Why ISP-level Anti-Porn Filters will not Slow Down the Web

February 24, 2011

Quite often the same arguments are used by opponents of the introduction of voluntary IP-level filters that would prevent most pornography from coming into the home. These can be divided into technological and ideological arguments. This is the first in a series of articles which will address the concerns, starting with some of the technological points often raised. They are written in consultation with Leigh Porter, a Systems Architect who has worked at UK Broadband for several years who has kindly provided clarification and correction where it was needed.

Network Level Filters will Slow Down the Internet: It is argued by some that ISP-level anti-porn filters would slow down the speed of the web. This may have been true a few years ago, but is not true today as (1) infrastructure and analysis algorithms have improved and (2) only a limited amount of data needs to be filtered.

ISPs routinely use Deep Packet Inspection of all web traffic and data transfer, passing the data through DPI filters. DPI is used, in the US, to comply with Calea requirements. It is also used globally, among other things, to help with network security, enforce service level agreements and preferentially allow normal web traffic through while restricting the bandwidth used by Peer to Peer (P2P) services such as BitTorrent.

Modern DPI filters handle up to 30Gb per second (Gbps)of traffic. A few years ago DPI filters could only cope with up to 10Gbps speeds and DPI filtering could have some impact on network speeds. However, with the introduction of faster filters and better filtering algorithms this is no longer the case. As stated by TechRepublic:

“What makes DPI all the more impressive is that the packet analysis happens in real time, with data stream throughput approaching 20-30 Gb. … With no loss of throughput, ISPs … insert these devices directly in their data streams, forcing all traffic to pass through the devices. Procera, Narus, and Ellacoya are front-runners in development of this technology, having placed equipment throughout the world”

Google already provides SeafeSearch options for Google Search, providing filtering services for all traffic that proceeds through its servers while performing search. Other search engines also provide similar services and there are no reports of such activities slowing down user experience.

In addition, not web traffic will need to be filtered. Pornographic websites must be hosted on a server. All servers have IP addresses, and the filtering would only need to be applied to traffic directed to those servers. Thus, while servers can hold hundreds of websites each, only a relatively small number of servers would need to be monitored.

Added to this is the fact that filtering will only be required for clients who have chosen to have the ISP-level filter turned on. One last point is that the PC level filter, by the very way it works, directing traffic to a proxy that checks a list and then releases the request, is likely to be slower than the ISP-level filter.

Conclusion: It can be confidently stated that ISP-Level filters will not slow down web traffic.

© Peter Watts 2011

Disturb us Lord – Prayer by Sir Francis Drake

February 9, 2011

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Most People in Favour of ISP Anti-Pornography Filters says Poll

February 8, 2011

A recent poll showed that 69% of respondents who expressed an opinion would choose to use a voluntary filter to block pornographic content were such a filter available from their internet service provider.

Carried out by YouGov Plc and funded by TalkTalk on behalf of Safermedia, Claire Perry MP and others, the poll clearly shows that there is a demand for such filters to be made available. The figures are weighted and are representative of all GB adults aged 18.

83% of the people said they thought that seeing pornographic content on the internet was either very, or fairly, damaging to children. 73% thought that the easy availability of extreme pornography on the internet is damaging to society. This indicates that concern about the issue spreads far beyond the concern for children alone.

Probably not surprisingly, women are more likely to use an ISP-level filter than men (77% versus 37%). However, the number of men in favour increases dramatically with age, being lowest in the 18-24 year old group.

This means that nearly 80% of all households in the UK contain at least one member who would be in favour of using ISP-level filters.

Overall, the survey showed that there is concern about the accessibility of pornography on the internet and the impact it has on society. The uptake of ISP-level filters, were they available, would also be quite high.

The benefits to households of these filters are numerous. They would protect the entire household in one go, avoiding the need to manage each individual computer. They would also provide protection for other web-enabled devices (such as TVs and games consoles) which can not currently be monitored by other filters currently available. These filters would also reduce the number of malware attacks from pornographic websites, and increase online security.

The question, then, is whether the ISP industry will respond favourably to these findings or continue to bury it’s collective head in the sand. At least one ISP, TalkTalk, seems to be taking this seriously. They would currently appear to be the most Family Friendly and Family Safe major ISP on the market today.

