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United Kingdom Censorship Government

Leaked Letter Shows UK ISPs and Government At War Over Default Filters 142

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the can't-expose-sally-to-unmitigated-truth dept.
An anonymous reader writes, quoting the BBC: "A letter sent to the UK's four leading ISPs from the government has made them very cross indeed. The letter comes from the Department for Education but it sets out a list of demands from Downing Street, with the stated aim of allowing the prime minister to make an announcement shortly. The companies are asked, among other things, for a commitment to fund an 'awareness campaign' for parents. They're not particularly happy about promising cash for what the letter concedes is an 'unknown campaign' but it's the next item on the menu which is the source of most of their anger." That next item is making and marketing Internet censorship filters as "default-on" rather than "active choice": "'It sounds like a good idea until you think it through,' said one industry source. 'There are three reasons why it doesn't work. First it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there's the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them.'" From the sound of it, it might just be newspeak vs newspeak. The entire letter is included in the article.
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Leaked Letter Shows UK ISPs and Government At War Over Default Filters

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  • by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:07AM (#44292721)

    Rude Britannia!
    Britannia on the net!
    Children might still find bad things yet!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:32AM (#44292883)

    That brings back memories. 14 or 15 years ago, when I was still living in the dial up age, my father decided to implement a 1 hour/day limit on my Internet access (AOL parental controls, I believe.) he worked until the evening so I could do whatever I wanted without supervision for the 4 or 5 hours between the end of school and him returning home. One of the very first things I did was search for a free dial up ISP that displayed ads, and I found one! All was great for a month or so until the phone bill for $900 came in... Turned out it was dialing some ISP in the Ukraine... Oops!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In the US, NetZero (and others) offered free dialup with local numbers to most metro areas and dropped that to a max of 40hrs/mo somewhere around 2001 iirc. They had high budget, national Radio/TV campaigns that were pretty hard to miss. But their service was still "local long distance" if you lived in Bumfuck, USA (outside of the Areacode of a metro area with local numbers). So even without dialing the Ukraine you could have managed an impressive bill out in hillbillyland.

    • So here's the lesson: Parents, if you want to filter your kids, make sure you do it with some brains instead of having some company do it for you, or it might get really expensive.

      Alternatively, you just might want to
      1) Impose sensible rules your kids can understand provided they're smart (seriously, what's the sense of a pointless 1 hour a day limit?)
      2) Inform your kids of the consequences of trespassing
      3) Let your kids decide whether the consequences are worth the crime

      Ya know, like they do in the real wo

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:34AM (#44292899)

    This is what you got when a nation-wide filtering system is created in the first place. Not satisfied with merely blocking the pedo-porn they went after the pirates and now they want to go after everything not whitelisted. It only gets worse from here guys, kill the national filter system dead before it grows, kill it before it grows.

    • I'm not sure if you've noticed but the UK is doomed. The right to free speech is so nebulous there it's getting to the point of being a kind of joke. The lack of free and open speech isn't even the scary part... the seeming total lack of concern of the public is the nail in that coffin. The next step will be when the act of turning this filter off will be used as evidence in court against a person. Look, they're a bad person, they turned their filter off!

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        Technically most of the Europe has not so much "free speech" as "privileged speech". I.e. most of the speech cannot be banned unless it meets very certain criteria (nazi propaganda for example). In some countries it works quite well. In some, not so much.

        But arguing that it's a "joke", you may wish to compare UK right to free speech to one in USSR or DPRK for example. It most certainly is NOT a joke.

        • There is only one country on the whole planet that has freedom of speech codified into law. It is being poorly interpreted and enforced, but that's beside the point.

          • by Zontar The Mindless (9002) <plasticfish@info.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:30AM (#44293175)

            The point being that it's the same country that's wiretapping the rest of the planet?

          • Actually a few oppressive dictatorships have some form of protection for free speech. Like North Korea. The government just ignores their own constitution to an extent the US government can only look upon with envy.

