Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Porn filters - no it is not a law!

We hear people saying "They all filter now don't they, it's the law isn't it?" when it comes to porn and other filters.

It seems to me that there is a lot of confusion over this, and I am sure this is exactly what the likes of Baroness Howe would want - people assuming that a filtered Internet is normal or even a legal requirement. It is not!

I was, however, rather encouraged having done a talk at both LONAP and LINX, the two main London based Internet Exchanges to find that almost nobody does any filtering. Whilst A&A may well push the whole unfiltered angle, it seems that most small ISPs simply are not filtering. The notable exceptions being some ISP selling specifically to schools, and, of course, the big ISPs like BT, etc.

The main points in my talk cover the principles of why we don't filter:
  1. There is an important principle, which has some protection in law even ("mere conduit") that the how you communicate is separate from the what you communicate. Providers of communications, whether post, telephone or Internet should not have to consider the ethical, legal, moral, or political aspects of what is communicated. They should be able to concentrate on the how aspects and make the communications work. If we had to concern ourselves with what is communicated we would not have the Internet at all.
  2. The whole censorship is bad and this is the thin end of the wedge and slippery slope arguments.
  3. The pointlessness of this all - nobody will be stopped from communicating if they want to. There are people selling USB sticks with TOR browsers and Flash allowing unfiltered browsing with one click.
The presentation went down well at both events.

But even with most Internet access having filtering now, simply because most lines are with the biggest providers, people still seem to misunderstand. It is not obvious to people that these filters are optional - you do not have to have them. Of course, those that understand that they are optional do not want to be put on the ISPs perv list by asking.

Of course, even now, there is mission creep on this - and already calls to include "extremist" web sites on the filters, and include non-optional filtering of "illegal content". We said this would happen and we are sliding down that slippery slope already it seems.

So, lets be clear:

There is no legal requirement for an ISP to filter anything!

The closest we get to that is the ability for a court to make an order against an individual ISP to filter access to a specific site relating to copyright infringement. Even that is on shaky ground after a court ruling elsewhere in the EU removing such blocks after conceding that they do not work.

An ISP does not have to filter illegal or immoral content, or monitor for such content, or report such usage to anyone. ISPs are protected from liability for the content that is passed. Obviously customers should not do anything illegal, but ISPs do not have to police that, and (in my view) should not.

So it is good news that there are a lot of small ISPs for consumers and businesses that are not filtering the Internet. I am all in favour of choice. Of course, I don't mind if ISPs do offer additional services and filtering, as a choice the customer picks. What concerns me is the way people now assume filtering is normal.

Thanks to LINX and LONAP for letting me talk on this, and ask members about what they do.

2 comments:

  1. Funny you should say this today - someone in the pub last night stated that "All ISPs are required by law to filter content".

    I assured him that they aren't, and that you don't!

    Cheers,
    Howard

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  2. I love this posting. I am considering changing to you for my home use because I have a situation just like that shiboleet cartoon with my current ISP. It is uncanny! I am fed up of people patronising me. Anyway I went to my local library run by Neath Port Talbot to get on-line and I found that this blog posting is blocked as "Pornography". Their systems are word based so fail as a general "Scunthorpe problem". They have a similar filter on their email system!

    You may be interested in the research that shows that this kind of authoritarian behaviour is linked to lowered IQ scores. I is very solid research!

    There is also evidence that it is linked to having fewer brain cells in part of the brain. :-) So remember some of the people promoting these ideas may have "something missing upstairs".

    ReplyDelete