Will Britain's Pornography Filtering Lead to Internet Censorship?

Last week, top-level British government official Ed Vaizey announced his plan to consider blocking all pornography on the Internet in the country. Vaizey, an MP and Britain's Communications Minister who cited “solutions to protect children” as the primary reason for the new Internet filtering proposal, will meet with British ISPs to discuss plans, one of which includes an opt-in online browsing system. Under this proposal, filters at the ISP-level would be put in place on the Internet to prevent minors from accessing adult content. Adults who want access to the content would fill out a form confirming their age.

Largely negative responses have arisen from the blogosphere to Vaizey’s plan. In his blog on Bit Tech, Gareth Halfacree calls the UK government “hell-bent” on setting up a content firewall. Richard Adhikari of Tech News World called the filtering proposal “a hot mess,” comparing the attempt to block content with legislation not unlike those in China, Australia, and Iran.

But the UK government may find opposition from the ISPs themselves. Spokesmen for British telecommunications companies argue that pornographic content is more ambiguous to define and believe that plans to filter this may prove difficult. Internet Service Providers’ Association Secretary General Nicholas Lansman suggested that the government encourage more parental controls rather than resorting to specific legal action that may be ineffective on online content. According to Jezebel blogger Irin Carmon:

“Someone would have to define what porn is and isn't, and decide whether, say, watching the video of the pulled Smithsonian Portrait Gallery AIDS-protest work counts. And the blockers would have to outsmart the ever-mutating ways to pass on information online, including torrents and social media. But it appears the people who would actually have the skills to do so have no interest in helping Vaizey unless they have to.”

News of these filtering plans have already drawn sharp criticism from all over the world. Jesse Kline on The National Post called the proposal a slippery slope that would lead to further government censorship with strong political ramification. “[I]t’s not the responsibility of the state to ensure that children don’t view objectionable material,” he wrote. “That’s what parents are for.”

In an interview with AOL News, Reporters Without Borders editor Gilles Lordet commented, “It’s like they want to play God on the Internet.”