Follow the developments on FaceBook: Family Safe ISP

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,051 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd – 3rd February 2011.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Article © Peter Watts 2011

How You Can Support the ISP-Level Anti-Porn Filter Campaign

January 27, 2011

On the 7 February 2011, Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister for Culture will be meeting the major British Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to discuss the potential of voluntary, ‘opt-in’ filters that would remove pornography from users’ content at the ISP level. There has been growing demand for this service which would provide parents with a powerful, probably most effective, means of monitoring and controlling what comes into the home. It is proposed that the ISP level filters would:

  • Be Voluntary so that people can turn it on or off at will.
  • Be Comprehensive while it is recognized that no system will ever be 100% effective.
  • Be Dynamic learning and catching more adult content to over time.
  • Be Flexible allowing account holders to turn off and on, even set ‘watershed times’ if required and potentially have specific URL and domain management.
  • Protect Better than current PC filters, which are easily worked around, both from exposure to pornography and the malware that often comes from these sites.
  • Cover New Devices such as web-enabled TVs, blu-ray players, games consoles etc which can not currently be protected in another way.

Support for this Urgently Needed NOW – If you would like to see these voluntary filters become a reality, then you can help by doing the following things:

  1. Send an Email to Ed Vaizey either copy the Ed Vaizey ISP Filter Email text below and emailing it vaizeye@parliament.uk or click on this Send Email to Ed Vaizey link which will open the email in Outlook with all the info put in there, you just need to add your name etc to the bottom)
  2. Send an Email to Your MP by simply copying the MP ISP Filter Email text below and emailing to your MP, which you can find on http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/
  3. Contact your Councilor using a variation of the MP ISP Filer Email, pointing out the benefit to protecting schools, libraries, youth centre etc.
  4. Support Family Safe ISP on FaceBook by visiting the Family Safe ISP FaceBook page, ‘Like’ it and then share with friends.
  5. Contact Your ISP and ask them to introduce ISP-level filtering. Suggest you may move to another provider that does so.
  6. Donate to Safermedia, who are spearheading a campaign for this (you can contact them on office@safermedia.org) or through the Safermedia Facebook page.
  7. Spread the Message, link to this blog, tweet this blog, tell you friends, write to your local paper, inform your church/mosque etc, spread the word.

Ed Vaizey ISP Filter Email Copy and amend as required:

Dear Mr Vaizey,

Thank you for your efforts in arranging a meeting with internet service providers to discuss how the industry can better support parents and help them ensure that their children cannot access pornography.

Research clearly indicates that viewing pornography leads to an acceptance of violent and unhealthy notions of sex and relationships, where the objectification of women and aggressive sexual behaviour are the norm.

That is why I strongly support your initiative, suggested by Claire Perry MP, to switch the default setting for internet pornography into our homes  to ‘off’, and implement an ‘opt-in’ system.  I urge you to promote it as robustly as possible at your forthcoming roundtable with the ISPs in February.

Yours sincerely,



Organisation (if appropriate):


MP ISP Filter Email Copy and amend as required:


As you may be aware, on the 7 February 2011, Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture is meeting with internet service providers to discuss how the industry can better support parents and help them ensure that their children cannot access pornography.

Research clearly indicates that viewing pornography leads to an acceptance of violent and unhealthy notions of sex and relationships, where the objectification of women and aggressive sexual behaviour are the norm.

I urge you to lend your support to this initiative, suggested by Claire Perry MP, to switch the default setting for internet pornography into our homes  to ‘off’, and implement an ‘opt-in’ system.  I urge you to promote it as robustly as possible within parliament and support any legislation as may be required to provide us with this most useful tool to protect our homes and children should the ISPs be unwilling to implement such filters otherwise.

Yours sincerely,



Organisation (if appropriate):


Support for those Struggling – Anyone who struggles with pornography may be able to find help through the following sources:

  1. Send an email to Ed Vaizey by simply copying the Ed Vaizey ISP Filter Email text below and emailing it to vaizeye@parliament.uk

ISP Level anti-porn Filters – The Arguments

January 21, 2011

In the past few months the debate around filtering of porn and adult material on the internet has once again raised it’s head in the UK. Quite often the same, standard arguments are put forward by those that oppose the idea. These arguments are increasingly being found wanting, and there is a growing demand for a Family Safe ISP service, asking that all internent service providers give the voluntary ability for account holders to choose to have pornography filtered before it even gets into the home.

In December 2010, Claire Perry MP led a debate in parliament on the issue (which can be viewed here). This was picked up by the press, with the Sunday Times carrying a front page article in the paper and a large article in their Sunday Times Magazine. Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, is expected be holding a round-table meeting with the major UK internet service providers early in 2011.

