Porn filter plans 'impossible' say ISPs

Calls for UK ISPs to implement a blanket ban on Internet pornography, to be lifted only after the smut-seeking bill payer makes a potentially mortifying call to customer services, have come under fire - predictably enough.

The plans, which were revealed by communications minister Ed Vaizey, aren't due to be fleshed out until next week, when government officials are to meet with representatives from BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, and other service providers to hash out the details.

Predictably, however, things aren't going smoothly: ISPs are queuing up to decry the plan as technically infeasible, even before civil rights organisations investigate the potential moral pitfalls of having the government decide which sites are pornographic and which are artistic or educational.

Trefor Davies, chief technology officer of Timico, told the BBC in an interview that, "it's technically not possible to completely block this stuff," explaining that the massive quantity of pornographic material available on the Internet makes any attempts at blocking more than a tiny proportion akin to spitting in the ocean.

"You end up with a system that's either hugely expensive and a losing battle because there are millions of these sites or it's just not effective."

Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the ISPA, agreed, explaining that a blocklist such as that proposed by the government "is only effective in preventing inadvertent access" to pornography, and warning that "blocking lawful pornography content is less clear cut, [and] will lead to the blocking of access to legitimate content."

Technical issues aside, there are those concerned that the government's plan represents the thin end of the wedge for UK-wide censorship of the Internet - the Western equivalent of the infamous Great Firewall of China.

Jim Killock, chair of the Open Rights Group, warns that the government's move represents "generalised censorship through the back door - if the government controlled a web blacklist, you can bet that WikiLeaks would be on it."

With meetings scheduled to take place next week between ISPs and government officials, it remains to be seen if the plans go ahead - and, if they do, what impact that has on the provision of Internet services in the UK.