Warning: This post contains pornographic words


Apparently few things matter more to David Cameron than protecting children on the internet. Perhaps he’s planning to increase the funding available to tackle online child abuse, which would be useful. Apparently not, which is a pity because Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

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So what is David going to do to protect children on the internet? Nothing very useful as far as I can tell. In fact, probably the opposite. The internet, like life, is complicated. In the simplest terms I can think of, the internet is not safe for children, but actually that’s ok, and is no different to a lot of other things.

You wouldn’t expect young children to be using a chainsaw on their own, but you would also find it pretty difficult to cut a tree down with plastic safety scissors. You wouldn’t expect older children to use a band saw on their own, but it would be ok if they were supervised while learning to use one safely.

I would agree with the suggestion that parents aren’t given enough help, but a ‘one click’ on/off filter on a shared internet connection is really really not the answer. You need lots of tools; maybe playpens for the very young, corner protectors when they can walk, right up to an idiots guide to the internet for older politicians!

Aside from the fact that blocking and filtering just tend to annoy people who are trying to access perfectly legitimate content, and MPs haven’t even really defined what they want to block, there are downsides to creating a UK intranet. There are already more than enough places with over zealous filters, like O2 and Orange, or libraries, and there can already be real financial implications to manipulating search engine results with no transparency or oversight.

Perhaps even this post/blog has been blocked. Ok, the world wouldn’t be much worse off in that case, but I am more concerned about other sites which are likely to be blocked unintentionally, especially now that I have a child. You see, it’s not quite as simple as the Prime Minister makes out. I may face some very tricky conversations as my child grows up, and they would be more difficult if they and I aren’t able to search for information and support. I had naively assumed that banning rape porn would be one simple thing that everyone would agree with, but even that subject isn’t quite as straight forward as you would hope. I hope that reading challenging articles about difficult subjects will prepare me for being a better parent. I know that a web filter won’t.

I’ll be holding on to unfiltered internet access as long as possible.

(Of course the internet isn’t the only place children might see porn. I assume they’ll be announcing a filtered version of the Sun tomorrow…)

Photo © Anne Petersen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Digital House Arrest


The Digital Economy Bill is exactly the kind of ill-considered law I have come to expect from the current government, however I am very disappointed in the apparent lack of opposition from the other parties.

Today I received a reply from my MP, Chris Huhne, following my email and letter to him about the bill, unfortunately I had already read the same response on the Liberal Democrat Voice before his letter arrived. I appreciate the time he took to reply but the LibDem team will only be getting half a cheer from me, and here’s why.

Chris begins his letter by largely supporting the Digital Economy Bill, stating that many aspects of the bill are vitally important to the UK’s creative industries. Having read the bill, I just don’t believe that. For a start, the bill has very little to do with a digital economy, containing a pick ‘n’ mix of barely related clauses (‘wide ranging’ in politician speak):

Tinkering with Television and Radio Broadcasting Bill

Chris is happy that the bill changes Channel 4’s remit, changes regional news on ITV and plans to make all my analog radios useless. Apart from buying new radios to listen to the same thing, will anyone notice? There’s also some stuff in there on radio licenses and it looks like the days of teletext are numbered.

Are you Really Old Enough to be Playing that Video Game Bill

Chris also supports classification of computer games. Well at least anyone who isn’t old enough will know which games to get hold of to impress their mates.

We are Aware There are Some Problems with Copyright Laws and This is the Best we Could Come up with Bill

The Liberal Democrats support the creative industries, so I’m puzzled that Chris doesn’t even mention the “Extension and regulation of licensing of copyright and performers’ rights” clause. Strangely, some current copyright holders don’t seem too keen to get this kind of support. I’m not surprised given how little respect some creative industries have for copyright already. Public lending also gets a spit and polish for audio books and e-books.

So from my quick flick through, that’s all the vitally important parts of the bill (?) leaving…

Enforcing Copyright Yourself is Just Such a Bore Bill

Before going any further, I should make it absolutely clear that I am not fundamentally opposed to copyright law, and I actually work in an industry where copyright protection is important. That said, I personally think that copyright laws should be an incentive for the creative industries to, well, create new content. I have been concerned for a long time that neither the public nor creative individuals get a particularly fair deal from the current arrangements. As with the law in general, the odds are stacked in favour of people with the most money and this bill only makes matters worse.

Without any new legislation, the creative industries should already be able to take action against illegal downloading using the internet, in the same way they can take action regardless of how the illegal copyright material was obtained. Apparently that’s not good enough, so under the guise of a digital economy bill, they want new powers to protect the old economy.

There are plenty of things the creative industries could do to help themselves. I suggest that first on the list for them to try would be to stop treating their paying customers with such contempt. I hope they’ve already stopped installing dangerous software on my computer without my permission, but how about competing with the pirates to make watching a DVD more enjoyable, or allowing me to watch a DVD I’ve paid for where ever I want to, or not changing your mind after you sold me something? With this kind of behaviour I would expect any changes of the law to include more regulation for the creative industries, not more protection for them. It’s ironic that none of the quarter of a million creative people who’s jobs are allegedly at risk can come up with some better ideas, especially given that they really should have the most to gain from a digital economy.

Access to the internet may not be a fundamental right, but how can you seriously expect to have a digital economy if people are at risk of digital house arrest? As I told Chris Huhne, I don’t believe disconnection is a proportional response even if it did only effect one person, who was proved to have downloaded something illegally beyond reasonable doubt. Would you stop someone leaving their house if they came home from the market with counterfeit jeans? How can we have a digital economy when a single industry has a veto over whether any other industry can do business with their customers over the internet? Access to online government services? No. Online bank account? No. Paperless billing? Think again. Internet shopping? Not any more. Working at home? Time for a holiday. NHS Direct? Please phone… unless you’re using Skype of course. Smart metering? The lights are on but no-one’s home.

This is by no means a full discussion of the issues, but then I’m not in parliament where all of these issues and more should be getting some serious debate. Sadly there’s a chance no one will be able to have that debate in parliament. Oh well, good luck UK plc, you’re going to need it.

Update: A few related posts generated manually to go with the ones WordPress found. (28 March 2010)

Update: A couple of Guardian articles on the Digital Economy Bill (31 March 2010)

Update: A depressing day following the #debill debate, but a found a few more articles along the way. (6 April 2010)

After today’s idiotic debate in parliament, I wonder if more people might be tempted to stand for election to show politicians that they can’t just push whatever they like through parliament when no one is looking. The close of nominations is 4 pm on Tuesday 20 April 2010 and for a coordinated effort there’s a deadline of 12 April 2010 to register a new party. Just a thought.

Update: No big surprise that the bill went through the washup, demonstrating the poor state of the UK democracy along the way. (8 April 2010)

Let’s just hope that candidates get some tough questions on the subject when they’re out campaigning.

Update: The morning after… (9 April 2010)

And finally, someone who will be keeping my vote: TalkTalk!