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ISPs soft on porn and terror, blasts culture secretary Maria Miller

Maria Miller has blasted the UK’s top ISPs for taking a soft approach on censoring pornography and terrorist content.

The culture secretary has reportedly called a meeting with representatives of BT, Sky, Facebook and Twitter in bid to force the companies to be more proactive in their blocking of harmful content.

This comes in the wake of the April Jones case and the Woolwich murder, where it emerged that the defendants in had child abuse and terrorist imagery and documents stored on their computers.

ISPs soft on porn and terror, blasts culture secretary Maria Miller
The charming website of the Westboro Baptist Church often falls afoul of censorship

Possibly paraphrasing Peter Parker, a letter obtained by the FT [paywall] begins:

“A relatively small number of organisations wield a great deal of online power – and I believe that with that power comes a great responsibility.”

The FT also quotes an aide to Ms Miller who says: “Enough is enough. There isn’t a comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. We want to get all these people in a room to explain what they are doing. It’s not good enough for them to throw up their hands and say ‘It’s all very difficult’.”

Far from throwing up its hands, it seems like the industry is already doing what it can. Most ISPs present parents with an unavoidable choice during sign up to restrict access to pornography and social networks.

TalkTalk in particular offers HomeSafe a popular, easy to use filtering system with all its broadband services. Sky’s public WiFi network the Cloud also blocks access to pornography by default.

Facebook is notoriously censorious when it comes to anything closely resembling pornography, even going so far as to remove pictures of breastfeeding mothers.

Last week, Twitter, along with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo offered their thoughts on the Communications Data Bill. The Bill, which would see ISPs required to retain the online activity of all subscribers for 12 months was described as ‘expensive to implement and highly contentious.’

The Bill, dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter by critics, was thought to have been killed off for good when deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that it wouldn’t happen while the Liberal Democrats were in government. Though it’s not clear what Maria Miller’s plans are, there have been renewed efforts from other sections of government to reintroduce the Bill, or something very much like it.

Plans for the Communications Data Bill include the retention of web user’s Facebook and Skype activity. To be specific, this means data on who talks to who, rather than the content of messages.

Figures from Skype show that UK law enforcement agencies are particularly hungry for data on subscribers, so it calls into question what benefits the Snoopers’ Charter would actually bring.

With reference to the Woolwich case, it’s now known that the chief suspects were already known to MI5, which again, raises the question as to whether the Communications Data Bill would actually be useful. 

Image Credit: Flickr user Ollie Crafoord

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