ISPs are filtering more than porn

18th May 2012 | 11:02

ISPs are filtering more than porn

Why we're worried about mandatory filth filters

As the father of a young girl, the last thing I want her to encounter online is East Dulwich. The very idea of it, the thought of her innocent little eyes seeing uncensored East Dulwich content... I don't mind admitting that it makes me want to punch somebody in the face.

Thank God, then, for the mobile network operators. Thanks to them, I can let my daughter use the mobile web without supervision, safe in the knowledge that anything to do with East Dulwich will be filtered long before it reaches my phone.

If you're wondering what on earth I'm on about, I'm looking at the latest report on internet filtering from the Open Rights Group. It's been asking people to report sites that their mobile operators block, and the results - surprise! - show that some sites are being blocked that shouldn't be.

I've encountered this myself: when I moved to Orange, I had to call to get their smut filter lifted because I wanted to look at BoingBoing. But it's not the only innocuous site blocked by a filth filter. There's Coadec.com, a tech startup site; lrug.org, a site for Ruby developers; Ethicalhacker.net, GigaOM, sites about exploring abandoned buildings, sites about video games, sites about wine and a site about East Dulwich.

East Dulwich! Grrrrrr!

This matters, not just to the sites being blocked for no good reason, but to all of us: if moves to filter our broadband connections by default to protect kids are successful, there'll be many, many more sites falling foul of the filters - and they won't all be blocked because of human error.

It's not just sex, it's speech too

I'd always assumed that my mobile operator's filter was there to block donkey porn and midget wrestling, but it's wider than that: as ORG reports, many sites are blocked because they're "hate sites". The list includes angry blogs, but it also includes the BNP, and that's interesting: while I'd happily give the BNP and its supporters their own idiot island, far from the shores of sanity, the fact remains that they're a legitimate political party in the UK.

Anybody else worried that we're blocking perfectly legal organisations because we don't like their views?

There is a big difference between blocking pornography and blocking speech, no matter how odious it may be, but filters brought in to block the former inevitably end up blocking the latter. Today it's the BNP, and extremism, and The Pirate Bay. What will we have to protect our children from tomorrow?

There are loads of things online I don't want my daughter to see when she's older. It's a long list, but it includes anti-vaccine hysterics, mobile phone scaremongerers, medical woo-pushers and anything designed to make people hate and fear other people or themselves.

But keeping her away from Mail Online is my responsibility, not my ISP's - and protecting her from adult content is my job, not yours.

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