When David Cameron last week appeared to advocate blocking extremist websites using a controversial new porn filter, the internet lit up with condemnation. But according to a Downing Street source, there’s something even bigger in the works.
Because while the porn filter is a terrible and unworkable idea, the bloggers, activists and industry professionals who belatedly jumped on UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement should know that the PM wasn’t talking about the porn filter when he answered a question about terrorism last month.
The truth could in fact be much worse, if we know anything about where the government meets computers.
Cameron’s porn filter is set to take effect in 2014, with internet users having to opt in to seeing smut and other edgy content. In other words, censorship will be the default setting.
Campaigners are right to point out that explicit sexual content won’t be all that gets sifted. ISPs will have to design their own filters to comply with the new law. They will probably contain other categories of “inappropriate” material, such as gambling, file sharing and “extremist” political content.
The nature of filtering by keywords means that plenty of innocent—even educational—material will be nixed. Ironically, websites such as the Daily Mail, which has been campaigning vociferously for the new filters, will probably find themselves banned by some of them.
The new filth nets will also have more holes than one of Andrew Neill’s vests, making them easy to subvert. An investigation by PC Pro showed that porn and other adult material could be accessed through TalkTalk’s child protection filter, which MPs including Cameron and anti-smut crusader Claire Perry hailed as a the model for the new regime.
Even if the new porn nets are tightened considerably between now and the roll-out, it will still be easy to get past them. Simple tricks such as using Google Translate will scramble the coding and enable tech-savvy youngsters to bypass the new controls. So it’s a stupid idea in pretty much every way imaginable.
One question arises out of all this: why would the Prime Minister advocate using a filter that can be turned off to tackle extremism or even terrorism? The answer is he wasn’t, because even he knows it wouldn’t work against extremists, even of Four Lions calibre. No, the truth may in fact be far worse than his critics have wrongly inferred.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed to The Kernel that in the passages being widely quoted online, the PM was in fact referring to as yet unannounced plans to block “illegal sites” using different, possibly more extreme methods. This is hardly a comforting answer, since it points to further regulation and criminalisation in addition to what we already know about.
So regardless of the misinterpretation of Cameron’s comments, campaigners are right to point out that the new law will likely be a slippery slope toward further, unaccountable censorship.
Adrian Kennard, managing director of Andrews & Arnold, an independent ISP that refuses to censor its service, says compelling ISPs to make content optional is the first step to making it unavailable.
“The problem is, if an ISP has a filtering system, then they can say, these things are optional and these aren’t. We know censorship is a bad thing and the government insisting that we operate a censorship system in the UK is the thin end of the wedge.
“This is what places like China and North Korea do.”
It seems the default setting for the Internet isn’t just porn—it’s paranoia. Is there any way we can filter that out?