Internet censorship in the United Kingdom
Internet censorship in the United Kingdom takes various forms, including blocking access to sites, and laws that criminalise publication or possession of certain material, including, libel, copyright, incitement of terrorism and child pornography, within the United Kingdom.
The U.K. has a notable libertarian tradition, manifested by, among other things, solid guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and protection of privacy. Freedom of expression and protection of privacy over the Internet is guaranteed by law. Nonetheless, over the last few years there has been a shift toward increased surveillance and police measures. Combating terrorism and preventing child abuse have been widely used by state agencies and private commercial actors (e.g., Internet service providers) to justify the implementation of interception and direct filtering measures. Nevertheless in 2010 the OpenNet Initiative found no evidence of technical filtering in the political, social, conflict/security, or Internet tools areas. However, the U.K. openly blocks child pornography Web sites, for which ONI does not test.
- 1 Current restrictions
- 1.1 Default blocking of content
- 1.2 Pornography
- 1.2.1 Child pornography
- 1.2.2 Extreme pornography
- 1.2.3 Video on demand
- 1.2.4 Written pornography
- 1.3 Social media
- 1.4 Copyright
- 2 Proposed restrictions
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government routinely respects these rights and prohibitions. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and press. There are no government restrictions on access to the Internet. Individuals and groups routinely use the Internet, including e-mail, to express a wide range of views. However, motivated by national security concerns, the need to fight terrorism and crime, and to protect children, the state has provided for vast surveillance measures over online communications and certain filtering and tracking practices do take place. Such practices may be encouraged or required by the state, but are also voluntarily implemented by private operators.
A number of laws restrict the use of the Internet in the UK, including laws against possession of certain types of material, English defamation law and the Copyright law of the United Kingdom. In addition, the Obscene Publications Act 1959 makes it illegal for websites that can be accessed from the UK without age restriction to contain certain types of adult content.
Default blocking of content
There is an ongoing program to introduce a broad system of default blocking of certain types of content to all Internet users in the UK. New customers have their Internet access filtered at the ISP level so that certain web sites are blocked. A voluntary code of practice agreed by all four major ISPs means that customers have to 'opt out' of the ISP filtering to gain access to the blocked content. The range of content blocked by ISPs includes content tagged as the following:
- anorexia and eating disorders
- web forums
- esoteric material
- web-blocking circumvention tools
The idea for default filtering originated in manifesto commitments by the 2010 coalition government partners concerning "the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood". This was followed by a review (the Bailey Review) and a consultation by UKCCIS. Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear in July 2013 that his aim was to ensure that by the end of 2013 all ISPs would have a filtering system in place. He announced that legislation would be enacted if government is not satisfied with progress. As a result two of the four major ISPs (TalkTalk and Sky) began applying default filtering to new customers by the end of 2013. BT and Virgin will begin doing so in 2014. These are based on new services for all except TalkTalk, who launched their HomeSafe product in May 2011. Default filtering of existing customers will be implemented by all four major ISPs during 2014 with the aim of ensuring that the system applies to 95% of all households by the end of the year.
Some smaller ISPs expressed their reluctance to take part in filtering, citing concerns over costs and civil liberties but the government stated: "We expect the smaller ISPs to follow the lead being set by the larger providers". Cameron said ISPs should choose their own preferred technical solution, but would be monitored to ensure filtering was done correctly. One such solution praised by Cameron is called HomeSafe and is used by the ISP TalkTalk. HomeSafe is controlled and operated by the Chinese company Huawei.
The Washington Post described the resulting system as creating "some of the strictest curbs on pornography in the Western world". There is no public scrutiny of the filtering lists. This creates the potential for them to be expanded to stifle dissent for political ends, as has happened in some other countries. Cameron has insisted that Internet users will have the option to turn the filters off, but no legislation exists to ensure that option will remain available. Filtering systems are also criticised for inadvertent 'overblocking'. Legitimate sites are regularly blocked by the filters of some UK ISPs and mobile operators. The policy of default filtering was reject during a vote at the September 2013 Lib Dem party conference, leaving them at odds with their Conservative partners in the governing coalition.
