December 17, 2012 | By Jillian York

UK Rejects Automatic Porn Filters

A little over a year ago, EFF raised concerns about the UK government's plans to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to enact automatic filtering to rid the Web of pornographic content. Now, thanks to efforts led by organizations like the Open Rights Group (ORG), the plans have been thwarted, with a joint report from the country's Home Office and Department for Education claiming that the UK public has "little appetite" for default filtering.

Instead, ministers will ask ISPs to configure their systems to "actively encourage" subscribers to turn on parental controls if they have children that use the Internet. According to a fact sheet issued by ORG, 46% of UK parents have filters installed. Of the 54% that do not, only 2% said that they didn't know how to install such filters, while 6% were unaware that Internet filtering was possible. That leaves a significant percentage of families that have made a conscious decision to not filter the Internet.

While families should have the choice to filter their Internet at home (and there are plenty of commercial products available to these families), it's imperative that filtering be a choice. For one thing, instituting default filters would require adults—for whom access to most pornography is legal in the UK—to specifically opt out with their ISP (a rather uncomfortable and privacy-violating procedure). And the fact remains that technical filtering is highly imperfect: time and time again, commercial filtering products mis-categorize websites, resulting in overblocking (a recent ORG study found this very phenomenon to occur on UK mobile networks). While overblocking may not be a big deal at the household level, at the national level it has a chilling effect on free expression, as well as potential negative impact on commerce.

EFF offers its congratulations to ORG on a campaign well done, and hopes that rational minds will continue to prevail on this issue.


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