Less than a day after TalkTalk, one of the UK’s leading Internet providers, apologized for its safe-search filters mistakenly blocking LGBT charity London Friend for being “pornographic,” it was discovered that the LGBT section of the Liberal Democrats’ official site is blocked under the filter as well.
The filters are part of the provider’s parental controls, which can be turned on or off as each account owner chooses.
The chair of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats told Pink News, “Reports are rife that these filters don’t block lots of porn, but do block legitimate support and health sites. As it turns out, it is also blocking our own political website, which has absolutely no content of this nature…LGBT resources are targeted disproportionately, then ISPs are probably exposing themselves to legal challenge under the Equality Act too as well as possible criminal liability for blocking a political web site during an election period.
“It is completely unacceptable and it is why at Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow, LGBT+ along with other interested parties referenced back any motion with regards filters because we knew the LGBT+ community would be disproportionately affected by these actions.”
The Vice Chairman for the Conservative Party for Parliamentary Campaigning, Michael Fabricant, jokingly said to Pink News, “I can think of many reasons why I would like to block the Liberal Democrats, but I never guessed that hosting porn on their website might be one of them!”
A spokesperson for TalkTalk said that the company is looking into why the LGBT section of the site was blocked; neither the Labour LGBT or the LGBTory sites are blocked under the same filter settings.
By order of Prime Minister David Cameron, all internet providers and search engines will in the future be required to have features that allow “adult content” to be blocked. The four major ISPs in the UK—TalkTalk, Virgin, BT, and Sky—responded by implementing content filters voluntarily.
Unlike the filters in some countries, users will be able to turn off their content blockers at will; however, under Cameron’s proposal, certain filters will be on by default.
Multiple LGBT groups have asked the government not to implement the legislation because of concerns regarding unintended consequences. A trustee of the domestic violence charity Broken Rainbow, Milena Popova, pointed out that “the proposed web filters are highly unlikely to fulfil their stated purpose. Children and young people will continue to have access to pornography while parents are lulled into a false sense of security.
“At the same time, young people will find it more difficult to access information they desperately need, for instance on sexual health or LGBT issues. There are better, more effective ways to protect young people, including statutory, comprehensive sex and relationships education.”
Additionally, even if instructions are provided, not every parent will be tech-savvy enough to figure out how to adjust or turn off the filters, and some simply won’t want to bother going to the trouble.
Internet user and college student AlienInfinity told 429Magazine, “I have the feeling some particularly Moral Guardian-style parents would be happy the search engine would block LGBT-anything. Plus, I imagine searches like that would make it near-impossible for kids to get the decent sex-ed info that exists on the web…I think filters like that would end up blocking useful things kids might not be able to learn about otherwise.”
An investigation by BBC Newsnight discovered that “as well as blocking access to several non-pornographic websites, on multiple occasions the filters have allowed access to pornographic websites—thus failing in their primary aim.”