David Cameron cracks down on online pornography
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August 11th, 2013 (5:24 AM).
This is just me beating a dead horse again, but I think this is a good article as to why this will not work.
1. It's impossible to filter just what you want to
There is a tradeoff between failing to block inappropriate content and erroneously blocking harmless material which is educational, medical or artistic. A 2007 paper by the University of California, Berkeley, tested 15 combinations of internet content filters and filter settings. The most restrictive of those filters managed to block 91% of adult content – but it also mistakenly blocked 23% of "clean" webpages. The less restrictive filters had fewer errors but only managed to restrict access to 40% of material which was deemed inappropriate for children.
2. Filters can't cope with context and nuance
Filters that fail to distinguish between pornography and sites that provide advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships could actually do more harm than good. ONS stats released on Thursday say 43% of people aged over 16 use the internet to seek health-related information – that figure has more than doubled since 2007 and will probably continue to rise.
3. You can't be clear about what you filter
It's virtually impossible to be transparent about internet filtering. There are 4.2m pornographic websites and 68m search engine requests to find those websites every day according to Internet Filter Review. Their statistics are likely to be guesstimates but they do show the sheer scale of a big chunk of our online world. Would the government publish a searchable database of every banned site? Would that list be updated regularly? With explanations about why each site was blocked? Probably not. That poses big problems for democratic principles such as oversight and accountability, especially when it's not clear why a site has been blocked. As the Internet Policy Review points out: "HTTP error codes are used by some filtering regimes. These are commonly either a 404 ('file not found') or 403 ('access denied') code." Those messages can mean very different things to an internet user.
4. It's not as simple as blocking a website
As well as performance issues, questions have been raised about the scope of internet filters. Some types of filters are unable to block material exchanged through peer-to-peer networks such as instant messaging, streaming video or file-sharing programs.
5. Many children are more tech savvy than their parents
Children will simply change the settings. This is a criticism that Cameron may have pre-empted but did not necessarily address when he stated: "It should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of a mouse without anyone knowing … those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult." A US panel officially mandated by the Child Online Protection Act argued: "A child can simply guess the override security word/number set by a parent to switch a filter off for adult use (how many parents set their password to their birth date or license plate number)." Crudely put, a filter has to be simple enough for technologically feeble adults but difficult enough to stop a tech-savvy 17-year-old working out how to bypass it. Arguably, no such filter exists.
6. There will always be ways round
Proxy servers can be used to bypass the filters. And there are countless tutorials online about how to use these servers. Attempts to block search results for "how do I bypass the filter?" would also need to block search results for "how can I see search results for the question how do I bypass the filter?".
7. For parents it may provide a dangerous illusion of safety
Filters could send the wrong message to parents that their children are unable to access inappropriate content online. Adults would have a false impression of security and fail to take steps to inform their children about online risks.
8. Filtering at router-level is inflexible
The proposals are unworkable because they are not device specific. A household may want one level of internet filtering for its shared computer, and another entirely for its mobile phones.
9. It sets a precedent for restricting legal content
Some of the content which Cameron proposes to filter is legal. Campaigners such as the Open Rights Group believe that excluding legal material online amounts to censorship and that it sets a dangerous precedent for other groups in the UK (and other governments abroad) who have an interest in suppressing information. Some specific cases illustrate the point well. The Clinton administration might have appreciated mandatory pornography filters at the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for example.
10. It's not cost effective
High-profile technology advisers such as the Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales have claimed that the plans are a "ridiculous idea" because they waste money that would be better spent on bolstering police resources to deal with online crime. Even the 2008 report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority admitted in its conclusion that it had not been able to "consider the balance of costs and benefits" associated with implementing filters.
11. It hasn't happened yet
We've been here before. Cameron "unveiled" almost identical plans in October 2011. That would suggest at best that these plans are difficult to implement and at worst that they are distraction policies, designed to deflect attention from more detrimental news items. Cynics will be quick to point out that the plans were unveiled the same day that a group of MPs released a report saying that official migration statistics were dangerously inaccurate and "could be out by tens of thousands". It was also the day that the "go home" poster campaign designed to target illegal immigrants attracted criticism.
12. And finally it's a gimmick rather than a solution
Internet filters obscure the real debate about the psychological, social and physical effects of online porn.
David Cameron has better things to do than trying to filter pornography in a futile effort. This is just worthless.
Joined Jul 2013
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