13 October, 2011
Wear your dirty mac with pride
The iDave's latest bit of desperate crowdpleasing, namely getting ISPs to filter out "objectionable" material at the exchange, offers plenty of opportunity for all manner of incremental slipperyslopism. Getting a system established and accepted is the hard part. After that, gradually extending its reach, firstly through "just this once / exceptional circumstances / emergency" additions is relatively straightforward. After a while unannounced extensions to the coverage of the system become business as usual until your perfectly reasonable filtering scheme that "no decent upstanding person" could possibly disagree with does a damned sight more than it says on the tin.
I'm not 100% sure whether the proposed system for new users is "opt in to filtering" or "opt in to p0rn". That doesn't matter because it will rapidly become "opt in to porn" irrespective of the initial arrangements — we don't want the kiddiewinkies being exposed to corrupting filth as the result of an oversight, do we?
One thing I am fairly sure of, though, is that the "shame barrier" which some are speaking of is a bit of a red herring. Having to phone some disapproving lady in Bangalore and, having given your name, address and penis size — no, no; that will not be necessarily — shamefacedly say, "Er, I am a Wanker and I would be grateful if you would turn on the porn access, please."
As it happens, I have been through this process. Let me quickly move on to explain that statement. I buy my domestic internet access from T-Mobile. As T-Mobile's devices, particularly the pay-as-you-go ones, are likely to be bought or at least used unsupervised by children under the age of 18, the Internet access is filtered by default. This applies both to ordinary smartphones and to "mobile broadband sticks" for plugging into laptops. Of which I have both.
The filtering goes a lot wider than your basic flesh porn. It extends to anything which might be considered "harmful" to children, including for example "hate sites" like Stormfront and the BNP. As I recall from the brief period I was subject to these restrictions a number of perfectly innocuous blogs were blocked; unfortunately I didn't keep a record. If I find myself having to replace my dongle again — if you'll pardon the expression — I might explore the range of blocked sites more systematically before I arrange for the filtering to be turned off. Which is quite straightforward, involving a "dummy" credit card payment to confirm your age.
So where in practice will BT, Virgin, TalkTalk and whoever the other one was get their lists of sites to block? They will get them from the established source they use for their own in-house firewalling: the large American netnanny companies. The stoplists used by these companies seem to be compiled by crack teams of prodnoses from the Peoria Baptist Mothers' Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, to which will be added the censorious pronouncements of our own dear Internet Watch Foundation.
The reliability and judgment of such stoplists and their providers is of course legendary. Remember the Australian pornblocker which barred access to a Dutch driving school? How soon before little Wayne's homework research on the reproduction of flatworms for his GCSE biology gets picked up by the "sex" filters.
And of course if the filtering takes place at the ISP then mummy and daddy are going to be filtered too, innit? Dad's going to be well pleased if he can't get on to the Millwall supporters' chat forum (celebrity contributor Rod Liddle) 'cos it's classified as a hate site. Or Mum can't vote for acts at the X-factor website because Mrs Bluenose in Peoria thinks some of the lady artistes' costumes as shown in the on-line videos are not decent.
If this nonsense actually manages to get off the ground, it won't even manage to clear the perimeter fence at the end of the runway.
Fear not. While it lasts you will still be able to view your favorite Abyssinian goat porn website without censure, even if you have to pretend to be a Hope Not Hate/Searchlight investigator researching the Far Right when requesting removal of the filters.
It was just a bit of crowd-pleasing by the ignorant (call-me-Dave) for the ignorant (Tory conference-goers - techno-illiterates to a man); never intended to be real, perhaps not even by Call-me-Dave himself.