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British Government Wants to Block Internet Porn, Make It “Opt-In” Only

Several British media outlets report that there’s a growing faction within the government that wants to block access to pornography across “millions of porn sites, chat rooms and bulletin boards” online.

Citing concern for children, ministers including communications minister Ed Vaizey have been quietly approaching Internet service providers about setting up automatic blocks for porn sites such that their content is available only on an “opt-in” basis: “Now ministers want to see adult pornography controlled with similar technology, with sites blocked unless people specifically request access to them.” The pro-filter faction within the government acknowledges that parental controls for Internet content already exist, but says they are too difficult for most parents to set up.

Unsurprisingly, many people who value open Internet principles are alarmed by this:

The chief technology officer of a British ISP tells the BBC:

Experience with filtering systems, he said, shows that they are a very blunt tool that often blocks access to sites that could be useful. “You end up with a system that’s either hugely expensive and a losing battle because there are millions of these sites or it’s just not effective,” he said. “The cost of putting these systems in place outweigh the benefits, to my mind,” he said.

Mr. Davies also feared that any wide-scale attempt to police pornographic content would soon be expanded to include pirated pop songs, films and TV shows. “If we take this step it will not take very long to end up with an internet that’s a walled garden of sites the governments is happy for you to see,” he said.

This isn’t a pornography issue: This is a censorship issue. The existing British Internet filter prevents people from accidentally viewing child pornography, but there’s a major qualitative difference between that and legal pornography, the blocking of which, as Davies points out, would open the door to a whole host of possible government blocks. It’s only a short step from asking ISPs to set up lists of sites for which customers need to “opt in” to cutting some of those sites off entirely.

(BBCGuardian via MeFi. Title pic via Arrested Development Wikia)

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