Pat Pilcher: UK's porn filter isn't working

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File photo / APN
File photo / APN

If anything, 2013 has highlighted just how fragile online freedoms and digital privacy really is.

In addition to the much talked about Snowden revelations around NSA snooping, countries such as the UK have begun to actively filter internet traffic to restrict access to online content deemed undesirable. Putting it politely, the filtering at best doesn't appear to be working and more realistically is an easily bypassed joke whose costs are being passed onto UK internet users.

Countless stories are surfacing detailing how crazily easy it is to bypass the filters using freely available browser extensions or even customized browsers such as the Pirate Bay browser (which as of last week clocked up over 2.5 million downloads).

Worse still, the filters are also blocking access to UK sex education and rape support sites as well as a raft of other websites. The blocked sites aren't limited to those dealing with adult education either, with blocked websites including technology sites such as slashdot.com or even more bizarrely, the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

Sadly even though UK politicians probably had the filters installed with the best of intentions, they appear to be achieving the exact opposite by blocking access to genuinely useful and legitimate sites whilst the filters themselves are so dead easy to bypass that anyone wanting access to what the UK government says represents the seamier side of the net can do so with consummate ease.

Adding further insult to injury, UK ISPs are passing the cost of operating filters on to consumers.

There's some salient lessons that other countries can learn from the UK situation. Legislation is a slow moving beast that more often than not ends up being outpaced by technology. If people want to get around a law, there's bound to be a technological means of doing so.

Policy is also a blunt tool. Even though the UK filters were talked up by the UK government as a means of limiting access to online porn or racial and religious hate sites, the collateral damage is such that numerous other sites fulfilling legitimate functions are also blocked. Then there's the whole argument around who gets to choose what is and isn't deemed objectionable and is blocked.

We live in fragile times. As we become increasingly dependent on the Internet, we're storing more and more of our lives in the cloud. Because of this we're becoming increasingly exposed to restrictions being placed on what information is deemed suitable or unsuitable for online access. Clearly there's a need for a charter defining just what is reasonable and what isn't when it comes to our digital rights. So how about it?

- NZ Herald

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