UNITED KINGDOM—Reading the news report published Saturday by the Daily Mail stating that British Prime Minister David Cameron will act later this month to force internet service providers to force parents to install child protection filters when they sign up for service, it is impossible to tell if the claim is real or if the paper is attempting to force the government's hand. For many months now, the Mail has engaged in escalating hyperbole (see graphic) as it pushes its "Block Online Porn campaign" on the government and citizens of the United Kingdom. Were the campaign to fail, the paper would have substantial egg on its face. In such a scenario, it makes sense that the paper would predict action by the government that may or may not actually be finalized.
Indeed, a close reading of the article reveals not one mention by a government official confirming the claim that, as the Daily Mail states, "In future, anyone buying a new computer or signing up with a new internet service provider will be asked whether they have children when they log on for the first time. Those answering ‘yes’ will automatically be taken through the process of installing anti-pornography filters and a series of questions about how stringent they want restrictions to be."
The article does contain a quote from an anonymous government source who states, "After intervention from the Prime Minister, the Government is urging providers to go one step further and make sure their systems actively encourage parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls," but "urging" is not quite the same thing as "demanding" or "mandating," so it is unclear how forcefully the new plan, if it exists, will be proffered.
However, the details of the alleged change in strategy are noteworthy in that they significantly expand the government's imposition on ISPs—which, according to the Register, have "reacted frigidly" to the news—by going beyond "a blueprint drawn up by Reg Bailey, the head of the Mothers’ Union, who was commissioned by the Government to suggest new curbs. His plan would simply have seen parents given an ‘active choice’ to opt in or out of porn controls. But under the Prime Minister’s plans, those with children will be automatically guided through the process of installing the filters."
The Daily Mail is also trying to position the alleged plan as a compromise of sorts by Cameron, who has thus far resisted calls to force ISPs to impose an "automatic block" on porn sites. Not content to simply give parents a choice, however, the new plan would force them to install the filters. What happens after installation is unclear. Will parents be able to set their own levels of filtering, or disable the filters altogether if they choose? Will they be monitored by ISPs after installation to make sure the filters are still active or have not been tampered with? More to the point, is this yet another step in England's seemingly inevitable march towards its augured destiny as a Big Brother nation?
Image: Just a few sensational headlines published by the Daily Mail.