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MP Claire Perry calls for opt in system to regulate child access to internet porn @claire4devizes - trefor.net

MP Claire Perry calls for opt in system to regulate child access to internet porn @claire4devizes

The protection of children whilst using the internet is a highly emotive subject. There can be few who think it a bad idea. I have 4 kids who are heavy internet users. I don’t want them to come to any harm.

New MP for Devizes, Claire Perry, last week called for a change in regulations to require all UK-based Internet Service Providers to restrict universal access to pornographic content by implementing an opt-in system that requires verification that a user is over 18 for access to such material.

From a philosophical standpoint the fundamental principles of what Claire Perry wants are 90% ok – the 10% that are not ok being the right to privacy of people who might want to legally surf online porn but are not inclined to want to reveal their identity in order to do so. The problems come from the practicality of what is being asked for.

Website filtering is governed typically by the inclusion of a blacklist somewhere in the ISP network. User requests to access websites are compared with the blacklist and if the site is proscribed then access is denied. In the same way if an opt in is required it would happen at this stage. Parental controls usually involve a password being used to allow or deny the access.

The problem is that the methods of compiling the blacklist are either very expensive or inadequate. According to the Guardian, in the USA there is a company that specializes in providing controls for schools to prevent pupils from accessing unsuitable websites. They employ 80 or 90 staff to add between 400 and 600 new sites a day to the black list. This is expensive and ultimately does not do the job because the number of porn sites will almost certainly grow faster than this system can cope. A quick Google for “porn” yields 184,000,000 relevant pages.

The alternative method of blocking is to let a computer assess the suitability of a website by scanning the site for predetermined content. This would catch far more sites far more quickly than the first described method. The problem here is that the system is not very adequate and is rife with “false positives”.

Usually there is a feedback mechanism to inform the vendor/service provider of the error but this is not real time and I imagine that most users give up before doing so. This method effectively breaks the internet by making many legal and safe sites inaccessible.

Like it or not both methods are in any case ineffective because there are many ways of easily circumventing the filtering. A Google search for “free proxy server” yields 7,530,000 results. Even if you locked down all these sites new ones would keep appearing. Or people would find other ways around the system. It is a continuous and expensive process to stay ahead of his game. Really it is a war you can never win – one that just drives the resistance underground.

Take a look at wifi security. WPA2 was touted as the answer to prevent people from being able to hack into wifi. A Google of “crack for WPA2” now tells me that these are 161,000 sites out there that can tell me how to do it. Even if all the sites quote the same method there are a lot of them out there to chose from.

Coming back to the kids, we have to be practical here. To have a solution that would “sort of” work would require an enormous and continuous effort. It would add complexity to a system, ie the world wide web, that is already trying to manage equally large and emotive allied issues such as net neutrality.

If you add other attempts to strangle the web such as filtering to prevent online copyright infringement we will very quickly find ourselves with a sanitised walled garden version of the internet that will stifle innovation, or at least move it offshore, and bring an Orwellian control to our lives in the UK that I’m sure that no one really wants.

Claire Perry is quoted as saying “Clean up your house within a certain time, or we will come and clean it for you”. She needs to understand that what she is asking for is not practical.

Published by Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of trefor.net, writer, poet, philosopherontap.com

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1 Comment

  1. I believe the mobile operators have already implemented such a system ? For example http://www.t-mobile.co.uk/help-and-advice/advice-for-parents/inappropriate-content/

    The sort of consumer that puts an ISP’s CD in their PC to “get on the internet” would probably be helped by having a default “safe” set of DNS servers requiring an opt-out to get to the less safe / dodgy areas of the internet. Services like OpenDNS provide this for free and have the advantage of filtering smartphones using wi-fi too.

    ISPs could go some way to addressing the issue by this approach, perhaps ? We don’t need to achieve 100% perfection to make it worth doing.

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