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Online Safety Filters: What the government wants

The government has announced its plans for online safety filters in an official white paper. 

Details of these plans to keep children safe online had been leaked by industry sources and announced through news outlets over the previous weeks, but this is the first time the government has officially detailed the plans in Connectivity, Content and Consumers, Britain’s digital platform for growth.

Plans are confirmed for the four biggest ISPs, BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk to have parental filters in place and turned on by default by the end of the year for new customers. By the end of next year, all customers will have been presented with a choice whether or not to turn on filters or not. 

Online Safety Filters: What the government wants
The government’s latest white paper details its plans to clean up the internet

The government also expects the smaller ISPs to follow what the larger providers will be doing in time, but as of yet won’t be compelling the likes of EE, Plusnet or Direct Save Telecom to do the same. 

The policy paper also says that the government wants ISPs to continue to refine their filters so that legitimate content isn’t caught up. How the government wants the industry to do this isn’t clear. While groups like the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) make it easy for people to report inappropriate or illegal content, there’s no mention of plans to launch a whitelist service, where subscribers could notify their ISP of any false positives. 

As Ofcom would be put in charge of reviewing how effective filters are, customers could complain to the regulator if pages for sexual health centres in Penistone and Scunthorpe keep getting blocked. 

There’s no mention of parental controls extending to block sites featuring alcohol, self-harm and web blocking circumvention tools, as the Open Rights Group suggested was on the cards. 

As well a outlining plans for how legal, consenting adult content could be filtered from younger eyes, the white paper details plans for how the IWF and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will go about cracking down on child abuse imagery. 

Wherever child abuse sites have been identified and taken down, a splash page will be left in their wake. Splash pages will warn those watching that the page contained illegal images and will clearly set out the legal consequences of accessing them. Viewers will also be directed to the Stop It Now page, encouraging them to change their behaviour. 

UK and US security forces will collaborate on joint operations to break online paedophile rings and produce a single, secure database of illegal images of children. Image recognition techniques could be used to potentially identify victims and lead to future prosecutions. 

The UK’s biggest ISPs, which the report says provides broadband services for nine of every 10 UK homes, will be asked to front some cash to provide funding for advertising campaigns for IWF and CEOP. There’s no mention of how much money the induastry will be asked to contribute – perhaps £600,000 a year between the them to cover government cuts to CEOP’s budget. 

The Connectivity, Content and Consumers is separate to the Online Safety Bill, which calls for the sale of devices capable of accessing the internet to be restricted to those above the age of 18. 


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