their access to the internet severely restricted, and it is clear that children who need advice on self-harm issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and a huge range of other important issues where organisations have been set up precisely because many children cannot (for a variety of reasons) approach their parents over them, are being totally failed and left more vulnerable than ever.

UK citizens need to stand up to this hugely damaging censorship, and not let mealy-mouthed scare mongering sleepwalk us even further into an Orwellian nightmare.


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

Related Coverage


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *