I don’t talk about politics very often. I have opinions on the subject, but as a general rule I don’t vocalise them. I vote in elections, but outside of that I just generally let the system work. Then David Cameron hit a little too close to home. To be clear if you haven’t been following, the government wants to put in place a secret blacklist that will change the face of the free Internet forever. The government is going to choose for you what material it thinks is acceptable to be viewed online unless you “opt out” of the filters.
It’s being publisised as protecting children from pornogaphy, but this is absolutely just the start. They already plan to filter such wide ranging topics such as “violent material” and “web forums”. How long before the page you are reading is in the filter list because it doesn’t agree with the government. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but when did Britain become China?
I did what you are supposed to do. I contacted my member of parliament, Amber Rudd, to let her know I was concerned about this issue. Because thats how the system is supposed to work right? I’m not going to vote for her if this happens, so it’s in her interest to please her constituents. Below is the email I sent.
Dear Amber Rudd,
I'm writing to you as my MP in reference to the governments proposed plans to introduce "opt out" safeguards to protect Internet users from accessing certain material on the Internet. Under the scheme Internet Services Providers would have to block sites on an unpublished blacklist unless customers opt to have the filter removed by contacting their provider.
This is being pushed by the government with "think of the children" excuses, as pornography is the well publicised thing being blocked, but it has been recently revealed that the government plan to block other things, such as "violent material", "extremist related content", "anorexia and eating disorder websites", "suicide related websites", "alcohol", "smoking", "web forums, "Web blocking circumvention tools" and "esoteric material" (whatever that is).
Of course, all of this is just an extension of an existing scheme that already blocks UK Internet users from The Pirate Bay, an illegal source of movies, TV shows and software.
I'm not writing to you because I want to watch child porn or steal movies. I'm writing to you because this is censorship. The government is taking a dangerous step in the wrong direction where today we're blocking porn, tomorrow we're blocking websites that don't favour the government. It might be opt out, but the government knows the majority of people won't opt out. And whose to say it remains opt out forever?
This is not the governments place, or their job. It is the place of parents, who should be monitoring what their children do online, not leaving them to their own devices and using computers as a baby sitter.
You should be spending the fortune this scheme is going to cost to implement to educate parents. Oh, and I don't know, more important things like funding the NHS.
I graduated from Brighton University with a first class degree so I could build websites. I currently work for a company called "Master of Malt" in Tunbridge Wells. They sell alcohol online. One of the categories listed above to be filtered out is "alcohol".
Should I be looking for a new job?
Thank you for your time.
Nearly three weeks later I got a reply in the form of a physical letter. A nice touch replying to my email with a piece of dead tree by the way. You can read her reply here.
It’s incredibly generic and makes absolutely no reference to any of the concerns I raised. In fact, it’s almost like they read the first line of my letter and filled me in “respond with Internet filtering reply”. But Amber Rudd wouldn’t do that right?
Well yes, she would because one of my friends got exactly the same reply from Amber. Identical. So fine, I get it. MP’s apparently don’t have the time to reply to letters individually. Except another one of my friends got a nearly identical letter from a different MP. To save you the bother, I’ve highlighted in yellow the parts that are different.
So it’s clear not only are they not replying to individual letters, but they are just spouting party line as their own opinion. This leads me to doubt Amber Rudd even read my letter, which means she doesn’t know and/or care that it is a concern of her constituents and thus isn’t going to do anything about it. This isn’t how the system is supposed to work.
So now we know our local MPs didn’t reply to our letters, what was the conservative parties response?
“Save the children.”
The entire letter talks about how we must protect kids from the dangers of an unfiltered Internet. They pitch this as a “voluntary approach” despite the fact it’s not voluntary at all. They even say it will be on by default if you just keep clicking next when signing up to an ISP, which they know 95% of people will do. The majority of people will not even read this choice and the government know this.Despite my email being entirely against the idea of filtering, the letter even has the audacity to say the industry needs to go further and the government will consider regulatory powers, presumably to force an ISPs that dare to not implement the filter.
And then of course, thanks to my friend, we are able to see what modifications the individual MP’s made to the letter. Apparently Damien Green doesn’t hope this information will help while Amber Rudd doesn’t care about my civil liberties. In fact, this added line in Damian Green’s letter is entirely absurd. How doesn’t censoring the Internet damage my civil liberties?
The web is the greatest resource mankind has ever created, and while not every part of it smells of roses, we absolutely can not go down this road. The Internet is not a baby sitter. Parents should be educated on how to monitor their children and setup local filters that they opted into. It is not the governments job to decide what is and isn't appropriate for us to view.
But I did what I was supposed to do in democracy and it didn’t work. So what can we do? We can’t wait till 2015 and hope the next government will simply undo all of this.
Update: Redditor af108 points out that the letter is a slightly modified copy and paste from a government paper "Connectivity, Content and Consumers".