The motion calling for internet filtering was defeated overwhelmingly via a reference back earlier today. I was not called to speak – apparently, there was a “huge stack” of cards put in to speak, “most on one side of the debate”.
But if I had been called to speak, here’s what I would have said.
I am what many of you might regard as a geek. I have worked in IT for many years, including over a decade of experience working for Internet Service Providers.
But that is not why I am up here today.
I am also a parent. I have three school-aged children and I am opposed to this motion because it does not do what it says on the tin. Where filtering is in widespread use, we already see issues with overly aggressive blocking. Undesirable content is in the eye of the beholder, and to avoid complaints companies will block first and ask questions later.
We see blocking of support sites for mental health issues such as anorexia and body image issues.
Blocking of support sites for sexuality and gender issues.
Blocking of support sites for bullying.
The British Library even blocks Hamlet on it’s own wireless internet access, because it contains violent content. It’s simply not possible to get this right. The people who are pushing for the filters will be campaigning to make them stricter. Imagine the headlines if just one web site the Daily Mail deem to be questionable slipped through the ‘net.
There is no appeal if you are blocked, because the decision on what to block is left to private companies. Do we want private corporations censoring our internet? Who decides what sites are acceptable? The logical extension of such a policy is a British Board of Internet Censorship, a terribly draconian and unwelcome idea.
Senior Talk Talk staff once came to talk to me, when I had expressed concern about their filters. They assured me that it was not possible to bypass their filters and offered a trial – but they never made good on their promise to let us test it. Why not?
Software exists to bypass such filters, that’s why. Tor is one such mechanism and is part-funded by the US Government to allow people to bypass filtering, for the benefit of those living in oppressive regimes…!
As a parent, I do worry about my children online. But I am more worried about cyber-bullying and stalking, which filtering does nothing to prevent. Reliance on technology gives a false sense of security, something we must avoid. The best solution all round is Education, Education, Education – of both parents and children.
And that’s a view with widespread support in the party. A Liberal Democrat Voice survey published in the last 24 hours shows that a whopping 81% of party do not support the form of filtering described in this motion.
There is an amendment to this motion, but it does not do enough to address these issues and I cannot support it. But we do want a policy, because we know this is an important issue. Conference, I would urge you to vote to refer this motion back so that these issues can be addressed properly and a new, more robust policy bought to a future conference.
But if that fails, please vote against the motion.