Can we block Ed Vaizey?

It seems that Ed Vaizey has picked up on Claire Perry’s idea to “protect” children on the internet and has announced he’ll be asking ISPs to block porn voluntarily.

This is clearly very problematic, as I’ve mentioned previously. There are far too many questions here:

  • Who decides, as a matter of policy, what should be blocked? Under the “voluntary” system, it sounds like it will be ISPs themselves.
  • Who then implements this policy and creates the actual list of sites?
  • What right of appeal do sites have if they believe they have been inaccurately blocked?
  • What level of granularity will be operated? Cleanfeed blocks specific pages/images, but we already seen that blocking a specific image on a busy interactive site like Wikipedia causes problems. Encrypted sites (HTTPS) can’t be blocked on a per-page basis, only per-site.
  • What about sites such as twitter, which are based on user contributions and highly dynamic? (T-Mobile blocked Twitter as part of their “adult” filter for a while)

Putting all this in the hands of individual ISPs for voluntary regulation is the worst possible solution. Their approach will be to block as much as possible to but avoid blocking sites that will cause huge use complaints, such as Facebook. I would imagine that amongst kids interested in such things, Facebook will be the new school playground where illicit copies of Playboy used to be circulated. This will likely be aided by the false sense of security that parents will have, so they will not be checking what their kids are up to online.

Still, I suppose it will promote the ascendency of the school geek, who will suddenly be the ones able to trivially bypass the filters and get the images in the first place.

Whatever policies are created are likely to include Wikileaks, (Just try to imagine the Home Office not putting pressure on ISPs to include “subversive” sites in the policy) sex education including safer sex, abortion information, LGBT information and all the sorts of information sources that someone who is marginalised is likely to want to access. Can you imagine an 18 year old daughter having to explain to her oppressive father why she needs the porn block lifted on their home internet account? I don’t think “Because I need to find out about safer sex” will go down well, nor will the inevitable “I need to find out about STIs” or “I need to find out about abortion” a few months later.

Is there any incentive for an ISP to publicise the list of sites they are blocking? It does not appear so, which means sites will only find out they have been blocked once they start receiving user complaints. There will also be little reason for the same ISPs to run an efficient and quick appeals system (Far quicker to just say “no” without thinking about it) so once you are on the list, it could be the end of your site or online business.

I shall close with a video which I think satirically illustrates the problem very well, Cleanternet:

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