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UK internet porn filters a failure, says Open Rights Group

Warwick Ashford

The UK’s internet porn filters have been branded an epic failure for blocking nearly one in five legitimate websites.

The country’s top internet service providers (ISPs) began introducing filters almost a year ago, following a campaign supported by prime minister David Cameron.

Porn.jpg

Under measures introduced by the government, ISPs were obliged to apply the filters by default for new users and contact all existing users to give them the option to activate “family friendly” filters or not.

The filters are designed to prevent children and young people from viewing adult content, including pornography and sites that talk about alcohol, smoking and anorexia, or that include hate speech.

But a survey by the Open Rights Group of the 100,000 most popular websites has revealed 19,000 of them are blocked by at least one ISP in the UK.

“The problem of over-blocking is not going away,” the group said in a posting on its website.

Legitimate websites

The news comes as the government steps up efforts aimed at promoting the UK’s digital economy, which include plans for intelligence agency GCHQ to share intellectual property with UK firms.

Blocked sites include a Porsche car dealership, two feminist websites, a blog on the Syrian War and the Guido Fawkes political site, reports the Guardian.

"Filters can stop customers accessing your business, block political commentary or harm your education," said Jim Killock, executive director at Open Rights.

"The government has told everybody they have to take child safety extremely seriously and that filters are in some way an answer to that.

“People are being pushed into filtering lots of content that they simply don't need to and is not dangerous to children.”

Sky filter correction

In January 2104, Sky was forced to update its porn filter after it was found to be blocking legitimate file-sharing sites such as news site TorrentFreak.

Initially Sky’s filter blocked all file-sharing sites, but the company promised to be more selective and asked all website owners who feel they have been unfairly targeted to come forward.

Sky subscribers also complained that, in addition to TorrentFreak, the filter had blocked access to other legitimate sites, such as BitTorrent, Vodo and Imgur.

In response to the report by the Open Rights Group, TalkTalk said customers could email Homesafe.classification@talktalkplc.com to report wrongly blocked sites.

 "We welcome feedback to ensure we are continually improving the product,” the company said in a statement.

UK internet users can check if specific sites are being blocked using a free tool available for Blocked.org, which was used by the Open Rights Group to conduct its survey.


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