          • by Molochi (555357)

            But that country long ago established that their constitution was a "living document" that could be "reinterpreted" to mean things fairly close to the opposite of what was written. Otherwise, rich folk there would own their own personal fission munitions, with Fighter Jets, and Tanks to deploy them.

            • Ah, but the rich folk are made poorer by those fighter jets, tanks, and so on. I know it's cliche, but what the hell, I'm going to roll with that perennial favorite, the Romans here: part of their decay can easily be attributed to the hideous amount of wealth that was diverted to maintaining their military; at first, when they were conquering lands, rich in surpluses and trade routes and so on, the military could feed on these spoils of war; but in time...well, it took longer to build the Twin Towers than t

          • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @03:59AM (#44293791)

            Oh there IS freedom of speech in all of Europe!

            There may not be much freedom after the speech, though.

          • by geirlk (171706)

            Wikipedia says you are perpetrating a myth.

            There are a lot of countries that has freedom of speech codified into law. Now, what's interesting isn't the laws in themselves, but rather the exceptions from it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      White list is the great fear. If the internet, or at least encrypted traffic, operates on a white listed basis, its over. That is the only way for "them" to control the internet, its where this is heading, and when we get there, the freedom is over.

      • White list is the great fear. If the internet, or at least encrypted traffic, operates on a white listed basis, its over. That is the only way for "them" to control the internet, its where this is heading, and when we get there, the freedom is over.

        Somebody just needs to convince the politicians in the UK that it is absolutely necessary to whitelist *.

    • Give them an inch...

      All right, what's all this then!? An "inch?"
      That is quite clearly a violation of the Metrification of Public Exclamations Act, and likely the EU Common Exclamation standard as well! Give some people a centimeter and they'll take a kilometer. Right, we'll see about that!

    • Reading the letter I can't help wondering why the ISPs in question didn't just respond with a:

      Thanks for your email, however before responding to this can you please tell us which law this pertains to. Because otherwise you are wasting our time and energy which should be put into providing a service to our customers, and a profit to our shareholders.

      And CC a copy to all subscribers.

  • (of course, elventy million would nuke my karma to a crisp, but doing as the topic says would end the damage to various citizens caused by these leaks)

    • but doing as the topic says would end the damage to various citizens caused by these leaks

      If by "end" you mean "hide", then yes.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @12:55AM (#44293001)
    Let me guess: all good and dandy until some parents will sue the ISP for "having their kids accidentally exposed by a hole the filter" (as in "letting the kid find a way to bypass the filter and try get some money from the ISP").
    Then the idea of "default-on filter" will be busted for good (or, alternatively, the Internet as seen by UK will look like a puny list of white listed sites, all the others censored).
      • by c0lo (1497653)

        And why not? After all, if the politicians are dumb enough to believe "the laws offer protection"^^, why is the population to be the one to suffer? Push the issue to ISPes and let them sort out with the govt!

        ^^ a little bit more and the brainf****s that rule us may get the idea of repealing the law of gravitational attraction. ;)
        How would you like one morning to find yourself helplessly floating into the interstellar void?
        Or, more likely, face a conviction if you "refuse" to? :)

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      Don't you mean "having their kids accidentally exposed to a hole by the filter"?

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:23AM (#44293137)

    The country that wants to block porn by default?

    Sounds like a dream country for this guy! [slashdot.org]

  • by godel_56 (1287256) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:32AM (#44293181)
    It'll start out banning porn, or so they'll claim, but pretty soon things like Wikileaks will be included on the blacklist with the general public never noticing.
  • by David_Hart (1184661) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:34AM (#44293185)

    No automatic filter works better than actual parenting...

    • That somewhat depends on the parent.
    • Yes, you're absolutely right. Going to take back that laptop from my son, give him a load of books to read, and make sure he only uses the computer in our presence.

      Keep him away from the wider Internet, its BAAAHHHHHDD. Monitor EVERYTHING he does, make sure he only frequents websites I have personally vetted, and woe betide should he even look at doing a google search for himself.....

      I'm sure he'll grow up being a rounded individual and will thank me in years to come. Crewel to be kind.

      • Depending on his age, you might just try putting up rules, telling him what's in store for him if he breaks them and then find out whether he's mature enough to know what to do.

        You might find out that he is.

        • "Depending on his age, you might just try putting up rules"....

          He is 8. We have a porn filter. I keep an eye on what in general he's looking at.....usually its just minecraft plugins, and youtube. But, really, he's free to explore the web himself, without us having to be there to be net-nanny all the time. He's learning about the internet....what to click on, and what not to click on (which results in a BLOCKED message). .exe file viruses that he happens to download, are not runnable (its a mac), but I ma

          • by Xest (935314)

            He's probably already seen it.

            All it takes is one kid at school to have unfiltered access at home, to have an unfiltered mobile phone, to find a page 3 lying around and by the end of the next day every kid in school will have seen it.

            When I was a kid we used to go and dick around at a building site sometimes for new homes, the builders always left a ton of porn just lying around though I'm not sure if we were more interested in that or the big fuck off tools and sharp things that you could throw like a ninj

            • Kids are at a huge advantage here. First, it's something to show off if you know how to circumvent net nanny and the like, it's a skill that's prized and something that gets you recognition amongst your peers. So kids invariably have an interest in showing it off. And of course those that can't do it themselves have an interest to learn how. Second, they interface a LOT more with their peers than adults do, at least when it comes to topics like internet and computers. And finally, kids have WAY more time at

              • by Xest (935314)

                "First, it's something to show off if you know how to circumvent net nanny and the like"

                Exactly, and even more so, because porn is contraband they can show off if they have it too. So creating a veil of pretending that it's some majorly dangerous contraband just means they'll be more inclined to seek it out.

                Kids more so than any other age group are constantly battling to increase their standing in their social groups at school and so forth, and the more you pretend porn is taboo, the more lucrative a thing

                • Needn't even be porn. The fact alone that you can give your parents the finger and them being none the wiser is already something that's held in high esteem amongst peers.

                  And not only will it teach the child that his parents don't know everything better than him, it will also teach him that he can break the rules and get away with it. Well done.

  • When the government filters only that which the government approves of is unfiltered. Intelligent and responsible parents can decide for themselves what is and what is not appropriate for their children to view.

  • You need someone's cooperation, so you send a letter demanding they do a bunch of things you know they object to on short notice and then demand money at the same time? Good luck with that.
  • by jandersen (462034) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @02:30AM (#44293407)

    First it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there's the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them.

    Of these three points only the first one is of any substance, potentially. The rest is just a re-hash of the old 'we don't want it because it isn't perfect' - ie. just empty rhetorics. Nothing is perfect, we already knew that; the real question is, does it make things better - and how much? And what do we understand by better?

    As far as I can see, this scheme essentially means that there will be some filter and you teach people how to turn it off if they want to. That makes a lot of sense to me - many (probably most) people don't want to get into contact with what they see as filth, and they don't want to have to learn something they find difficult. And this scheme doesn't affect the freedom of those who want it - they just have to make a bit more of an effort. What's not to like about it?

    • If it is not perfect, it doesn't fulfill any of the proposed functions. The alleged idea is to "keep kids safe from the dangers of the net" (like, say, reality). That only makes sense if you can keep ALL of the things out that you do not want them to see. Else it's like defending your fort only on three of its four sides and considering yourself protected while you're obviously not. Or, for the more sports inclined people of you, it's like putting the defense of your football team on the left side of the fi

    • by N1AK (864906)

      And this scheme doesn't affect the freedom of those who want it - they just have to make a bit more of an effort. What's not to like about it?

      The issue with your argument is that it is based on the idea that somehow it is better to force people who want an unfiltered internet to ask for it rather than let the people who want a censored version of the internet to ask for it. If the process is so easy then surely the current 'ask for censoring' model works fine?

