Monday, 23 April 2012

Nanny state - think of the children

This is getting slightly out of hand.

There is a private members bill that has not, apparently, been thrown out (On line Safety). As it stands it is just very very broken as a bill or a law. But the whole idea is flawed really badly.

Basically the idea is that some politicians mistakenly think the Internet is like TV and magazines - a content service. It is not, it is a communications service, like the post office or telephones.

We do not have any regulations that says BT have to censor certain words said on a phone call. We have no regulations saying Royal Mail have to check all post and censor certain words or images being posted. That would be mad.

Somehow, some people, think it right that we need an Internet where ISPs have to somehow censor "images" being accessed.

Tell your ISP what level of filtering you want?

Technical issues

Firstly, as this is what I do best, the technical issues.

The bill calls for ISPs to offer a service which excludes porn images. ISPs move packets. We do not provide content. Asking us to exclude porn images is crazy. As an analogy, it is like expecting manufacturers of glasses to make a system to stop people looking at porn magazines. Technically, with an LCD shutter, GPS, accelerometer, giro (all the things found in an iPad) and a database of the location of all porn magazines on newsagents shelves, etc, it could be done, but it is the wrong way to do it!

No ISP could offer a service with "general access to Internet" and "no porn images". It is simply impossible. There are so many ways around it. Even if an ISP offered no more than DNS lookups, there are systems in place to allow IP over DNS tunneling and so general Internet access via that (used to break "walled gardens" and "pay gates" for no fee). Much more simply are remote proxies, and https porn sites, and encrypted emails and so on.

Allow anyone to send a 1 and a 0 and you have a means to send porn images.

Don't get me wrong, there are ways for ISPs to offer some level of parental control. By no means fool proof, but something. That said, this bill seems to try and circumvent the resourcefulness of teenage boys trying to access porn with all the access to google and facebook they need. Not going to happen. But no problem with ISPs trying to offer some such services if there is a market for it. Some do, and good luck to them. We (AAISP) don't but you can install apps on your PC.

You can do slightly better with applications on the PC to manage parental controls, and many free and paid for apps exist for that. So why force anything on ISPs? The "solution" already exists...

Side effects

Another aspect is the side effects. It would not be quite so bad if ISPs were expected to simply "explain the filtering services they offer". But the wording of the bill requires ISPs to ask people if they want to "opt in" to "porn". They then have to intercept and monitor their customers traffic (legal?) to check if they are accessing porn or not.

There are technical issues, as have been seen with IWF based filtering. Basically, systems designed to stop people accidentally accessing kiddie porn have been deployed by many ISPs. Well done to them, but these systems were never aimed at stopping access to the material, just ensuring people don't hit it by accident. Even so, such systems have caused serious issues with sites like wikipedia because of the way they work technically. Similar systems to block general porn will be equally ineffective against someone trying to access it, and equally disruptive to "normal usage" of such sites as wikipedia.

There is also the fact that you create nice lists of sensitive information such as "who wants to access porn".

On top of that the logic is binary. If someone in a household wants to access porn, as is their right, then the ISP is not filtering the whole house!

Is there actually a problem to solve?

Porn is a fact of life. I agree, some people find it offensive. Some find it degrading. Kids, especially teenage boys, will find a way to access it. This is no different with the Internet than it was 20 years ago, just you don't have to try and find porn mags under your parents bed any more. In my opinion it is better that kids are educated that it is fiction, and not how one should treat people in real life. They need to understand, as we all do for all fiction on TV, that there is a massive difference between fiction and reality, else we would be banning a lot more films from TV and cinema! Why is porn any different to Lethal Weapon or Saw III. It is far from reality but is entertainment for people that like that genre of film.

Find me a man that has never seen any porn? Did it cause them serious psychological harm? Make it "not allowed" and you bypass the education that needs to go with it as it is no longer discussed.

Thin edge of the wedge

Many ISPs filter kiddie porn, fair enough. Next filter "normal porn". Next filter "terrorist web sites". Next filter "politically incorrect web sites". Next filter "wrong thinking". Then they came for me...

Sorry, but freedom of speech is too important, and allowing any inroads in to that is the thin edge of the wedge as seen so many times in the past. Learn from history. Put up with some unpleasant stuff in the name of anti oppression.


Parents - be parents - educate kids on difference between fiction and reality - educate them on using the Internet wisely. Supervise them. Do not expect the government to pad them with cotton wool!

I have 5 kids, by the way.


  1. P.S. Straw man argument I think.

    Politician who has not seen porn: Not qualified to comment.

    Politician that has seen porn: Clearly did not affect you so much you did not manage to be a politician, so what's the problem?

    1. Politician who claims not to have seen porn: Liar.

    2. Politician who claims not to have seen porn: Liar and therefore unfit for office.

  2. Can we not seek an amendment to the bill? Everywhere it says "porn" replace it for "spam"? That might actually be a useful piece of legislation.

