Ramblings about stuff

Opt-in/opt-out internet filtering?

A few things to get off my chest regarding proposed internet filtering. Firstly:

  • I pay my ISP for a service, namely the provision of an internet connection. They are an Internet Service Provider.
  • I don’t expect my internet connection to be deliberately crippled by said ISP in any way.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on this matter conflates material which is already uncontroversially illegal (images of child abuse) with material which is not illegal. He uses public disgust at the former as a lever to invoke support for censoring the latter. This is simply deceitful.

To continue:

  • ISPs have been coerced by the government into providing internet filtering as “default switched on”, with an opt-out option. That is, everyone’s internet connection will be censored unless they make some decision to opt-out of that process. That’s just a way to make normal people sound pervy, because however the option is phrased it will make the person ticking the box feel as if they’re ticking the box marked “Tick this box for more boobies!” In reality, the opt-out option will be reluctantly required for anyone who finds that they run up against (legal!) things the filters have blocked. And what happens to the list of the names of people who have opted out?
  • An opt-in option is more reasonable: that is, no filtering unless the customer asks for it. This provides a service to those customers who want their internet connection (which they are paying for) to be deliberately crippled; everyone else’s internet connections are left alone. This was the preferred plan from ISPs before the government interfered. Why should customers want their connection disrupted in this way? Well…
  • Parents who want to offload some of their parental responsibilities to a piece of software running at an ISP will be able to do so with opt-in. So, rather than educating their children themselves, they will get a (completely false!) sense of security that their children can browse the internet unattended without any supervision. Because that’s a great idea, isn’t it, even with filtering software in place, what could possibly go wrong?
  • Any filtering software will be very bad and will fail “both ways”. That is, it will block things that it shouldn’t block and it will allow access to things that it was designed to block.
  • Any filtering software initially designed to block one type of content can be trivially modified to block further types of content. That’s a very slippery slope.
  • What if the option to opt-out of the filtering is removed in future?

So, the plans are stupid and dangerous. Why have they been announced? I can only assume it’s because the Prime Minister thinks that the prospect of a plan to filter perfectly legal content will be very popular with certain people. People he believes likely to vote for him at the next election, perhaps.

It’s my internet connection. I pay for it. Leave it alone.