Government Tweaks ‘Porn Filters’ To Prevent Over-Blocking

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A ‘whitelist’ should reduce the numbers of legitimate websites blocked by ISPs

The government is making changes to the adult content filter system in order to stop it from blocking legitimate, age-appropriate websites.

The decision to introduce the so-called ‘porn filters’ across the UK, announced in July 2013, was welcomed by child protection agencies, but criticised by freedom of speech campaigners, after it was found to prevent access to the websites of charities and educational organisations.

A “whitelist”, due to be introduced by a special working group within the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, promises to solve this problem. This will be shared amongst ISPs and will ‘unblock’ some sites  such as those dealing with sex education, by exempting them from the filters.

“There’s a growing realisation that filters are not perfect and will lead to some over-blocking,” a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association told the BBC. “There’s a feeling that some sites sit in a grey area and more needs to be done for them.”

Cameron’s List

Last summer, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be forced to offer an “opt-out” adult content filter, as part of the government’s efforts to protect children online.

Parental controls (c) Cartoonresource, Shutterstock 2013In 2014, most households will have to make a choice whether to keep this filter switched on, and the widely reported over-blocking  problem could ruin any positive effects of the scheme.

The whitelist idea was developed by a working group that was set up in December and tasked with improving the filter system. The same group is creating an appeals process that would help mistakenly blocked websites get back on the grid.

TorrentFreak, a news website dedicated to copyright and peer-to-peer networks, previously reported that Sky filters had blocked it alongside sites featuring “porn, suicide, self-harm, violence and gore”.

Critics of the automatic ‘opt-out’ filters describe them as an outdated technology which is incapable of protecting children, and only serves the interest of politicians.

“Whilst protecting children from the darker recesses of the internet by forcing ISPs to block sites might make great headlines for the Government, the initiative will fail,” commented Andrew Goode, COO of advertising technology provider Project Sunblock. “Using whitelists is never going to work as the ability for sites to be mirrored is just too easy for those people who are committed to making illegal and inappropriate content available online.

“Blocking websites isn’t enough to clean up the Internet and stop criminals from profiting from pirate websites. For example, there are over 160 proxies from which you can access Pirate Bay, and new proxies are being set up all the time to circumnavigate exactly this initiative and stay one step ahead.”

“What’s needed is to cut off the flow of advertising revenue that fuels these copyright infringing or inappropriate websites. The City of London Police has recognised this and has begun blacklisting sites and blocking ads from appearing on illegal websites and this issue must be tackled first, otherwise the government and Internet providers will be stuck chasing shadows.”

In 2012, a survey by YouGov revealed that just one in four UK adults with children in their household was in favour of having a default porn filter.

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