All major UK mobile phone operators voluntarily filter adult content by default. Ofcom publish a "UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobiles" which provides a means of classifying mobile Internet content to allow this.
When users try to access blocked content, they are redirected to a warning page. This tells them that they are not able to access an 'over 18 status' Internet site and a filtering mechanism has restricted their access. Users who are adults may have the block lifted on request.
Blocked sites include those which contain information on any of the following categories: adult / sexually explicit, chat, criminal skills, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, gambling, hacking, hate, personal and dating, violence, and weapons. Research by the Open Rights Group indicates that the blocking of some sites is unjustified and that correcting the erroneous blocking of innocent sites can be difficult.
Blocked.org.uk was setup up to give people an easy way to report when sites and services are 'blocked' on their mobile network. Hundreds of sites covering blogs, business, internet privacy and internet forums were captured across multiple networks.
The vast majority of the Internet access provided by Wi-Fi systems in public places in the UK is filtered with many sites being blocked. The filtering is done voluntarily by the six largest providers of public Wi-Fi: Arqiva, BT, Sky, Nomad Digital, Virgin and O2, who together are responsible for 90% public Wi-Fi. The filtering was introduced as a result of an agreement put in place in November 2013 between the Government and the Wi-Fi providers. Pressure from the Government and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety had already led Virgin and O2 to install filtering on the Wi-Fi systems on the London Underground and McDonald's restaurants, but half of all public Wi-Fi networks remained unfiltered in September 2013.
There have been complaints about the blocking of Gay websites that are not related to sex or nudity on the public Wi-Fi provided by Train Operating Companies. The filtering is done by third party organisations and these have been criticised for being both unidentified and unaccountable. Such blocking may breach the Equality Act 2010. The government has arranged for the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to investigate whether filters are blocking advice to young people in areas such as sex education.
Libraries and educational institutions
Many local authority public libraries apply filters to Internet access in the UK. Other libraries such as the British Library also employ Internet filters. The majority of Schools, Colleges and Universities use filters to block access to sites which contain Adult material, Gambling and sites which contain malware. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are often filtered by certain schools. Many students often use proxy servers to bypass this. Schools often censor pupils' Internet access in order to offer some protection against various perceived threats such as cyber-bullying and the perceived risk of grooming by pedophiles; as well as to maintain pupil attention during IT lessons.
The UK has a markedly different tradition of pornography regulation form that found in other Western countries. It was almost the only liberal democracy not to have legalised hardcore pornography during the 1960s and 1970s. Pre-existing laws, such as the Obscene Publications Act 1959, continued to make its sale completely illegal through the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally new laws, such as the Video Recordings Act 1984, were introduced to extend existing prohibitions. The appearance of the Internet during the 1990s introduced unregulated access to hardcore pornography in the UK for the first time. The existing legal and regulatory framework was seen as insufficient and UK governments have subsequently introduced piecemeal legislation and regulation.
The first attempts to regulate pornography on the Internet concerned child pornography. Legislation in the form of the Protection of Children Act 1978 already existed making it illegal to take, make, distribute, show or possess an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of someone under the age of 18. The R v Bowden case in 2000 established that downloading child pornography from the Internet also contravened the law.
Police censorship of Internet newsgroups
Initial steps to restrict pornography on the Internet were taken by the UK police. In the 1990s they began to take a pro-active regulatory role with respect to the Internet, using existing legislation and working on a self-tasking basis. In August 1996, the Metropolitan Police Clubs & Vice Unit sent an open letter to the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) supplying them with a list of 132 Usenet discussion groups that they believed to contain pornographic images or explicit text and requesting that they ban access to them. The list mainly included newsgroups which carried child pornography. Ian Taylor, the Conservative Science and Industry Minister, warned ISPs that the police would act against any company which provided their users with "pornographic or violent material". Taylor went on to make it clear that there would be calls for legislation to regulate all aspects of the Internet unless service providers were seen to wholeheartedly "responsible self-regulation". Following this, a tabloid-style exposé of ISP Demon Internet appeared in the Observer newspaper, which alleged that Clive Feather (a director of Demon) "provides paedophiles with access to thousands of photographs of children being sexually abused". During the summer and autumn of 1996 the UK police made it known that they were planning to raid an ISP with the aim of launching a test case regarding the publication of obscene material over the Internet. The action of the UK police has been described as amounting to censorship without public or Parliamentary debate. It has been pointed out that the list supplied to ISPs by the police in August included a number of legitimate discussion groups concerned with legal sexual subjects. These contained textual material without pictures that would not be expected to infringe UK obscenity laws.
