Letter to my MP about web censorship

This morning I wrote to my MP, John Hemming, via writetothem.com to express my concern about web censorship:

Dear John Hemming,

I noticed you tweeting that your geek rating is 90%, so I guess I don’t need to explain why David Cameron and Claire Perry’s attempts to censor the Web are so dangerous.

I’d like to know your thoughts on why this isn’t being debated in parliament; why it seems to go against their own policy after a consultation on the issue, and whether you (as my representative) agree with Mr Cameron’s ideas?

I’m deeply concerned at the scope-creep of these policies. We all oppose obscene images of children and rape. But those are illegal, and filtered, already. Is it true that we will have to opt-in to “extremist” material, and material on “smoking”? Who decides what is “extremist”?

I urge you to oppose this censorship by the back door, and I hope you’ll raise it in parliament, which is the proper place to debate such matters.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Lawson.

To Mr Hemming’s credit, his reply came after a couple of hours:

My understanding is that the proposals relate to the default or factory settings of the domestic broadband router. I don’t think anyone has a problem with this.

Why not write to your MP? Hopefully you’ll get a more sympathetic response.

Added 17 August 2013: I’ve just had an hour long meeting with my MP, John Hemming (both of us lying on his floor as his back was gone, and it was weird for me to sit while he lay) about the plans for a UK-wide Web filter. He agrees with me that it’s a civil liberties problem, and we’ll work together to campaign against it. More detail later.

66 Responses to “ Letter to my MP about web censorship ”

Comment by Bruce

Thanks John – please keep us posted; we’re relying on you. (BTW, I’ve pruned some of your duplicate comments from when my spam filter was being over-zealous.)

Comment by Guitaraholic

I liken this idea to trying to change the way we lay roads so it wont allow stolen cars to drive on them = this would stop people stealing cars.

Sounds great in that sentence but it is impossible in reality to do it. You can’t filter the ‘highway’ that the traffic goes down I.e = the ISP. You need to police it.

Policing the net involves:
1, Parents policing their local machines and network to filter for children
2. Police body or charities to work with hosting companies to remove ‘bad’ destination sites.

Cameron has NO idea how this will work – it will never work. its simply a ploy to gullible voters, who also don’t understand how the internet really works, to try win votes.

I work for an ISP and the fact is this IS network level filtering – your ISP can decide what you can / cant see and each ISP will block different sites / sources. To do this at Home level involes Software on the PC – it cannot be done on a Modem. The size of the blocking lists alone would be impossible to push out to modems and every modem would have to be physically replaced to handle this type of change.

So in short
– Web filtering wont work
– Stop blaming the ‘highway’ when its the users.
– It will always be network level filtering

PS – any request to a server based solution WILL log out what you try access – the big question is will this data be harvested or not?

Comment by Mo

Another interesting (and, depending upon your perspective on all of this, potentially more concerning) facet of TalkTalk’s setup is that every HTTP URL that any customer (opted in to HomeSafe or not) visits is automatically spidered shortly after the customer does, so that its content can be evaluated according to the filtering heuristics. I’m still not entirely convinced that it can be legal (even if as a customer you should always assume the network is insecure, as the operators of websites you use are often not nearly so savvy).

[This is fairly trivial to see if you have your own web server (and can view its access logs) and are or know a TalkTalk customer.]

Comment by Patrick H Lauke

Mo, just wondering on what basis this automatic spidering would not be legal?

John, thank you very much for engaging in this discourse and for taking our concerns forward.

Comment by Mo

Patrick: RIPA; it’s a grey area, because they’re able to collect logs, and I suspect only a protracted legal battle would tell you whether logging the contents of HTTP packets and then acting on those logs without specific authorisation of the Home Secretary or Justice Minister constitutes unlawful interception of communications.

More on this from 2011, incidentally:

http://neva.li/post/11311177442 (on Cameron’s then-new plans for porn filtering — how time flies!)

http://neva.li/post/11311449816 — on TalkTalk’s filtering, including quotations from their statement which make it absolutely clear it’s network-level.

http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/talktalk-snoops-on-customers-web-activity-8654 — from 2010, on the automatic spidering.

Comment by Dave

As a Canadian this UK issue does not affect me directly.

However since Canada has a “Constitutional Monarchy” with Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state there are serious potential fallouts from this.

If John Hemming (and other British MP’s) continue to pursue the censoring of the Free & Open Internet based on an absurd principal that Legitimate Consensual Pornography viewed by Adults is in anyway related to Illegal child pornography and rape then we (Canada) have a serious issue being associated with a Country that has it’s blinders on.

If this absurdity continues I will be requesting to my government representatives that we (Canada) fully detach ourselves from any Constitutional Monarchy with the UK.

YES! It is *THAT SERIOUS* and issue!

Utter ridiculousness – I can’t believe a single British Sterling Pound is being wasted on even contemplating this. If I was a British citizen I would be up in arms over this.

Comment by Bruce

Cheers John.

Any word on my further questions – how the wrong briefing got sent to MPs, how sites will be categorised, and what is a site owner’s recourse if they believe their site has been mis-categorised and blocked?

Comment by Pete

Mr Hemming, may I applaud you for your willingness to discuss this matter, listen to our arguments, make efforts to fully understand the ramifications and look into the issues around how the proposals have come about.

My local MP, Mr Richard Graham has decided to draw a veil over the matter and no longer wishes to communicate with me on the matter as he “disagrees with my Libertarian views”.

My “Libertarian views” are nothing more than believing that education is a better solution than stuffing something under the carpet in the belief that will make it all better.

I am debating whether or not to publish our “email ping-pong” (his words after an exchange of 2 emails) because frankly I find his attitude to be rather disappointing.

So, Mr Hemming, I challenge you to attempt to convey the rather good understanding you have and your willingness to actually research the matter to your fellow MPs. I appreciate it is a rather monumentous task but they don’t seem to want to listen to us.

If only more of our “representatives” represented us.

Comment by Pete

Apologies, I misquoted Mr Graham in my previous post here. He did not say he “disagrees with my Libertarian views”.

His actual words were; “I don’t agree with the libertarian argument on this one”

I do not feel I had made a Libertarian argument, just a sensible one after I had considered the issue.

Comment by John Hemming

I am trying to find out what Sky, Virgin and BT are working on. I have not yet got responses from all three and the responses are really superficial so far.

It appears that a solution that is DNS based, but in the network rather than in the router is the most common solution.

I am working with Barry Collins on this and hence he may wish to write about the conclusions first. However, we are still working on this.

Comment by Bruce

I’ve just had an hour long meeting with my MP, John Hemming (lying on his floor as his back was gone) about the plans for a UK-wide Web filter. He agrees with me that it’s a civil liberties problem, and we’ll work together to campaign against it. More details TBA.

Comment by Chris Hunt

Coming a bit late to this one, but this caught my eye in Mr Hemming’s first answer (my emphasis):

the coalition is determined that all internet users should be required to decide whether they want adult filters turned on or off. In households with children, the option to use filters will be pre-selected and parents will be directed to support and advice on internet safety.

How will my ISP know whether my household is a “household with children” ?

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