Prime Minister promises porn block, fools newspaper editors

Online porn has cropped up in the news today, with an article in the Daily Mail by the Prime Minister that’s now being picked up and reported elsewhere. The article is about changes to make it harder for children to access porn on he Internet, and the Mail also has a leader column claiming that the PM has come round to supporting their campaign against online porn.

However, if you read the article carefully, it’s nothing at all like what the campaigners have been asking for. In particular, the one thing that it isn’t is enforced ISP-level filtering. Throughout the article, David Cameron refers to “computers”, as in this comment:

With our system, when people switch on their new computer, a question will pop up asking if there are children in the house. If there are, then parents will be automatically prompted to tailor their internet filters.

or, as the Daily Telegraph reports it,

“Under the plans, anyone turning on a new computer for the first time will be asked whether there are children in the house.”

Note the reference to computers, not Internet connections. All this is going to take place on the local machine, when you configure a new PC.

So does that mean that the PM has done a deal with all the PC manufacturers to enforce parental controls?

Well, no.

All he seems to be reporting is that the account management system of Windows 8 – according to Microsoft’s online documentation – asks you whether it will be used by children when you add any new account or turn on an OEM install for the first time. And, if you answer “yes”, it prompts you to set up parental controls.

That seems fine to me. In fact, it’s precisely the solution that most tech-savvy people would recommend. It leaves control with the parents, and doesn’t require the ISPs to intercept or filter anything. A later paragraph in the Telegraph, stating that

Internet providers will also be required to verify the age of the person setting the controls.

seems to be false, as no such suggestion is made in the original article.

In reality, therefore, nothing has changed. This is pure politics, with the PM trying to take some credit for a decision made by Microsoft. It is, of course entirely possible that this particular design feature in Windows 8 was at least partly prompted by concerns expressed by legislators, not just here but around the world, but it’s hardly a great achievement by this particular government.

If anything, I’m quite impressed by the fact that the PM has seemingly managed to fool the Daily Mail into thinking that they’ve got what they wanted from their pro-filtering campaign, when in reality they haven’t got anything like it. The appointment of Claire Perry (best-known for being anti-porn and technologically illiterate) as an advisor looks like just a sop to the pro-censorship brigade (and, again, the statement by the Telegraph that she will be “in charge of putting the new web filter system in place” is pure invention on their part).

There’s no real policy change here at all, and certainly no change at all from the government’s previously stated position of opposing mandatory ISP-level filtering. It’s just a piece of political theatre designed to make the “something must be done” brigade think that something is being done. And I think it’s a very fine piece of theatre, too. It’s certainly duped the Daily Mail. It’s hard to see that as anything other than a win for the PM.

  • Will it be compulsory for all computers sold in UK to be shipped with Windows ?

    • ktetch

      Including apples, and tablets?
      No.

      Mark’s taken a fragment of a sentence and built an argument about it, and a fragment that isn’t particularly clear anyway. Then later he decides a clearer, more implicit statement that the ISP’s will be involved and not ‘win8’ is “false”, because it doesn’t fit his assumption.

  • Tom Llewelyn

    It is also entirely possible that the Mail is complicit in the theatre. They gain by being able to spin this as a victory for their campaign after all