In a speech given to the NSPCC on Monday, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, called for internet service providers to provide “familiy friendly” filters for all customers that were switched on by default:
Now, I say we need both: we need good filters that are preselected to be on, pre-ticked unless an adult turns them off, and we need parents aware and engaged in the setting of those filters. So, that is what we’ve worked hard to achieve, and I appointed Claire Perry to take charge of this, for the very simple reason that she’s passionate about this issue, determined to get things done and extremely knowledgeable about it at the same too. Now, she’s worked with the big 4 internet service providers – TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT – who together supply internet connections to almost 9 out of 10 homes.
And today, after months of negotiation, we’ve agreed home network filters that are the best of both worlds. By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account, the settings to install family friendly filters will be automatically selected; if you just click next or enter, then the filters are automatically on.
And, in a really big step forward, all the ISPs have rewired their technology so that once your filters are installed they will cover any device connected to your home internet account; no more hassle of downloading filters for every device, just one click protection. One click to protect your whole home and to keep your children safe.
Now, once those filters are installed it should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of the mouse without anyone knowing, and this, if you’ve got children, is absolutely vital. So, we’ve agreed with industry that those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult. So an adult has to be engaged in the decisions.
But of course, all this only deals with the flow of new customers, new broadband accounts, those switching service providers or buying an internet connection for the first time. It doesn’t deal with the huge stock of the existing customers, almost 19 million households, so that is where we now need to set our sights.
Following the work we’ve already done with the service providers, they have now agreed to take a big step: by the end of next year, they will have contacted all their existing customers and presented them with an unavoidable decision about whether or not to install family friendly content filters. TalkTalk, who’ve shown great leadership on this, have already started and are asking existing customers as I speak.
We’re not prescribing how the ISPs should contact their customers; it’s up to them to find their own technological solutions. But however they do it, there’ll be no escaping this decision, no, ‘Remind me later,’ and then it never gets done. And they will ensure that it’s an adult making the choice.
Now, if adults don’t want these filters that is their decision, but for the many parents who would like to be prompted or reminded, they’ll get that reminder and they’ll be shown very clearly how to put on family friendly filters. I think this is a big improvement on what we had before and I want to thank the service providers for getting on board with this, but let me be clear: I want this to be a priority for all internet service providers not just now, but always.
That is why I am asking today for the small companies in the market to adopt this approach too, and I am also asking Ofcom, the industry regulator, to oversee this work, to judge how well the ISPs are doing and to report back regularly. If they find that we’re not protecting children effectively, I will not hesitate to take further action.
Needless to say these filters will block more than just porn.
I wonder whether people will understand just how much blocking they’re being defaulted into if this goes ahead.
And there are other consequences of this move. Consider that the BBC reported that TalkTalk’s filtering is provided by Huawei, a Chinese company with close links to the Chinese state:
On Monday the Prime Minister said TalkTalk had shown “great leadership” in setting up its system, Homesafe, which it has offered to customers since 2011.
TalkTalk told the BBC it was comfortable with its relationship with Huawei, and that the service was very popular.
Homesafe is a voluntary scheme which allows subscribers to select categories - including social media, gambling and pornography - that they want blocked.
Customers who do not want filtering still have their traffic routed through the system, but matches to Huawei’s database are dismissed rather than acted upon.
This illustrates my main concerns about this:
- That although the ability to opt out will be available to start with, we will end up creating an infrastructure for censoring otherwise legal material on the internet that can be easily made compulsory.
- That it results in mass monitoring of the content people view on the internet. Given the recent revelations about the extent of NSA/GCHQ surveillance, who would trust that the spy agencies won’t get to see the data gathered by the filters as they monitor your net connection?
Essentially the default position will be that your ISP is being told to decide/take responsibility for what you can access on the internet.