So, why are people asking for this? The internet has changed dramatically since it was first founded. Not only that, there are now a plethora of web-enabled devices floating around the home. Gone are the days when a single, expensive PC took central place in the home connected to slow dialup.

Today, scattered around the home, are various computers and laptops as well as web-enabled phones, games consoles, blu-ray players etc. In addition there is a growing body of evidence, that children are becoming exposed to porn at an increasingly younger age (often as young as 11) and that this exposure can have a detrimental effect on their health, as described  in the UK Governments’ Sexualisation of Young People report in 2010.

It has also been noted that many porn sites are run by criminal organisations and that porn sites are often linked to cyber attacks. An ISP level filter could therefore also help increase computer security and reduce malicious computer attacks.

So with this in mind, more people are asking for the ability to block porn before it even gets into the home. And here are the arguments around the issue:


  • Against: An ISP level filter amounts to censorship of web content, a denial of freedom of expression and is the first part of the UK governments attempt to gain control of the web. Any censorship of the web of any kind should always be resisted.
  • For: The ISP level filter would be voluntary. Each customer would be able to choose to have it switched on or off at will. Therefore this is not censorship, but self regulated control. It is not restricting access to porn of freedom of expression to those who still want it. As a voluntary option, it is not controlled by the government.

On a separate note on censorship, the ISPs are required, by law, to filter out child pornography where possible. This is blanket censorship of such material, but few people are likely to object.


  • Against: The technology does not exist and it is not possible to do.
  • For: Many mobile phone companies already have such filters on web enabled phones (see article). If it is possible for mobile phones then surely it should be possible for ISPs. In addition, other industries have managed this to some degree. Examples include Google with their SafeSearch options, filtering every single search. Various companies offer PC based filters. Surely these technologies can be adapted to use at the ISP level. TalkTalk are interested in the idea, so they obviously think it is possible.

It Can Not be Perfect

  • Against: An ISP level filter can never be designed to catch everything, and therefore should not be done. Hundreds of new porn sites appear daily, and no filter can keep up.
  • For: Perfection is not being demanded, but an ISP level filter can catch most of the sites. Also, a way of reporting new sites can be built in allowing the public to continue to add to the database.

It is the Parents Responsibility

  • Against: It is up to the parents to control and monitor what their children see on their computers. The ISPs are only the gate through which material flows, and should not take on the job of gate-keeper.
  • For: Having the ability to control at one point all the porn that comes into a home is the best tool a parent could have to execute that responsibility. There are now too many devices in the home to manage individually, and the optional ISP level filter would be a powerful tool to help do the job.

PC Filters are Already Available

  • Against: There are already tools available that do this so there is no need for ISP level filters.
  • For: PC level filters are often easily worked around. The time taken to manage each computer in the home is becoming increasingly burdensome. The filters can not keep up with new web-enabled devices. The ISP level filter would be a better and more useful tool.

ISPs also quote issues of cost. However, they could adopt a business model similar to the Cable / Satellite TV companies, who charge clients for access to adult content.

Another point worth bearing in mind, the cost of applying the filters now would have to be much less than that of fighting off court cases later where adults then try to sue the ISPs for exposure to porn as a child, which the ISP could have prevented but chose not to, that the adult claim has had an adverse impact on their health and life. This may seem far fetched, but, as with cigarettes, a class action in the future is, I suspect, more than just a mere possibility.

The last argument recently voiced is that men would be against this as the ISP level filter would block their own access to porn in the home. I doubt, however, that most men oppose it when their wives and partners say ‘Honey, I want us to activate this ISP anti-porn filter to protect our children.’

Obviously, the application of ISP level filters has application outside the home, and could also be a useful tool in public spaces, like libraries and schools, that also have to fight porn off the computers.

For more links to various articles, see the Family Safe ISP page on FaceBook.

(Article by Peter Watts)

ISP Level Filters – Give Parents the Tools

January 19, 2011

In England there is a growing demand for filters to be provided by internet service providers (ISPs) to allow customers to block porn and adult websites before they even get into the home (the Family Safe ISP). While one ISP (TalkTalk) has responded with some favour to the idea, the other major ISPs currently seemed to be opposed on the grounds that it is up to the parents to control and monitor what their children are seeing.

