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    Britain's "Porn Filters" Want to Stop Kids Becoming Hackers

    Written by

    Victoria Turk

    Editor, UK

    via Flickr/hobvias sudoneighm

    The UK’s internet “porn filters” are at it again, blocking content that has nothing to do with porn and lots to do with more general internet censorship.

    News site TorrentFreak, which covers issues such as file-sharing and copyright, has found itself a victim of a British ISP’s overreaching parental controls. The website reported that it’s now blocked by Sky’s “Broadband Shield,” as part of a control that also shuts out legal file-sharing sites and also download portals like BitTorrent and uTorrent.

    Sky blocks the sites when the “13—suitable for teenagers and above” tab is selected, which is apparently the service’s default setting. This restriction blocks access to everything from dating sites, to information on “weapons, violence, gore & hate,” “suicide and self harm,” and “drugs and criminal skills,” but the section TorrentFreak falls foul of is “Anonymizers, filesharing, and hacking.” This, despite the fact it simply blogs about these subjects.

    Now of course, there’s several simple solutions for British web users: You could opt out of the whole filter, or go through and unblock specific sites in the filter settings. Or use this handy plug-in. But that’s not really the point.

    First, there’s the problem that these kind of wide-reaching filters confuse the issue for people who genuinely just want to stop their kids from seeing porn. After all, that was the whole point behind the filters, which were proposed by prime minister David Cameron and have recently been rolled out by the country’s major internet providers.

    But now that “PornWall” has become more like “Anything-slightly-controversial-and-lot-of-other-stuff-too Wall,” it’s hard for parents to know which settings they should be selecting, or whether they should use the filter at all. Is it worth blocking porn if that means useful sites—and not just those accidentally caught up by the porn trawler like sex education sites—will also be restricted?

    That takes us to the issue as to why the filters want to block “anonymizers, filesharing, and hacking.” It’s not entirely Cameron’s fault; the decision to include these kind of extra categories in the filter lies with the ISPs. A Sky spokesperson told TorrentFreak the company was responding to customer demand: “Our customers have told us they want the option to control the content that enters their homes. As part of this, they have also told us what sort of content they would like included in Sky Broadband Shield.”

    Presumably, the anti-hacking setting is intended to stop kids from learning naughty hacking techniques—you know, like how to get around lame parental filters. But this overlooks the fact that the generation of future hackers is also the generation of future programmers, developers, and security researchers. As Open Rights Group Director Jim Killock put it, “In short, the filters seem to adopt a strategy of stopping under 18s from learning how to do anything useful with a computer, in case that helps them get round blocks.”

    It seems incredibly shortsighted to prevent children from learning computer skills—perfectly legal ones, let’s remember—at the same time Cameron is showing off (try not to laugh) that, “For the first time—children in our schools will learn the new language of computer coding.” Real edgy stuff.

    And with these settings the default, it seems likely that a lot of parents will leave the block on without even realising just how much of the internet’s resources they’re keeping from their kids.

    @VickiTurk

    Topics: Internet, porn, porn block, pornwall, UK, Sky, torrentfreak, censorship

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