Free Speech Coalition president Diane Duke argued forcefully against new UK censorship rules at a London roundtable sponsored by Virgin Media. The discussion, “Switched on Families: Does the Online World Make Good Things Happen?” was prompted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to censor content at the ISP level. The panel included government representatives, members of the press and supporters of an open Internet. A report on the meeting was printed in the Guardian on Wednesday.
“We applaud the Virgin Media roundtable for taking on a tough issue, and for the Guardian for acknowledging the extent to which these new government-imposed ISP filters can actually harm children,” says Duke. “The filters Prime Minister Cameron supports block sexual health sites, they block domestic violence sites, they block gay and lesbian sites, they block information about eating disorders and a lot of information to which it’s crucial young people have access. Rather than protect children from things like bullying and online predators, these filters leave children in the dark.”
According to a Guardian report, a majority of those participating came away from the panel opposing ISP-level filters. Under the conservative Prime Minister’s directive, Internet providers in the UK automatically block any content it deems adult in nature. Internet users who wish to not have their content filter must make a special request to their Internet provider.
“If government officials want to protect kids from predators and age-inappropriate material, there are proven and effective means to do it,” said Duke. “They involve parental control, monitoring and discussions. Unfortunately, none has the political appeal of a ‘magic filter’ that promises stop things like child abuse, teen pregnancy and sexual assault by merely censoring content.”
The panel included representatives from over a dozen groups including the UK Council on Child Safety, the Family Online Safety Institute, and Big Brother Watch. Also participating in the discussion was Member of Parliament Claire Perry, who has long advocated for filters at the ISP level, and whose own site was initially blocked by filters due to repeated use of phrases like “porn” and “sex.”
While Duke was optimistic about the discussion, she admits there was a lot of work yet to do.
“There is so much misinformation out there, and the stakes are high. It’s important for us to be at the table, and to refuse to let moral panics be used to limit speech.”