Over the past week we’ve had the continued fall out from the Pirate Bay court ruling and Claire Perry MP’s continued calls for an opt-in content filter in the UK. The cries of ‘something must be done’ have been heard loud and clear – but is anyone thinking through what it being proposed?
Both the causes are laudable ones – tackling piracy and protecting children from explicit imagery. However, Big Brother Watch cannot support the principle of blocking content as described in either model. In both cases, there is a perception that ISPs have the ability to regulate every packet of data that pass their networks, and therefore stop people accessing certain websites.
This is a dangerously flawed interpretation of how the internet works and for it to work and have any meaningful way it requires everything we do online to be monitored. Of course, it is entirely coincidental that the Communications Capbailities Development Programme would be a step towards that.
There are those in Government who recognise this. Foreign Secretary William Hague last year stated that “It is important to distinguish between government encouraging people to make more use of existing protections as a matter of choice, and the government deciding what people can and cannot do online” and his sentiment was echoed in today’s Telegraph by Francis Maude, who warned against “state intervention that would stifle growth and the free exchange of ideas at its heart.”
They are right. Network level blocking is not the silver bullet may have portrayed it to be. Easily avoided, it is a crude tool that carries serious risks, from blocking legitimate business content to introducing new security risks into the internet. Indeed, in a 2011 report into site blocking, Ofcom concluded:
“Circumvention of a block is a technically a relatively trivial matter irrespective of which of the techniques used. Knowledge of how site operators and end users can work around blocks is widely distributed and easily accessible on the internet. It is not technically challenging and does not require a particularly high level of skill or expertise.”