      The issue with an opt-out filter is that it f

    • by Xest (935314)

      "the real question is, does it make things better - and how much? And what do we understand by better?"

      Right and we know the answers to these. No it doesn't make things better because kids will always find porn, even if they don't find it at home someone will bring it into school. They may even just use one of the trivial methods of getting around the block at home though, because it's that easy for a kid - as soon as one kid at school gets told by their older brother how, then every kid at school will know

    • What's not to like about it?

      I don't know, why don't we just block religious websites by default? How about the fact that it's censorship by default, and the content being censored is, of course, content that is deemed 'vulgar' by various imbeciles.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You know, this could actually be a good thing. With dicks like the NSA trying to spy on everyone, giving kids a reason to - and making it very normal to - learn things like TOR could be a really positive step.

  • Guys, this is going to happen - Its all about oversight now.

    Just legislate and make the filtering rules public knowledge and publicly available through a request for information.

    Have any sensitive information publicly accessible and have a yearly forum to challenge the shyte.

    Are the oversight controls in control of the people or are they in control of the select few for political gain?

    Have a xfunctional technocratic team of 8 people from law, teaching, medical, engineering and 4 artists head up the oversig

    • by Xest (935314)

      Or just fight it because if Snowden's leaks have told us anything in the UK it's that even when the government pretends to be transparent it's not.

      For example, they claimed they needed the Interception Modernisation Programme to be able to keep up to date with modern spying requirements. Two successive governments involving all three main parties in fact have pushed exactly this but each time the public has said no way.

      It turns out GCHQ has been doing it anyway and the so the legislation was being pushed to

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I notice those three things don't include obvious problems like treating every adult like a child by default, regardless of whether there are children in the house, having to prove again you're grownup (yet you were allowed to enter into a contract for service in the first place!), the problems with that proving next to the problems with actually filtering, and, you know, the whole thing being censorship and so putting the UK even more obviously on par with China.

    Even more? Yes, the UK already have an overz

    • Even more? Yes, the UK already have an overzealous filter, "voluntarily" implemented by every ISP and blacklists provided by the "internet watch foundation".

      No, not every ISP. Look around you.

      AAISP is one I know that doesn't. IDNet says they 'monitor' the list but do not implement it.

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @04:12AM (#44293851)

    In fact, it's quite an interesting read, and an insight into 'modern' politico thinking...

    Behind the politeness...
    "ask for some specific"
    " I would be grateful if you could consider this request as a matter of urgency

    They're actually 'asking' (i.e. trying to direct) the ISPs specific actions...

    "Will the other three ISPs consider making a commitment to adopting this approach [experimental browser intercept] - even before it has been trialled"

    Who in their right mind would commit to that? What if it totally bombs; they're still going to implement it?

    "The prime minister expects customers to be required to prove their age/identity before any changes to the filters are made"

    Why? Is he an internet security expert now?

    "The prime minister would like to be able to announce a collective financial commitment from industry to fund this campaign."

    Yeah, I bet he would. "Look voters, I screwed some of your cash out of your ISPs in the name of the children!"

    "The prime minister believes that there is much more that we can all do to improve how we communicate the current position on parental internet controls and that there is a need for a simplified message to reassure parents and the public more generally. Without changing what you will be offering (ie active-choice +), the prime minister would like to be able to refer to your solutions are "default-on" as people will have to make a choice not to have the filters (by unticking the box). "

    Pure spin. The whole thing reeks of micromanagement and backroom arm-twisting.
    Plus of course, if the entire thing goes wrong, the Gov gets to blame the ISPs!

    • by jimicus (737525)

      Pure spin. The whole thing reeks of micromanagement and backroom arm-twisting.
      Plus of course, if the entire thing goes wrong, the Gov gets to blame the ISPs!

