Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales brands Cameron's plans to block porn 'ridiculous'

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, a key technology adviser to prime minister David Cameron, has rubbished the government's demand that ISPs should introduce porn filters by default.

Wales told Channel 4 News the proposals were "ridiculous" and would not help stop illegal content appearing and being accessed online.

The plans were previously leaked to the BBC, and the government was subsequently criticised by some ISPs, which suggested it was simply looking for positive headlines showing it was tackling illegal online content, when in reality it was making it harder to access legal adult content.

Sections of the media have campaigned for Internet filters to be turned on automatically for web services, to help prevent porn and "offensive" content being viewed by minors. Such filters may also make it harder to find illegal child pornography not protected behind private networks.

But others have campaigned against the move, saying it is up to individuals to view whatever legal content they want on the Internet, unhindered. They also claim that default filters would give parents a false sense of security about what their children are watching, as filters can be turned off or bypassed, and aren't 100 per cent reliable anyway.

A letter sent to the ISPs from the Department for Education last month, and leaked to the BBC, set out a list of demands from Downing Street, with the aim of "allowing the prime minister to make an announcement shortly."

Wales advises the government on open access to information online. He told Channel 4 News, "When Cameron uses the example of paedophiles who are addicted to internet porn, all that these plans would do is require them to opt in [to access legal porn]. It's an absolutely ridiculous idea that won't work."

Under government plans, by the end of 2014 every new contract with a UK ISP will ask customers to opt in to receive adult content.

Cameron said the ISPs were "rewiring their technology" to "keep children safe". The filters are only being brought in for new contracts, not existing ones, and cover services offered by BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk and others.

Wales said existing legislation covering criminal activity online was already adequate. He said what the police needs are more resources to tackle online crime.

Referring to Edward Snowden's US National Security Agency revelations, covering the mass surveillance of citizens using ISPs and online firms including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook, Wales said "billions had been wasted shopping on ordinary people's data in a fruitless search for terrorists."

Wales added, "We should be devoting a significant proportion of that to dealing with the real criminal issues online, stealing credit card numbers and hacking into sites - that is going to take an investment in real, solid police work."

Image credit: Flickr (Joi Ito)