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EU net neutrality crusade could roll back the UK’s internet porn filters

EU laws on net neutrality could see content filters applied by the UK’s leading ISPs kicked to the kerb. 

Proposals to create a single digital market for EU member states contain provisions for things like roaming charges and broader net neutrality issues as well as a section on blocked content. 

Under the new rules, the EU would ban ‘blocking and throttling of internet content… giving users access to the full and open internet regardless of the cost or speed of their internet subscription.’ 

A spokesperson from the European Commission told us that UK ISPs could have up until December next year to modify their existing content filtering mechanisms. 

The spokesperson said: “The text of the draft Telecoms Single Market Regulation agreed allows Member States to maintain national measures – including self-regulatory schemes which are in place before the Regulation enters into force (i.e. 20 days after publication in the EU Official Journal) and which do not comply with the prohibition to block or discriminate against online content and services – until 31 December 2016, i.e. 8 months after the Regulation starts to apply (30 April 2016).” 

“Member States thus have sufficient time to adapt their national regimes to the Regulation.” 

It’s unclear whether or not the EU’s rules mean that the mechanisms for content filtering will need to be removed. It’s possible that the default ‘on’ position could be reversed, but it’s unclear whether or not ISPs will be forced to remove them. 

After some coaxing from the previous government, the UK’s biggest ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk – agreed to roll out network-level filtering solutions, making it easy for parents to block access to sites featuring adult content. 

Network-level filtering means that any device connected to your home network, whether that’s a laptop, tablet or your neighbour’s kid’s Android phone, will be subject to the same content restrictions. 

Content filters are turned on by default and all new customers are asked during sign up whether or not they want them turned off or left on. All subscribers who had signed up before the launch of the network-level filters. 

Sky has today revealed that since applying filters to all previously uncontacted customer’s it’s seen the great majority of subscribers retain the Broadband Shield content filter – although it’s unclear exactly what aspects of the filtering software customers are using. 

As well as blocking access to sites containing pornographic material, the network-level filters employed by the UK’s main ISPs can also block sites relating to gambling, drugs, malware, social networks, chatrooms and piracy – as file sharing news site TorrentFreak once discovered to its chagrin

The details of the EU’s Telecoms Single Market proposals have yet to be finalised. DCMS spokespeople could not be reached at the time of writing. 

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