Thursday 1 November 2012

Balancing free speech and child protection

Today a law that aims to protect children from harmful internet content by allowing the government to take sites offline has taken effect in Russia.  Websites can now be blacklisted and forced offline without a trial and, if the sites themselves cannot be closed, ISPs will be forced to block access to them.

This law has been described by critics as yet another attempt by President Putin to exercise control over the population.  "Of course there are websites that should not be accessible to children, but I don't think it will be limited to that," warned a spokesman for the human rights organisation Citizens' Watch.

We have been campaigning for some time for better protection for children online in the UK; we would like to see a system whereby potentially harmful websites are blocked as a default unless adult users specifically opt in to access them.

This is not the same as the new Russian system.

The UK proposal involves an independent regulator which would be tasked with setting clear parameters of what would, and what would not be, acceptable on a ‘clean feed’.  Websites which felt they were being unfairly blocked would have a right to appeal any decision.

Earlier this year we found that our website and blog were being blocked by filters designed to offer a safe browsing experience for children on mobile devices.  These filters are applied as a default on all mobile devices which access the internet unless adult users choose to remove them.  Although neither our blog nor our website include pornography such material is alluded to in the context of our campaign and our sites were being filtered out.

We contacted the Mobile Broadband Group and pointed out the misclassification and it was a simple matter to get the restrictions lifted.  

Protecting children online is vital but so is protecting free speech.  Our experience shows that the system we already have in place in the UK for mobile browsing is working and errors are easily rectified.  Later this year the outcome of the recent consultation into protecting children online will be announced, it is to be hoped that mis-advised concerns about censorship are not be elevated above children’s online safety.

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