A consultation into whether UK internet users should be automatically censored and have to opt-in in order to access adult content closed yesterday.Over 2,000 responses had been submitted by the eve of the deadline, the Department for Education said.
Proposals for an opt-in system are supported by several MPs, but fiercely opposed by internet rights campaigners.
Internet service providers (ISPs) have also voiced concerns, favouring instead an “active choice” system.
This method, already in place at several ISPs, prompts a new customer to choose if they want inappropriate content to be filtered out by their provider.
However, the option is currently only offered to new customers, and therefore does not address the huge majority of internet users already set up.
The findings of the consultation are due to be published later in the year.
The government’s discussion paper canvassed opinion on three possible ways of helping parents filter inappropriate content. They were:
- Opt-in: Also known as “default on”, homeowners would be required to contact their ISP in order to have access to adult content (similar to existing systems in use for accessing the internet on smartphones)
- Active Choice: The popular system among ISPs, an active choice rule would mean providers would have to present filtering options to all customers as they set up their connections
- Active Choice Plus: This method would give users a detailed breakdown of content types, and would encourage filtering by pre-selecting options to block content
In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, several rights groups – including Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and Index on Censorship – argued that an opt-in system undermined dialogue between parents and children.
“Blocking is trivial to circumvent and it is likely a default blocking system would lull parents into a false sense of security,” the letter said.
“A more complex, connected world needs parents to engage more with their children on issues of safety, privacy and personal development.”
This view was backed up by Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the world wide web: “My personal preference has always been that if you want to block sites, you download software, and you install it for your children, rather than having the ISPs involved.
“The job of the ISPs is to provide good internet connectivity, not to spy and not to block.”