Jul 232013

Sign me up for the perv’s list … I won’t trust a politician to come up with a sensible method of censorship, and neither should you.

Ignoring the civil liberties thing: That politicians with a censorship weapon will tend to over use it, to the eventual detriment of legitimate debate.

How is Cameron’s censorship thing supposed to work? It appears nobody has a clear idea. Probably not even Cameron himself.

It seems to be two separate measures :-

  1. Completely block “extreme” porn: child abuse images, and “rape porn”. Oddly enough, he also claimed that “50 Shades of Grey” would not be banned although there are those who categorise it as rape porn. Interestingly this is nothing new as child abuse images have been blocked for years ineffectively.
  2. An “optional” mechanism for blocking some other mysterious category of porn – the “family filter” mechanism.

Now it all sounds quite reasonable, but firstly let’s take a look at the first measure. Blocking child abuse images sounds like a great idea … and indeed it is something that is already done by the Internet Watch Foundation. Whilst their work is undoubtedly valuable – at the very least it prevents accidental exposure to child abuse images – it probably doesn’t stop anyone who is serious about obtaining access to such porn. There are just too many ways around even a country-wide block.

Onto the second measure.

This means that anyone with an Internet connection has to decide when signing up whether they want to be “family friendly” or if they want to be added to the government’s list of perverts … or possibly the ISP’s list of perverts. Of course, how quickly do you think that list will be extracted and leaked? I’m sure the gutter press is salivating at the thought of getting hold of those lists to see what famous people opt to get all the porn; the same gutter press that won’t be blocked despite publishing pictures that some might say meet the criteria for being classified as porn (see Page 3).

And who decides what gets onto the “naughty list” of stuff that you have to sign up as a perv to see? What is the betting that there will be lots of mistakes?

As we already block access by default to “adult sites” on mobile networks, I have already encountered this problem. Not as you might imagine, but whilst away on a course I used an “app” to locate hostelries around my location. On clicking on the link to take me to a local pub’s web site to see a few more details, I was blocked. The interesting thing here is that the app had no problems telling me where the pub was, but the pub’s web site was blocked. Two standards for some reason?

And there are plenty of other examples of misclassification such as Facebook’s long running problem with blocking access to breast feeding information, hospitals having to remove censorship products so that surgeons could get to breast cancer information sites, etc. I happen to work in a field where sales critters are desperate to sell censorship products, and I’m aware that many places that do install such products have the endless fun of re-classifying sites.

And finally, given this is all for the sake of the children, who thinks that children will come up with ways to get around the “family filter” anyway? It is almost impossible to completely censor Internet access without extreme measures such as pulling the entire country off the Internet – even China with it’s Great Firewall is unable to completely censor Internet activity. Solutions such as proxies, VPN access, and Tor all make censorship impossible to make totally effective. If you are thinking that this is all too technical for children, you are sorely mistaken … for a start it does not take many children able to figure this stuff out as they will distribute their knowledge.

This not to say that a censorship mechanism that you control is not a sensible idea. You can select what to censor – prevent the children getting access to information about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but block access to other religious sites, etc. And such a product has to be network-wide, to prevent someone plugging in an uncensored device; such as using the OpenDNS FamilyShield (although I have never used it, I believe it to be a good product from independent reports). Of course even DNS blocking can be worked around, but it’s a reasonable effort.

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