The Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a speech to a child protection charity today which pledges government support for mandatory pornography filtering on UK internet connections - a move which has privacy and anti-censorship activists concerned.
Due to be made public as part of a speech to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) later today, Cameron's plans would make it a legal requirement for internet service providers to activate content filtering systems set to a level of protection suitable for an unsupervised child as standard on all new broadband connections. These filters would be opt-out, rather than the current opt-in system offered by some ISPs, requiring the subscriber to actively choose to disable the filters during the registration process.
The system echoes that of many mobile networks, who enable an adult content filter as standard and require a customer to ring up - usually with credit-card in hand - to turn on access to gambling and pornographic content. Those who have existing broadband connections will not, it is thought, be opted in to the system until and unless they change provider.
Cameron's aim is to have the system up and running as soon as possible. 'By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account the settings to install family-friendly filters will be automatically selected,
' an early release of his speech explains. 'If you just click Next or Enter, then the filters are automatically on.
Cameron also plans to single out search providers for, in his view, not doing enough to filter out unsuitable search terms - despite many subscribing to blacklists of outright illegal content, providing means for content to be delisted upon complaint and turning content filtering systems like Google's Safe Search on by default. 'I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this — and it is a moral duty. If there are technical obstacles to acting, don't just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them.
The final aspect of Cameron's speech will concentrate on so-called 'extreme pornography,' content which is just shy of the border given in the Obscene Publications Act but which nevertheless is considered distasteful at best by the moral majority. The possession of 'extreme pornography,' which includes simulated rape in which consent is given prior to commencement, will thus be made illegal. As with previous moves in this direction, however, the line will be blurry at best: a rape scene in a Hollywood blockbuster will be considered A-OK, whereas the same scene taken out of context and used - in the eyes of the law - for sexual gratification will be illegal.
Although the move has won support from child protection and anti-pornography campaigners, others are not convinced the government is heading in the right direction. 'It's highly irresponsible to conflate child abuse images, extreme pornography and and home filtering of legal content into one debate,
' Jim Killock of the Open Rights group told us of Cameron's plans. 'The solutions to the problems in each case are extremely different, and need careful consideration.
'For instance, home filtering must not risk disengagement with parents. They must be fully aware of what they are doing, or children may not be protected. I suspect that Cameron is claiming home filtering will block porn by default because that allows him to claim victory to the Daily Mail,
' added Killock. 'I doubt they will work like this however.
Killock certainly isn't alone in his concerns. 'There is still confusion about exactly what Cameron is announcing, but it is clear that his government is set on controlling what we see, parent or not,
' Loz Kaye, leader of the UK Pirate Party, told us. 'With search engine blocks and web filters, there is no foolproof 100% block solution. It will always be too much or not enough. This is utterly technologically illiterate. It can not possibly work in the way that Cameron and the Labour Party press office wants.
'But that does not mean opt-in and search filters are not dangerous. If we go down this route, each week we risk a new knee jerk reaction will add to the list of what politicians decide we can not see. This will be government by Daily Mail headline. We have to make sure that both children and adults are making active moral choices. After all, the only effective filter is the off button.
'This is not just about technology. It is about the hypocrisy of David Cameron's government,
' added Kaye. 'Let's separate out the most pressing problem from the confusion. The reality is that they are slashing actual child protection. CEOP [the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, the police's internet safety arm] has had its budget cut. Over half of local authorities have reduced spending on children's services thanks to the coalition's austerity politics.
More details regarding the governments plans, including deadlines for ISPs to implement the system, are expected to be released following Cameron's speech later today.
: The full text of David Cameron's speech is now available