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UK government internet porn filter plan: what you need to know

What porn filter plan means for UK consumers and ISPs

Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron this week announced plans to force UK consumers to opt-in via their ISP if they want to look at pornography on the internet. But what exactly is the Goverment's web-filtering plan, and what does it mean for you? We explain what David Cameron's internet port filter plan really means for UK consumers. See also: How to keep your kids safe online.

We've focussed here on the technical aspects of the plan announced.

Internet porn filter: what is it?

A plan by the current UK government to restrict the flow of pornographic images and video on the internet. In a speech Prime Minister David Cameron said that UK ISPs will be made to put pornography filters on to all internet connections by default. Users will then have to opt-in in order to view porn.

Internet porn filter: what does it mean for me?

If you have an existing broadband connection you won't immediately be affected. In the first instance only new customers of ISPs will have to make a choice to enable adult content via their web connection. However, in time most - although not all - UK ISPs will write to UK broadband connection owners asking them if they want adult content to be filtered out. If you have an existing internet connection expect to be contacted by the end of 2014. (See also: Group test: best tablet for children.)

Internet porn filter: what does it mean for ISPs?

Internet service providers will be forced by law to filter out legal pornography and other adult-themed web pages for all users of new broadband connections. They will then have to offer adult users of those connections the opportunity to opt in to see those pages. Most ISPs had already agreed to write to existing users and offer them the opportunity of opting in to internet filters. Those who intend to do so will undertake this task in the next year or so. Visit: Security Advisor.

Internet porn filter: how does it work?

Child-protection web filtering software is widely available for individual PCs and for home networks, but most ISPs will opt to filter at the network level. This means that sites will be blocked across the network for all user who are in the service. The software works both by black- and whitelists of known 'bad' and 'good' sites, as well as crawling the web in much the same way as do search engines, assessing the content on each page.  

Network level filtering is good for ISPs as it is relatively easy for them to manage. The other option is for all an ISP's users to install a local software app that offers greater levels of customisation for the individual user.

Internet porn filter: is it a good idea?

On balance, probably not. If rolled out nationally this plan will indisputably reduce the amount of pornography consumed by the general populace. The trouble is that it is relatively easy to find a way around internet filters. The likelihood is that tech-savvy teenagers will quickly circumnavigate barriers about which their parents are smugly confident.

There are further arguments abbout civil liberties, and the way this puts the onus of policing a social issue on to ISPs. And there are plenty of people who would debate the merits of restrictiny pornography, but we suspect those questions are outside the remit of a technology website! (See also: Reference/education software reviews).

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