The U.K. government plans to ask internet service providers in the country to restrict access to pornographic websites by default and only make them available to customers who specifically request it.
Next week, representatives from major U.K. ISPs including BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media will meet with Minister of Communications Ed Vaizey to discuss a plan to impose a universal block of porn sites right across the country, enabling adult content only for those customers who specifically request it. That's right, if you live in the U.K. and this actually goes through, the only way you'll be able to look at the boobs online is to go on record with your internet provider admitting that you are, in fact, a porn hound.
The idea was the brainchild of Conservative MP Claire Perry, who used the classic "as a mother" line to open her call for greater regulation of the internet. "We already successfully regulate British TV channels, cinema screens, high street hoardings and newsagent shelves to stop children seeing inappropriate images and mobile phone companies are able to restrict access to adult material so why should the Internet be any different?" she said. "British Internet Service Providers should share the responsibility to keep our children safe so I am calling for ISPs to offer an 'Opt In' system that uses age verification to access pornographic material."
It's kind of a crazy idea, but not so crazy that Vaizey didn't latch onto it, telling the Sunday Times, "This is a very serious matter. I think it is very important that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) come up with solutions to protect children. I am hoping they will get their acts together so we don't have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years."
The basics of the government's plan are simple enough: all internet connections in the U.K. would be set to block pornographic sites by default and anyone who wants access to them will have to ask for it. But the devil is in the details, as they say, such as defining what constitutes explicit material, which sites should be blocked and how to go about blocking them in a way that tech-savvy kids won't be able to bypass in about ten minutes flat.
While TalkTalk and Virgin Media reps came across as willing to toe the government line, Nicholas Lansman of the U.K.'s Internet Service Provider Association said that controlling access to online content "should be managed by parents and carers with the tools ISP's provide, rather than being imposed top-down." He also predicted that such a ban could end up blocking access to sites like Flickr and Tumblr, which sometimes carry adult content.
"This is the wrong way to go. If the government controlled a web blacklist, you can bet that Wikileaks would be on it," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "This is not about pornography, it is about generalized censorship through the back door."