Internet Watch Foundation
The direct result of the 1996 campaign of threats and pressure was the setting up of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an independent body to which the public could report potentially criminal Internet content, both child pornography and other forms of criminally obscene material. These reports would be passed on to ISPs and the Police as a ‘notice and takedown’ service for the removal of potentially illegal content hosted in the UK. It was intended that this arrangement would protect the internet industry from any criminal liability. The IWF was also intended to support the development of a website rating system. Demon Internet was a driving force behind the IWF's creation, and one of its directors, Clive Feather, became the IWF's first chairman.
After 3 years of operation, the IWF was reviewed for the DTI and the Home Office by consultants KPMG and Denton Hall. Their report was delivered in October 1999 and resulted in a number of changes being made to the role and structure of the organisation, and it was relaunched in early 2000, endorsed by the government and the DTI, which played a "facilitating role in its creation", according to a DTI spokesman.
At the time, Patricia Hewitt, then Minister for E-Commerce, said: "The Internet Watch Foundation plays a vital role in combating criminal material on the Net." To counter accusations that the IWF was biased in favour of the ISPs, a new independent chairman was appointed, Roger Darlington, former head of research at the Communication Workers Union.
Introduction of Cleanfeed
Between 2004 and 2006, BT Group introduced its Cleanfeed content blocking system technology. BT spokesman Jon Carter described Cleanfeed's function as "to block access to illegal Web sites that are listed by the Internet Watch Foundation", and described it as essentially a server hosting a filter that checked requested URLs for Web sites on the IWF list, and returning an error message of "Web site not found" for positive matches. Cleanfeed is a silent content filtering system, which means that Internet users cannot ascertain whether they are being regulated by Cleanfeed, facing connection failures, or the page really does not exist. The proportion of Internet Service Providers using Cleanfeed by the beginning of 2006 was 80% and this rose to 95% by the middle of 2008. In February 2009, the Government said that it was looking at ways to cover the final 5%.
According to a small-sample survey conducted in 2008 by Nikolaos Koumartzis, an MA researcher at London College of Communication, the vast majority of UK based Internet users (90.21%) were unaware of the existence of Cleanfeed software. Moreover, nearly two thirds of the participants did not trust British Telecommunications or the IWF to be responsible for a silent censorship system in the UK. A majority would prefer to see a message stating that a given site was blocked and to have access to a form for unblocking a given site.
Cleanfeed originally targeted only alleged child sexual abuse content identified by the Internet Watch Foundation. However, no safeguards exist to stop the secret list of blocked sites being extended to include sites unrelated to child pornography. This had led to criticism of Cleanfeed's lack of transparency which gives it considerable potential for broad censorship. In the past The Home Office has indicated that it considered requiring ISPs to block access to articles deemed to be "glorifying terrorism". Further, Cleanfeed is now routinely used to block access to copyright-infringing websites after a court order in 2011 required BT to block access to NewzBin2. This has lead some to describe Cleanfeed as the most perfectly invisible censorship mechanism ever invented and to liken its powers of censorship to those employed currently by China.
On 5 December 2008 the IWF system blacklisted a Wikipedia article on the Scorpions album Virgin Killer. A statement by the organisation's spokesman alleged that the album cover, displayed in the article, contained "a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18". Users of major ISPs, including Virgin Media, Be/O2/Telefónica, EasyNet/UK Online, Demon and Opal, were unable to access the content, despite the album cover being available unfiltered on other major sites including Amazon.co.uk, and available for sale in the UK. The system also started proxying users, who accessed any Wikipedia article, via a minimal number of servers, which resulted in site administrators having to block them from editing Wikipedia or creating accounts. On 9 December, the IWF removed the article from its blacklist, stating: "IWF's overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the Internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect."
