The Grand Signal

A digital magazine covering the intersection of technology, human rights and social change.

Has the UK ushered in an age of institutionalized censorship of open information?

Photo courtesy of bisgovuk |

As a footnote to an already questionable political term, UK head of state David Cameron is bringing into law a set of mandates that will actively block “adult” content on the internet by default, with an option to opt-out. The law will require any household that wants to access filtered content (i.e pornography, alcohol, smoking, web forums, etc.) to specifically contact their ISP and turn it on. Although the range of filtering will be at the behest of the ISP, the suite of filtering policies come with conveniently vague stratifications like “estoteric content”.

Predictably, much like the rest of his term in office, Cameron’s decision hasn’t been met with a great deal of public support.

On face, the bill doesn’t seem particularly bad. Although pornography will be filtered by default, interested households can turn it back on. On paper, it’s a bill supposedly meant to protect youth from explicit content at the cost of a few awkward phone calls to ISPs. Cameron’s actions, however, come with a more dire pricetag.

By mandating the filtering of a segment of the internet, David Cameron has set the precedent of government’s blocking access to legal content on the

In the past, government restrictions on illegal content (i.e child porn) has been met with a modicum of hostility, although it has been generally accepted by the public. In setting this bill into motion, however, Cameron has taken the range of government censorship from illegal information to perfectly legal information. The step away from this bill, moving to preventing the “opt-out” of certain types of content, is only a stones throw or a parliament’s shout away.

On the heels of the NSA scandal, David Cameron’s decision to institutionalize the censorship of free information, to whatever degree, spells disaster for an online landscape of open info that’s increasingly precarious. It’s important to step away from the short-term implications of a bill seemingly built to protect the integrity of accesible content and look at the potential long-term implications.

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