      The UK government's been very good at that for some years now. I can't count the number of times I've heard of the government giving trade bodies an ultimatum: regulate yourself voluntarily to do (X), or we'll pass a law that forces you to.

      Now, in my book, "Do it or we'll pass a law to make you do it" has the exact same effect as passing a law, but with none of the costs involved of setting up government bodies to enforce it and substantially less political risk. It's a way of outsourcing regulation to the

  • by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @04:18AM (#44293879)

    So set up a TLD for kids.uk already!

    Then set up a registrar that instead of putting domains in .uk, put them in .kids.uk, and be done with it.

    Force all "kid safe" browsers to ALWAYS appeand .kids.uk, and police the subdelegation registrar.

    Damn problem solved already, with dumbass legislation that mandates industry to develop technology that it's impossible to make foolproof -- and which most technologists capable of implementing it, think is a stupid idea that shouldn't be implemented in the first place (like DRM, which is why DRM is never implemented in a foolproof way).

  • by devent (1627873) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @05:04AM (#44294083) Homepage

    To make it clear, anyone who believes this filter will stop at porn or to protect children is on cloud 7.
    This push is not about that. It is to apply a filter to content that the government can not control. The filter is here the goal. And any means is just to get popular opinion to support it.

    Once this filter is in place the scope will increase incrementally, with every new legislation round. Copyright holders will push to include sites like ThePirateBay, never mind TPB is listing a lot of legal torrents; it will include radio streams that somehow slipped paying the PPL;

    Later of course the filter will include "terrorists sites". And more later any critics and articles on the government politics and programs, that are deemed crucial "national security", like the Snowden leaks.

    The press like the Guardian have rights like freedom of the press. But the Internet does not have any rights. There is no right to Twitter or to Blog.

    • by xelah (176252)

      This push is not about that. It is to apply a filter to content that the government can not control. The filter is here the goal. And any means is just to get popular opinion to support it.

      I don't think that's likely. I think it's much more likely to be about making a political statement. It's about Conservatives saying to the population's conservative voters 'we are the sort of party which doesn't like porn either, we are the sort of party who worries about the effect of our degenerate society on your children, and we are a party who can score a victory over pornographers and others who are not like you'. A lot of government policy - from mortgage assistance and immigration to benefits polic

  • China has definitely become the role model with regards to internet policies.
  • Quelle Surprise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Oxygen99 (634999) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @06:21AM (#44294445)
    Of course they're at war. This is one of the most incompetent and scientifically illiterate governments in living memory. It's packed full of lunatic ideologues like Ian Duncan Smith and Teresa May who sideline professional academic advice time and time again in favour of their own prejudices [guardian.co.uk] stupidity [independent.co.uk] and ignorance [britisheco...ociety.org]. I just wish their misguided [guardian.co.uk], harmful [bmj.com] and plain unworkable [huffingtonpost.co.uk] policies wouldn't wreck this countries social and political fabric for generations to come. It would be funny if the human cost wasn't so high

    And you know what? In spite of this, the main opposition is still unable to differentiate itself as a better alternative than this shower of charlatans [newstatesman.com], bigots [newstatesman.com] and liars [channel4.com].

    I despair at this country. I really do.
    • by dkf (304284)

      This is one of the most incompetent and scientifically illiterate governments in living memory.

      Only if you use the UK as your sole yardstick. Measure up against the mullahs of Iran or the mad isolationist NorKs and the current UK government manages to look vaguely passable...

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      Of course they're at war. This is one of the most incompetent and scientifically illiterate governments in living memory. It's packed full of lunatic ideologues like Ian Duncan Smith and Teresa May who sideline professional academic advice time and time again in favour of their own prejudices [guardian.co.uk] stupidity [independent.co.uk] and ignorance

      And virtually everyone commenting on this issue (and there are LOTS of them, even on the BBC website which might be considered more "representative" of the av

  • What.. you mean one of the millions of web proxies around the world? It sounds like they will be spending millions one something that can be circumvented with a single Google search.

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