Attempts to filter the internet in other countries show the difficulties for David Cameron's plans

Filtering the internet abroad has led to censorship and increased surveillance

David Cameron’s plans to automatically filter pornography from the internet have come under heavy fire from critics who variously describe the plans as censorship, simply unworkable, or both.

Even Cameron is confused, with the PM admitting that there would be “problems down the line” with the scheme and that “soft” and written pornography would not be filtered.

Although elements of the government’s plans are reasonable (any efforts to curb the spread child abuse imagery online should be applauded) equating illegal content with legal pornography is a mistake.

Attempts by other countries to implement similar schemes show this clearly, with the introduction of internet filters commonly leading to wide-spread surveillance of citizens and even politically-motivated censorship.

Online censorship in China targeting pornography introduced the compulsory installation of ‘Green Dam’ software on all PCs sold in the country. The government said the filter was intended to protect younger generations from “unhealthy content including pornography and violence”, but the country’s ‘netizens’ suspected it would be used for increased surveillance.

Even in a society where a restricted online experience is to be expected, a survey on the popular news portal site reported that 75.8% of participants thought the software could 'impinge on their privacy'.

The government’s filters were also notoriously indiscriminate. Banned keywords included ‘pornography’ but also ‘touch’ and ‘play’, whilst a filtering algorithm designed detect images with a high percentage of “skin coloured” pixels ended up censoring images of animals such as pigs.

Russia has undertaken similar schemes, announcing plans in November last year to “block Internet content that it deems illegal or harmful to children”. Although some actions enacting under the new laws were applauded (the removal of a suicide-themed Facebook group for example) critics of the government suggested that the laws would be the first step towards increased political censorship.

Such fears were increased when it was revealed that the legislation also contained a small paragraph authorizing the use of what is known as DPI technology (deep packet inspection) to enforce the filters. Described as ‘CCTV for the internet’, DPI allows for in-depth surveillance of internet traffic as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Although comparing the UK’s plans with those of autocratic regimes such as China and Russia seems disproportionate, the ways in which these countries have attempted to filter pornography and subsequently introduced greater levels of surveillance -whether inadvertently or not - demonstrates the difficulty in crafting such laws.

Even in liberal democracies such schemes have proved difficult to manage. In 2009 Australia’s Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) began trialling a ‘blacklist’ of banned URLs similar to Russia's legislation.

However, once the list was leaked it was revealed that many unoffensive sites had been flagged to be banned. These included the site for a private dentist surgery (it had once been hacked by a Russian ‘purveyor of pornography’), a kennel service, and a consultancy for school cafeterias.

The scheme was eventually scrapped but recent changes by the Australian government have led to the filtering of material described as “being used in, or in relation to, the commission of offences against the laws of the Commonwealth or of the States and Territories”.

Anti-censorship groups have criticised the wording of this legislation as being unacceptably vague, and in April this year the website of the Melbourne Free University – an organization that encourages non-partisan political activism – was banned for nine days, with the site’s ISP saying they were legally unable to “provide the details regarding who has blocked the IP or why".

If the PM's plans to filter the internet go through it seems inevitable that there will be similar infringements seen in the UK. Whilst increased funding to stop the spread of illegal imagery would receive unanimous support, Cameron's current position seems driven by political agenda as he attempts to reduce a massive complex issue to a series of soundbites. As they currently stand, the government's plans would only encourage the possibility of increased surveillance and inadvertent censorship in the UK.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Partner Manager - EMEA

    £50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partner Manager is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

    £45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific