Internet Censorship In The UK – Why It Won’t Work

Matthew Hughes 12-08-2013

I’m not a parent. I’ve not had the experience of creating a tiny version of myself and bringing it into the world. I’ve never experienced what it’s like to take responsibility for a tiny, innocent baby and then bring them up as best you know how. But the fundamental concept of parenthood isn’t lost on me. You have a child, and you love it and you keep it from harm with the aim of creating a happy, productive adult.


It is for this reason why I can understand the motives behind David ‘webcameron‘ Cameron’s proposed mandatory, ISP level filtering of adult material. I really do. I can understand why parents would be enthusiastic about it. Porn Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Anon22 discovered Internet porn when he was just 12 years old. For around 10 years, Anon22 has enjoyed pornography using his computer once or twice a day, a compulsion that he claims ruined his social... Read More can be pretty damn unsavory. Indeed, we’re only starting to understand the effects of pornography on the sexual development of young people.

And yet I’m completely opposed to Cameron’s Internet filtering proposals. Proposals that will not protect children from seeing sexually explicit material. Proposals that will seriously undermine the Internet’s ability to be a free forum for discourse and debate. Proposals that fundamentally threaten the UK’s status as a beacon for freedom and democracy.

Bypassing Restrictions

When I was a high-school student, I fondly remember how the school computers were locked down tighter than the lid on a ketchup bottle. There was a rigorous system of filtering that made goofing-off with a Miniclip Miniclip - Free Online Casual Games Read More game almost impossible.

And yet, I was always able to circumvent whatever restrictions that were in place and unblock webpages 6 Ways to Unblock Websites From Behind a Firewall Need to know how to unblock websites? Here are several methods you can use. One of them is bound to work! Read More . Initially, I used a web based proxy from Peacefire. I’d get the latest ones emailed to me, so that I was always one step ahead of the WebSense filters that my school used.



And then later on when they stopped working, I would find other more ingenious ways of getting past the filters. One involved using a Java applet from Opera which emulated a cell phone running the Opera Mini web browser. As all traffic was being funneled through Opera’s compression servers in Norway, I could look at whatever I wanted without incurring the ire of the school.

If I was motivated enough, I found that there was always a way to circumvent whatever restrictions were in place. Teenagers are like that. Resourceful.

If Hadrian’s Firewall (or the Great Firewall Of Cameron) becomes an actual thing, then you’ll soon find that your progeny will swiftly work out how to bypass it. The problem then lies in what happens should they depart the safe world of the search-engine indexed Internet. What happens if someone at school tells your child how to surf anonymously with Tor Anonymous Internet Surfing with Tor Tor is a freely accessible network that allows Internet traffic to flow through it securely and anonymously. Read More ?

Tor is primarily a a tool for giving those living in despotic regimes free access to the internet. In addition to providing free, uncensored Internet, it allows for the free, anonymous publishing of materia How to Find Active .Onion Dark Web Sites (And Why You Might Want To) The Dark Web, in part, consists of .onion sites, hosted on the Tor network. How do you find them and where to go? Follow me... Read More l that is generally prohibited. Tor is also incredibly difficult to police. There is some incredibly unsavory stuff on there. Even the most Internet unfriendly governments such as China have failed to control it effectively.


It is at that point where it becomes almost impossible to monitor what your child is doing online, and it becomes incredibly difficult to have discussions about the content they are consuming. It becomes a lot harder to explain to your child that what they viewed online isn’t representative of normal, loving, healthy relationships. Cameron’s proposals would not make viewing pornography impossible, but rather thrust the consumption of it into a very dark and unpleasant place. This cannot be a good thing.

Privacy Concerns

Perhaps what is most troubling about this filter is that the user has to actively opt-out of it. From a privacy perspective, this creates some serious privacy concerns.

Lets suppose you are a teacher. Suppose you are a religious minister. Suppose you are a Member of Parliament. Suppose you wish to consume adult material on your computer. You ring up your ISP and ask for your connection to be uncensored. There is then a record of this stored upon the hard drive of a third party.

Now lets suppose that the list got leaked. Imagine if someone decided to plot on a map the names and addresses of everyone who is on the list, as happened in 2009 with the leak of the membership list of the far-right British National Party until it was taken down with a court order. Imagine going into work and nobody making eye contact with you. Imagine hearing the sniggers of your colleagues as you walk to your desk. Imagine feeling the pit of your stomach dropping as you are called into your boss’ office.


It’s not a fun thought, is it? And yet, it’s entirely feasible. An unhappy fact of our modern, digitized life is that the people who we entrust with our private data sometimes get things wrong. It happened with Facebook, AOL and LinkedIn. It could easily happen at your ISP.

Categories of Blocked Sites

Worryingly, we know very little about what this proposed filtering would look like. We know that smut is forbidden. No surprises there. Circumvention websites are out too. My colleagues at MakeUseOf have discussed at length VPNs What A VPN Tunnel Is & How To Set One Up Read More , Tor How the Tor Project Can Help You Protect Your Own Online Privacy Privacy has been a constant issue with virtually all major sites that you visit today, especially those that handle personal information on a regular basis. However, while most security efforts are currently directed towards the... Read More and proxies CTunnel: Unblock Restricted Sites Read More in the past. Will MakeUseOf be blocked?

Reddit and Twitter (and most other user-generated content websites) have photos that are decidedly NSFW on them too. Will Reddit 5 Cool Things You Should Know About Reddit Read More be blocked?



‘Esoteric Websites’ are another category of websites that will be blocked by Talk Talk (one of the biggest ISPs in the UK). I don’t know what an esoteric website is. It’s vague enough to mean a great many things. So, what exactly will be blocked?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Neither do you. The lack of information that has been released to the public is incredibly worrying.

Also troubling is the lack of discussion of a process for unblocking websites that have been incorrectly labelled as inappropriate. False positives are immensely common on web filtering systems. The Open Rights Group has done some amazing research on this subject.

If my personal website is blocked, what recourse do I have? Can I expect a speedy resolution? Do I have a right to appeal a decision that I feel is not in my favor? Will there be a third party ombudsman who I can complain? These are all questions that need to be answered, and have not yet been to any satisfactory manner.

The Loss of Soft Power

Perhaps the most dismaying facet of these proposals is that it compromises the manner in which Britain is seen internationally. In the December/January 2013 edition of Monocle magazine, the 2012 Soft Power Survey was unveiled. Britain was given the title of ‘Soft Power Superpower’ and the number one position on the survey, even beating all of Scandinavia, the United States and France.

This means that Britain has cultivated a reputation for openness, fairness and excellence and is therefore in a position to use that in international affairs. These proposals attack this position to its core.


By mandating that all home internet connections are censored by default, we join a very unenviable club indeed. We are no longer in a position where we can condemn in no uncertain terms the censorship prevalent Your Guide to the International Web Sometimes the international Internet simply isn't worldwide. Freedom of expression and governmental censorship of the internet are roadblocks. This guide to the international web will help you get around them. Read More in China, Iran and Syria. We lose the moral high ground and we betray those who live in authoritarian countries who are fighting for their freedom.


Even from a purely economical perspective, this proposal is madness. Small ISPs will have to shoulder the cost of upgrading their systems to have to deal with the burden of filtering all internet connections in real time. It’s reasonable to assume that consumers will have to take on some of this cost, meaning that you can expect your internet bill to get a bit more expensive. This is at a time when Britain is experiencing some of the worst austerity and poverty seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

Consumers can also expect to see their internet connections get even slower. As each DNS query has to be compared against a blacklist, you can expect websites to take longer and longer to load. Britain already has some of the slowest internet speeds in Europe.

These proposals are even more surprising when you look at them in the context of how in recent years the UK has been plugging its tech-startup friendly credentials. Faster than you can say ‘I call app Britain’, government grants and low-interest loans have abounded for fledgling code shops. The UK really wants as many digital entrepreneurs as possible to forsake the sunny skies of Silicon Valley and move over here.

Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work icallapp

But really, who would want to set up shop in a country where your service can be arbitrarily blocked? Where the branding which you have painstakingly cultivated can be crushed by the simple phrase ‘Site blocked – Category Pornography’?

Who indeed.


I’m not a parent. If I was, I’d want my child to grow up in a country where freedom abounds and is a benchmark for the rest of the world. Where ideas can be openly discussed without fear of being shut down and where censorship is reviled. ‘Hadrian’s Firewall’ makes this impossible.

I understand the need to protect children from the masses of incredibly nasty stuff online. That’s a given. However, ISP level filtering simply isn’t the best answer to that. A better, more effective idea would be education. Talk to your children about what’s online. Educate them about what relationships are like and that porn is nothing close to being a realistic representation of them. Perhaps it might even be a good idea to adopt the Dutch model and talk about relationships from an early age in the classroom. Censorship is never the best solution answer.

Fortunately, avenues of making your voice heard exist as they should in a democracy. You can write to your MP and sign a petition. Making your opposition known is a great first step to stopping this awful, awful idea.

These proposals are incredibly emotive. People on both sides of the debate have strong feelings about the role of government when it comes to the internet. What do you think?

Related topics: Internet Filters, ISP, Online Privacy, Parental Control, Pornography.

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  1. Tom Hal
    January 18, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    How much personal autonomy has to be sacrificed at the altar of "protecting innocent, impressionable children" who, incidentally, are in each generation generally as aware of what adults are trying to hide from them as the adults themselves? Preposterous.

  2. naill
    January 3, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    until we get rid of this odious cameron govt we will get a lot more nazi style tactics
    this has got to be the crappest govt since the days of the lord protector in the 16th century

  3. Caleb X
    August 13, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I am a teenager here (almost 15, just entering high school) and I will gladly say that my school has in the past used censoring software, and yet teachers are rather nonchalant as most if not all students use bypass software e.g. UltraSurf to play flash games, etc. (so far, we haven't had any "questionable" uses).

    I'd say it takes one to know one. If they really wanted to block Britain's (or any other location's) internet, you would need to get some people who know what the crap they're doing, because at least for the IT people at my school, they don't even know what they're messing with.

  4. Dave
    August 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Couldn't agree more. I don't think I have ever seen a more blatant piece of political manipulation, attempted vote-catching and grandstanding, as our "friends" (I use the term loosely) across the pond address this type of situation. This is just technically illiterate politicians engaging their mouths before the brains are in gear. Have they consulted with experts in the field? Has there been any sort of study of the actual numbers of children that have accidentally viewed and been affected by so-called pornography? What happens and who pays compensation if a business site is blocked as collateral damage? Who, at the end of the day, will actually end up paying for these draconian censorship (for that's all it actually is) methods? All of Cameron's rhetoric is total balderdash and piffle. His sidekick is just as bad, she obviously knowing very little of the technical issues involved. They seem to think that with just the throw of a switch, the net will instantly be a better place. It's just not gonna happen and the sooner they realise this fact and leave parents to do the parenting - NOT the nannying government, the better. I thoroughly resent being told what I can and cannot do or view on the net. The net should be open and free. With a few exceptions, it more-or-less is at the moment but it won't be for much longer if the likes of Cameron and co. are allowed to get their sticky fingers and noses into the censorship pie. This could be the thin end of a very large wedge and could lead the government to have sites blocked for no other reason than they don't like them. Keep your filthy hands out of the internet, Mr. Cameron!

  5. Koshy G
    August 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I think politicians should be blocked from the government.

  6. Allan
    August 13, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I think it would be more productive if they blocked politicians and political websites.

  7. James B
    August 13, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Your title is wrong though - it will work, actually, because most people won't bother to turn it off and will stick with the default. Just like I haven't bothered to turn off the adult filter on my phone, because sod it, the Three shop is all the way in town and I keep forgetting and who watches porn on their phone anyway?

    I dont think censorship is the answer - but then, when all it takes to get hardcore fetish porn is 7 letters in the address bar - surely we need to do something? Personally, I won't be giving any children a smartphone until they're 16, and any computer they do have access to will be in the kitchen or living room.

    • Koshy G
      August 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      I had a computer when I was three, but I didn't turn out to be a porn addict. All forms of censorship is pointless that includes a phone ban till 16.

  8. Matthew U
    August 13, 2013 at 7:18 am

    This may be your only comment from a childs point of view (14). I am not against that content being blocked but it is pointless because most people I know of my age know how to bypass filters (I have talktalk homesafe on all the time and most categories are selected, there are also a lot of false positives so I have to bypass most the time) and as mentioned will be difficult for isp's and talktalk and their dns servers are so slow that I only get about 0.5mbs download speed on average but as I already said talktalk already have a filtered connection and our speeds have slowed since it was introduced

  9. Jean Chicoine
    August 13, 2013 at 6:23 am

    I am a parent and I am against all form of censorship.
    It is my role as a parent to monitor my child's Internet activity, not the government's.

    • Mark
      August 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      You're the one! I had heard that there was still one parent out there taking responsibility for the upbringing of their child. It's so very nice to finally meet you.

      I'm so sick of all those parents who expect someone else to do the job!

    • Mark
      August 13, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      I'm single and don't have any kids. So why should I have to do anything with my computer to insure the Internet safety of children I don't have?

      It should be opt-in for that reason alone. If you want to protect your children online that's great, but parents should have to do something for that protection, like opting-in.

      Why is all the work dumped on those people without children.

  10. dragonmouth
    August 13, 2013 at 12:12 am

    One cannot protect children from all the nasties in the world. One should rather teach the children common sense and what to avoid. "Protecting Children" from whatever is the favorite stalking horse of politicians. They use it to pass unpopular,restrictive laws. After all, who is NOT for "protecting our little darlings"?!

    The biggest problem with the proposed legislation is that it could become the proverbial Camel's nose in the tent. Today pornography will be banned. What subject unpopular with the politicians or pressure groups will follow tomorrow? The opposition party? Political dissent? Unpopular speech?