    Technically it would be much easier to block than porn, although I accept that some would still leak through.

    Perhaps we could then take our ISP to ADR if they fail to block it all?

  3. I agree with all that you say RevK

    here are some other points and argument I'd put forward,

    if we (rightly) aren't allowed to leave children and young people upto a certain age alone in the house without adult supervision ie a babysitter

    and many parents don't (I would argue the responsible ones) ... they either take kids with them or have a babysitter (a real one .... a person !)

    then why would we as parents leave our most precious persons alone with a computer and internet connection ?

    don't use the computer/internet as an unpaid nanny ...
    (sorry but that's that my uncompromising opinion)

    if a child or a young person wants access to the internet SIT WITH THEM AND ENJOY THEIR COMPANY WHILE USING SAID FACILITIES

    further.... education ... education ... education

    teach them to be aware and filter by themselves should they encounter something you as a parent would prefer them not to digest, this applies to all aspects of life not just the internet

    even my 4 year old knows (has been taught and learnt the need) to switch a channel on the tv should she accidentally sit on the remote and something "not for her" appears if I happen to go to the kitchen for a few mins to make a cup of tea

    at the very least she comes to the kitchen and tells me what's happened

    she is very rightly proud of herself for being so ironically *adult*
    AS ARE WE!


    We can't and shouldn't wrap our children in cotton wool.

    We as parents must pass on the skills to deal in a successful and independent manner with any and boundary crossing situations

    As such, they must have the opportunity to encounter all situations and learn (initially with supervision then with a gradual backing off by ourselves)
    How else are they going to learn to deal with them appropriately.

    finally, I advocate... don't fall into the use of the internet as an unpaid nanny and thus don't create a situation where the gov't feels the need to be that nanny by proxy and so intrude excessively into your lives

    further take part in your young'un's education, development and entertainment ... IT'S RATHER FUN and FULFILLING ! (afterall thats why you had kids isn't it? ;) )

    so much more I could say but it's already a long post
    I hope I've not offended anyone and these are just my opinions no one else's
    and it's just the start for a long discussion where opinions are like arse's …. everyone's got one ;D and you're entitled to your arse ;)

  4. could you not have your default service block 100% of traffic and therefore prevent porn. Customers could then choose to "opt in" to the full service

    1. That is, in effect, what A&A do. We already get people to confirm that they are asking for unfiltered Internet access and don't offer a service that censors anything.

    2. Perhaps A&A should explicitly list, offer and advertise the "filtered" service to highlight the idiocy.

  5. just to help the young'un's out and not even have to google for their pr0n the daily mail has rather helpfully posted the addresses plain to see :)

    you have to chortle eh?

  6. There have been comments that parents don't know how to install suitable applications on their PCs. The answer is simple, if they have a kid over the age of about 3, ask them to show you how to use google. They can probably install the tools for you. And if you do want to view porn yourself and have teenage kids, then I am sure they can show you how to turn off the restrictions.

    1. hehe ... the classic youtube ... INTERNET HELP DESK

      at the end he gets the 9 year old to fix the computer and then tells the child to get his dad to buy an Apple

      "cos Apples are for moro... I mean mommies and daddies ;) "

  7. I do wonder whether some of it is attempting to carry over an unrealistic world view from the physical world to the Internet; I've talked the bill over with many non-technical adults, and those who were in favour before we chatted were of the belief that a motivated 15 year old would be unable to obtain anything pornographic (not even Page 3 of the Sun newspaper from the newsagents) if they had no Internet access.

    In addition, until you discussed their own experiences of web browsing with them, they tended to hold the belief that you could easily stumble across pornography by accident, while looking for something innocent - it takes a bit of time before they realise that no, they've not found porn accidentally, and therefore their kids are unlikely to do so either.

    1. you make good points there

      I can confirm that I've never *accidentally* come across porn sites when I google for say "asterisk conf" or "default tp-link username password"

    2. Someone very close to me didn't even manage to accidentally stumble across porn when cooling for "vibrating fanny clips"...

  8. Personally I don't believe it has anything to do with protecting the children and all to do with record/movie companies lobbying hard with the side benefit that it helps the govt to censor the web - to protect it's citizens of course...

    1. I was impressed that searching for "cube lube" (for a rubiks cube) did not find anything iffy.

  9. Given the popularity of RFC 3514 (the "Evil bit"), perhaps a new RFC is needed so that frames containing a pornographic payload are clearly labelled in the IP header. Then it would be possible to implement what the Daily Mail is asking for without the widespread collateral damage that would otherwise result.

    Maybe it would help to concentrate policy-makers' minds if the UK ISP's got the IETF to publish such an RFC.