In July 2013 Prime Minister David Cameron called on Internet search engines to "blacklist" certain search terms, so that they would bring up no results. Microsoft quickly responded by introducing a blacklist provided by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). A 'pop-up' warning appears on the UK version of its search engine Bing when searches contravene the blacklist. In November 2013 Google announced that 100,000 "blacklisted" search terms would no longer give any results, while 13,000 would produce a warning message. Child protection experts, including a former head of the CEOP, have warned that these measures will not help to protect children because most child pornography on the Internet is on hidden networks inaccessible through these search engines.
In 2009 the UK Ministry of Justice claimed that legislation was needed to reduce the availability of hardcore paedophilic cartoon pornography on the internet, particularly from Japan. The decision was made to make possession of cartoon pornography depicting minors illegal in the UK. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (sections 62–68), which came into force on 6 April 2010, created an offence in England and Wales and Northern Ireland of possession of a prohibited image of a child. The maximum penalty is three years imprisonment and listing on the Sex Offenders Register.
A prohibited cartoon image is defined as one which involves a minor in situations which are pornographic and "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character". The Act makes it illegal to own any picture depicting under-18s participating in sexual activities, or depictions of sexual activity in the presence of someone under 18 years old. The definition of a "child" in the Act includes depictions of 16- and 17-year-olds who are over the age of consent in the UK, as well as any adults where the "predominant impression conveyed" is of a person under the age of 18. "The law has been condemned by a coalition of graphic artists, publishers, and MPs, fearing it will criminalise graphic novels such as Lost Girls and Watchmen."
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) compiles and maintains a blacklist, mainly of child pornography URLs, from which 98% of commercial Internet customers in the UK are filtered. A staff of four police-trained analysts are responsible for this work, and the director of the service has claimed that the analysts are capable of adding an average of 65-80 new URLs to the list each week, and act on reports received from the public rather than pursuing investigative research.
British Telecommunications ISP passes Internet traffic through a service called Cleanfeed which uses data provided by the IWF to identify pages believed to contain indecent photographs of children. When such a page is found, the system creates a "URL not found" error page rather than deliver the actual page or a warning page. Other ISPs use different systems such as WebMinder .
Calls for "violent" adult pornography sites to be shut down began in 2003, after the murder of Jane Longhurst by Graham Coutts, a man who said he had an obsession with Internet pornography. Jane Longhurst's mother and sister also campaigned to tighten laws regarding pornography on the Internet. In response the government announced plans to crack down on sites depicting rape, strangulation, torture and necrophilia. However, in August 2005 the Government announced that instead of targeting production or publication, it planned to criminalise private possession of what the Government now termed "extreme pornography". This was defined as real or simulated examples of certain types of sexual violence as well as necrophilia and bestiality. The passing of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 resulted in the possession of "extreme pornographic images" becoming illegal in England and Wales as of January 2009.
The law has been criticised as probably breaching Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and for criminalising images where no crime took place in their creation. Additionally, the law's placing of liability on consumers rather than producers has been criticised for creating a power imbalance between the individual and the state. There has never been a legal challenge to the law in the UK as the cost of doing so would be beyond most individuals. In 2011, there were 1337 prosecutions under the law, compared to the Government estimate of 30 cases a year.
In 2004 in Scotland, a committee of Members of the Scottish Parliament backed a call to ban adult pornography as the Equal Opportunities Committee supported a petition claiming links between porn and sexual crimes and violence against women and children. A spokeswoman said "While we have no plans to legislate we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation." In 2007, MSPs looked again at criminalising adult pornography, in response to a call from Scottish Women Against Pornography for pornography to be classified as a hate crime against women. This was opposed by Feminists Against Censorship. In September 2008, Scotland announced its own plans to criminalise possession of what it termed "extreme" adult pornography, but extending the law further, including depictions of rape imagery. These plans became law with the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
In July 2013 David Cameron proposed that pornography which depicts rape (including simulations involving consenting adults) should become illegal in England and Wales bringing the law in line with that of Scotland. The maximum penalty proposed for possession of such images is a three-year jail term.
Video on demand
The streaming of videos online (known as Video On Demand) is regulated by ATVOD in conjunction with Ofcom. UK websites hosting videos are obliged to ensure that services containing adult content cannot be accessed by users under 18 years old. Failure to do so is considered by ATVOD to be a breach of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Self-declaration of adult status by the user is not considered sufficient evidence. More acceptable is a requirement for the user to provide credit card details.
ATVOD regularly instructs UK websites to comply with its rules. Failure to do so can result in Ofcom issuing a fine or shutting down a website. ATVOD has proposed that non-UK adult content providers who do not verify their customers' ages should have their customer payments blocked. Talks between ATVOD and financial institutions in October 2013 formed the basis of policy briefings provided to the Government. The Open Rights Group has called for these proposals to come under parliamentary scrutiny.
In July 2013 David Cameron proposed specific legislation to restrict the online streaming of videos in the UK so that they conform to the BBFC R18 certificate regulations which already cover those sold in licensed sex shops.
R v Walker, sometimes called the "Girls (Scream) Aloud Obscenity Trial", was the first prosecution for written material under Section 2(1) of the Obscene Publications Act in nearly two decades. It involved the prosecution of Darryn Walker for posting a story entitled "Girls (Scream) Aloud" on an internet erotic story site in 2008. The story was a fictional written account describing the kidnap, rape and murder of pop group Girls Aloud. It was reported to the IWF who passed the information on to Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Unit. During the trial the prosecution claimed that the story could be "easily accessed" by young fans of Girls Aloud. However, the defence demonstrated that it could only be located by those specifically searching for such material. As a result the case was abandoned and the defendant cleared of all charges.
It is unclear whether legislation proposed by David Cameron in 2013 will restrict written pornography as this is currently only covered by the Obscene Publications Act. This question was highlighted in October 2013 when a press exposé resulted in a number of on-line e-book retailers removing adult fiction titles including descriptions of rape, incest or bestiality from their download catalogues.
On 19 December 2012, to strike a balance between freedom of speech and criminality, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued interim guidelines, clarifying when social messaging is eligible for criminal prosecution under UK law. Only communications that are credible threats of violence, harassment, or stalking (such as aggressive Internet trolling) which specifically targets an individual or individuals, or breaches a court order designed to protect someone (such as those protecting the identity of a victim of a sexual offense) will be prosecuted. Communications that express an "unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humor, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it" will not. Communications that are merely "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false" will be prosecuted only when it can be shown to be necessary and proportionate. People who pass on malicious messages, such as by retweeting, can also be prosecuted when the original message is subject to prosecution. Individuals who post messages as part of a separate crime, such as a plan to import drugs, would face prosecution for that offence, as is currently the case.
Revisions to the interim guidelines were issued on 20 June 2013 following a public consultation. The revisions specified that prosecutors should consider:
- whether messages were aggravated by references to race, religion or other minorities, and whether they breached existing rules to counter harassment or stalking; and
- the age and maturity of any wrongdoer should be taken into account and given great weight.
The revisions also clarified that criminal prosecutions were "unlikely":
- when the author of the message had "expressed genuine remorse";
- when "swift and effective action ... to remove the communication" was taken; or
- when messages were not intended for a wide audience.
The Keith-Smith v Williams case of 2006 established that existing libel laws apply to Internet publishing. It is the users of social media such as Twitter and not their online hosts who have legal responsibility for posts. This is a different situation from older forms of publishing where the media companies themselves had legal responsibility. The consequence is a situation in which individuals may be more likely to be libelled or be subjected to libel suits but rarely have the means to take part in legal action. The UK Ministry of Justice drew up plans in 2008 to give individuals access to cheap low-cost legal recourse if they were defamed online but these proposals were never implemented. Instead the Defamation Act 2013 will reform libel law to allow new defences and introduce a requirement for claimants to show that they have suffered serious harm. The intention behind the new law is to make it harder to bring libel suits in Britain.
Contempt of court
The use of social media to comment on a legal case can constitute contempt of court, resulting in the fine of imprisonment of the social media user. This can happen if a trial is seriously prejudiced as a result of a comment, such as a breach of jury confidentiality, resulting in the need for a retrial. It can also happen if the identity of an individual is publicly revealed when their identity is protected by a court. For instance, victims of rape and serious sexual offences are entitled as a matter of law to lifelong anonymity in the media under the Sexual Offences Act 1992, even if their name has been given in court.
There have been a number of instances of users of social media being prosecuted for contempt of court. In 2012 the R v Evans and McDonald rape trial generated more than 6,000 tweets, with some people naming his victim on Twitter and other social media websites. Nine people were prosecuted. An arrest was made in 2013 (R v Turner) for the use of Twitter during the trial of Michael Le Vell. In February 2013, the Attorney General's Office instituted contempt of court proceedings against three men who used Twitter and Facebook to publish photographs which allegedly showed the two murderers of the toddler James Bulger as adults. This use of social media breached a worldwide injunction that prevented publication of anything that could identify the pair.
In December 2013 the Attorney General's Office set up a Twitter account to provide advice to individuals using social media. The advice is intended to help individuals avoid committing contempt of court when commenting on legal cases. The professional news media routinely receive such advice.
On 11 August 2011, following widespread rioting and looting, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Theresa May, the Home secretary, would meet with executives of the Web companies Facebook and Twitter, as well as Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, to discuss possible measures to prevent troublemakers from using social media and other digital communications tools. During a special debate on the riots, Mr. Cameron told Parliament:
Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”.
Critics say that the British government is considering policies similar to those it has criticized in totalitarian and one-party states. And in the immediate aftermath of the riots, Iran, often criticized by the West for restricting the Internet and curbing free speech, offered to "send a human rights delegation to Britain to study human rights violations in the country".
On 25 August 2011 British officials and representatives of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry met privately to discuss voluntary ways to limit or restrict the use of social media to combat crime and periods of civil unrest. The government is seeking ways to crack down on networks being used for criminal behavior, but is not seeking any additional powers and has no intention of restricting Internet services. It was not clear what new measures, if any, would be taken as a result of the meeting.
Digital Economy Act
The Digital Economy Act 2010 contains several provisions restricting the downloading of copyrighted material from the Internet. Under the Act, warning letters are to be sent to Internet users suspected of downloading copyright-infringing material (provided their ISP has more than 400,000 customers). If a customer receives three of these letters in one year they will be put on a blacklist and may be subject to a civil claim by the copyright holder under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (though it will first be necessary to establish their identity using a court order). After these provisions have been in force for a year, additional rules are expected to apply, requiring ISPs to reduce the download speed of repeat offenders and in some cases disconnect their Internet supply.
The Act originally allowed the Secretary of State to order the blocking of websites which provided material that infringed copyright, although this section was dropped following the successful use of court orders to block websites. Progress on the implementation of the Digital Economy Act has been slow and its provisions are not expected to apply until 2014.
In June 2011 the Motion Picture Association applied for an injunction to force BT, the largest Internet service provider in the United Kingdom to use Cleanfeed to block access to NewzBin2, a site which provided a search service for UseNet content, indexing downloads of copyrighted content including movies and other pirated material. On 28 July 2011, the UK High Court ruled that BT had to block access to Newzbin, using Cleanfeed. BT announced that it would not appeal against the ruling. On 26 October 2011 at the High Court, Mr. Justice Arnold ordered BT to block its estimated six million customers' access to the website within fourteen days, the first ruling of its kind under UK copyright law. Sky later blocked access to Newzbin, stating: "We have received a court order requiring us to block access to this illegal website, which we did on 13th December, 2011." On 13 August 2012, Virgin Media blocked access to the site.
After the block was put in place, attempts to access the site from a BT IP address were met with the message "Error - site blocked". Newzbin released client software which aimed to circumvent the BT blocking, allowing their customers to access the site as before. Newzbin claimed that the block was ineffective, and that 93.5% of its active UK users had downloaded its workaround software. A study suggested that the workaround involved encryption to hide communication between users and Newzbin2, including the use of the Tor network. Despite this, Newzbin announced the closure of its indexing service on 28 November 2012.
These High Court rulings at the request of Hollywood studios set a precedent for the widespread blocking of illegal filesharing websites in the UK  which the Open Rights Group described as "dangerous". As a result of the rulings and with encouragement from government, leading UK ISPs privately agreed in principal to quickly restrict access to websites when presented with court orders. It has subsequently become an established procedure for rights-holders to routinely use court orders to require ISPs to block copyright-infringing sites.
In May 2012 the High Court ordered the blocking of The Pirate Bay by UK ISPs to prevent further copyright infringing movie and music downloads from the website. The blocks were said to be quickly bypassed and a spokesman for The Pirate Party said public interest in the service following the ban had boosted traffic to the party's website. In December 2012, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) threatened legal action against The Pirate Party after the party refused demands sent at the end of November to remove their proxy to The Pirate Bay.
In September 2013 an Ofcom survey revealed that 2% of Internet users are responsible for 74% of all copyright-infringing downloads in the UK, and that 29% of all downloads are of content which violates copyright.
The full content of the blocking orders appears to be secret.
- Further information: A more complete list of blocked sites can be found at List of websites blocked in the United Kingdom.
Following the successful use of filtering technology to block child pornography, successive governments have looked at a number of ways to further restrict Internet access. The reasons for this include increasing child safety and protecting social order.
Proposals for rating and labeling Internet content
The Byron Review, published in March 2008, investigated possible threats to children's safety from the Internet and video games. On 14 May 2008, in his oral evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into harmful content from these sources, Minister Vernon Coaker explained that the Prime Minister’s Taskforce would be concerned not just with illegal content on the Internet, but also with "harmful and inappropriate content as well ... which may not be illegal but which cause all of us concern".
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report was published on 31 July 2008 and contained various recommendations among which were:
- That any approach to the protection of children from online dangers should be based on the probability of risk. We believe that incontrovertible evidence of harm is not necessarily required in order to justify a restriction of access to certain types of content in any medium.
- That the structure and funding of the Home Office Task Force on Child Internet Safety should be formalised.
- That terms and conditions which guide consumers on the types of content which are acceptable on a site should be prominent. It should be made more difficult for users to avoid seeing and reading the conditions of use: as a consequence, it would become more difficult for users to claim ignorance of terms and conditions if they upload inappropriate content.
- That the UK Council for Child Internet Safety should work with Internet-based industries to develop a consistent and transparent policy on take-down procedures with clear maximum times within which inappropriate material will be removed. This should be subject to independent verification and publication.
In June 2008 it was reported that Culture Secretary Andy Burnham had suggested the government should have a role in ensuring that content on the Internet met the same standards as that on television as "the boundaries between the two media blur". Burnham also raised the idea of warnings being applied to certain content on websites such as YouTube to help people "better navigate the internet". He referred to the Byron Review's March 2008 report, "Safer Children in a Digital World", saying that he thought people felt a "sense of risk and uncertainty about this world they are roaming". Burnham told journalists that he had an "open mind" about whether there was a need for a new Communications Act before the next General Election, indicating that his own preference was for smaller pieces of legislation as needed.
On 26 September 2008, Burnham delivered a keynote speech at the Royal Television Society conference in London, in which he said that the government planned to crack down on the Internet to "even up" the regulatory imbalance with television, saying that "a fear of the internet" had caused a loss of confidence that had robbed the TV industry of "innovation, risk-taking and talent sourcing" in programming. He enlarged on his remarks in an interview published the following day in the Daily Telegraph, in which he said: "If you look back at the people who created the Internet they talked very deliberately about it being a space that governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now ... There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical." The article also suggested that Burnham was planning to negotiate with the Barack Obama administration "to draw up new international rules for English language websites" and that another idea being considered was "giving film-style ratings to individual websites".
Burnham's words were criticized by technology journalist Bill Thompson, who pointed out that it was hard to reconcile his comments with the views of media regulator Ofcom that TV-style regulation of the Internet is both undesirable and unworkable, as the Internet is a network rather than a medium.
On 29 September 2008 the launch of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety was announced. Its initial brief included organising methods for the removal of inappropriate content on user-generated websites and developing measures to take down Internet sites promoting harmful behaviour.
- Internet censorship
- Censorship in the United Kingdom
- File sharing in the United Kingdom
- List of websites blocked in the United Kingdom
- Mass surveillance in the United Kingdom
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