David Cameron’s plan for internet-porn filters ‘risks hurting LGBT community’

Prominent writers warn PM that some people may be denied access to educational sites

David Cameron's plan for UK households to block internet porn with default search filters will be “very damaging” for LGBT people and vulnerable adults who could be denied access to legitimate sexual health and education sites, a group of authors and journalists has warned.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, prominent figures including the Belle de Jour writer Brooke Magnanti and feminist blogger and author Zoe Margolis, warned that the Government was taking “a dangerous and misguided approach” to internet safety.

“Focusing on a default 'on' filter ignores the importance of sex and relationship education and sexual health,” they write. “Worse, you are giving parents the impression that if they install Internet filters they can consider their work is done.”

They point out that faults with existing internet service provider filters have been reported numerous times and warn that any default filters could “unintentionally block important sites related to sexual health, LGBT issues, or sex and relationship education”.

“This will be very damaging for LGBT young people, for example, or vulnerable adults who may be cut off from important support and advice, in particular those with abusive partners who are also the Internet account holder,” they add.

In July, the Prime Minister announced plans to force internet service providers to apply “family friendly filters” that would be automatically switched on unless customers actively chose to disable them.

He said he was prepared for a “row” with internet service providers and warned that firms should not allow “technical obstacles” to stand in the way of introducing default filters.

However, Lee Maguire, technical officer at the civil liberties organisation the Open Rights Group, said that filters could never distinguish “between sites that seek to titillate and those with frank discussion of sexuality.”

“Sites dealing with issues surrounding sexuality are likely to fall foul of miscategorisation as they often contain certain keywords that filters see as inappropriate for children. Even when humans categorise sites, categories will often be set by individuals with their own cultural values,” he said.

To illustrate how blunt an instrument search filters could be, a spokesman for the group cited a recent case in which a British Library search filter denied a man using its Wi-Fi network access to Hamlet, because it contained “violent content”.

The open letter, which was also signed by the science-fiction writer Charles Stross and the New Statesman journalist Laurie Penny, said that by promising families “one click to protect the whole family”, the Prime Minister was “giving parents the impression that if they install Internet filters they can consider their work is done”.

“We urge you instead to invest in a programme of sex and relationship education that empowers young people and to revisit the need for this topic to be mandatory in schools,” they write. “Please drop shallow headline grabbing proposals and pursue serious and demonstrably effective policies to tackle abuse of young people.”

A No10 spokesperson said: “As the PM set out in his speech on 22 July, there are lots of charities and other organisations which provide vital online advice and support to young people and we need to make sure that the filters do not, even unintentionally, restrict this helpful and often educational content.

“Internet service providers are actively engaged in this issue and the Prime Minister has asked the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to set up a working group to ensure this material isn't blocked.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent