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UK internet filtering shouldn't rely on knee tappers, says Tory MP

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Claire Perry MP today defended the government’s net filtering policy, claiming that David Cameron's government don’t actually want to regulate internet service providers – but that without some sort of lead, global companies would simply sit on their hands.

The UK’s biggest net providers are rolling out an opt-in filtering mechanism for “family friendly” content at the prompting of the Prime Minster, while Microsoft and Google have stopped returning results on a number of contentious search terms.

Perry, who juggles being a Conservative MP as well as David Cameron’s special advisor on preventing the sexualization and commercialisation of childhood, said that reactions to the governments efforts to getting a grip on the internet were like a doctor tapping on a patient’s knee.

The “reflex on the left is we must legislate” she said, while tapping the right elicits a cry of “hands off my internet you ignorant luddite.”

The answer was somewhere in between, Perry argued, with a small dose of legislation and a lot of corporate social responsibility.

Perry, talking at a Westminster eForum event on childhood and the internet, said that progress in the UK was in large part thanks to a “non-partisan” approach.

“The worst thing politicians can do in this space is fight amongst ourselves...the more we fight and squabble like rats in a sack, the easier it is for global companies to ignore us.”

Perry accepted there were limits to what the government could achieve through legislation. “We can’t force people (i.e. parents) to turn filters on.”

And she said that education and personal responsibility were also important, particularly when it came to user generated content. She said the government was committed to including “e-safety” in the curriculum. However, at least one response from the floor suggested that teachers were being asked to tackle the issue with no support from the centre.

Perry claimed reports of overblocking were “fanciful” and said reports her own website had been blocked were untrue.

Perry’s stance was echoed, in part, by Facebook’s UK policy director Simon Milner.

He said many providers - such as Facebook - would fall in line with legislation, if only because they had operations in countries where legislation constrained them. However, where companies were based outside the UK and had no operation there, UK legislation would make absolutely no difference.

What might make a difference is the advertisers such companies rely on for their income, and the advertisers feel their reputation is in danger, he argued.

“They [advertisers] really care about their brand...the majority of these services will be funded by advertising. I think they will step up.”

Milner said it was often preferable for young people to sort out issues amongst themselves. This included them understanding mechanisms for protecting their privacy. He added that many young people didn’t understand the effect their own posts could have on others, but would modify their behaviour when they realised the hurt they could cause. He also said it was often better to avoid phrases like “reporting” as youngsters tended to have some antipathy towards anything that smacked of grassing up their peers. ®

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