Monday, October 17, 2011 : It's not mandatory, but it is restrictive, claims Electronic Frontier Foundation
The British government is the latest to come in for criticism by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an action group committed to the freedom and integrity of the Internet that has campaigned relentlessly against Australian and other government attempts to censor the Internet or seize domains.
In a statement this week, the EFF accuses the UK government of collaborating with the Christian organisation Mothers' Union in enacting a plan with four of Britain's major ISPs—BT, TalkTalk, Virgin, and Sky – to block access to pornography, gambling, self-harm, and other blacklisted websites.
The Foundation notes that the filtering isn't mandatory: New customers will be required to select between a filtered and unfiltered connection, while existing customers will be offered the same choice via email.
Explaining its opposition, the EFF claims that the plan lacks transparency. "The blocked categories are vague in nature, and the list's origins unknown. Not only do the categories contain legal content in some cases, but there is significant room for over-blocking.
"Second, customers of ISP TalkTalk who opt out are still monitored, says University of Cambridge security research Richard Clayton, who in May noted a series of privacy concerns relating to TalkTalk's use of the HomeSafe system, the same system the ISP intends to use for filtering.
According to Clayton, ‘the company scans all web addresses that its customers visit regardless of whether they have opted-in to the service.'
"Third, opt-in services create privacy concerns. Users who choose to opt out of the "bad" content filter are then on one list. The plan does not in include privacy protections for the people who choose to opt out. The list could potentially be made public, shaming users who would prefer their Internet with its pornography, gambling, and self-harm websites intact."
The Foundation claims that the initiative is based on the Bailey Report, a UK Department for Education report that relied heavily upon phone surveys with parents, input from religious organisations, and a Murdoch-funded Australia Institute report entitled Youth, Sex, and the Internet.
"Time and time again, filtering based on blacklists has proven to be overbroad, blocking access to some offensive websites at the cost of many legitimate ones," the EFF statement concludes.
"Parents have plenty of Internet filtering options which they can implement by installing software on their computers at home without having to resort to filtering at the ISP level, especially given the potential privacy risks this plan may pose for Internet users throughout the UK."