We agree. It is. However, given that:

  1. Monitoring and filtering each web-enabled device individually in the home is very time consuming;
  2. Computer based filters are often worked around by tech savy children;
  3. Parents just do not have the time to and resources to keep an eye on the multiple PCs, web enabled phones, game consoles etc that exist within a household;
  4. Commercial filters are not currently available or can keep up with the multiplication of web enabled devices;

It is becoming increasingly obvious that a one-stop ISP level filter would probably be the best tool for the job.

So, the ISP’s say it is the parents responsibility to take parental control.

We Agree! So when will the ISPs give us voluntary ISP level filters so we have the best tools to fulfil our responsibility?

We are asking the ISPs to help us, yet they seem to refuse to do so. Maybe it needs legislation, maybe it needs just one to be ‘brave’ and then have a marketing edge on being the Family Friendly ISP for a short time.

Or maybe the ISPs need to consider 10 years down the line. It would not be too surprising to then see someone sue the ISPs for the damage they suffered through inadvertent exposure to porn as a child which the ISPs were able to help filter out, but choose not to do so…. Maybe some shareholders might have a view on whether spending money now on ISP filter is better than possibly spending a lot more later on court cases.

Follow the debate:Family Safe ISP Facebook Page

ISP Level Porn Filters – The Best Protection

December 20, 2010

Recent articles in both the Daily Mail and Sunday Times in the UK have taken another look at the impact of pornography on children and it’s prevalence in society today. There is now clear evidence that exposure to porn changes the way we view each other, what we expect out of relationship and how we approach sex. On the whole, much of the evidence suggests that the results are mostly detrimental.

However, to date we have been put in the position of having to fight this material out of our homes. The responsibility been on monitoring computer use in the home, applying filters etc on computers and keeping an eye on what is being looked at.

But why should this burden be pushed upon us? Is it possible to ask for control over what the internet service provider (ISP) pumps into our homes in the first place? We all know that access to porn is but a few clicks away, and filters can all be worked around.

So, what can we do? Industry and parliament will only sit up and take notice if we keep demanding it. Let us not wait until a tragic, and horrific death, caused by a child who has watched porn, shocks and shames us to take action. Let us do so now. You can:

  • Contact and register with SaferMedia and join their campaign, and follow them on their blog.
  • Write to your MP.
  • Follow Family Safe ISP on Facebook and share with your friends.
  • Tweet this blog, share it on Facebook or link to it.
  • Write a letter to your paper. Recent articles have appeared in both the Daily Mail and Sunday Times newspapers.

The usual objections raised include restriction of freedom of expression, cost and technological capability. Well, lets have a look at these:

Freedom of Expression – I suggest that ISP level filters are applied as ‘on’ as standard, and that the account holder is able to request the filter to be turned off if they wish. This then does not infringe on freedom of expression at all, and should therefore not be objected to by the industry or civil groups. Indeed, they should support it as a more effective way of protecting children. The ISP level filter could even include the ability to manage specific websites / URLs, much as PC based filters currently do, and could even have a watershed time option built in.

Technological – BT and other UK based ISP are already required to filter out child pornography websites. BT does this using it’s CleanFeed filter. Therefore, it is possible to apply ISP level filters. The technology already exists. It just needs extending and adding a little flexibility to give the account holder control over the content allowed through. PC based filters like SafeEyes already give URL specific filtering options, so to suggest this can not be done is illogical.

Cost – This, then, is the last complaint. Well, it would be easy to apply an ‘on’ as standard and then charge the customer to be able to either manage the filter or have it removed. This is what what happens to sex channels on TV, why not the internet too? It would cover the cost of the filter.

The reality is that ISP level filters are possible, already applied in the UK for some things. The costs can be recouped by charging for access to the mature content. It is the safest way of protecting children and allow control of what comes into our homes (bar not having internet at all).

Protect Yourself on Facebook

July 19, 2010
The new ClickCEOP App for Facebook helps protect children and young users from grooming or inappropriate sexual behaviour. The app was created in conjunction with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) and launched on Monday 12th July 2010. It allows young people will be able to report instances of suspected grooming or inappropriate sexual behaviour directly from their profile to specially trained investigators.

Add the app to your Facebook profile  from http://apps.facebook.com/clickceop. You can also badge your page and share with your friends.

As well as providing regular updates about safety,  CEOP’s new Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ClickCEOP) will also contain polls, news alerts and status updates. The page will look at topics that teenagers care about, such as celebrities, music and exams and will link these subjects to questions about online safety.

Blocking Porn on Mobile Phones

June 23, 2010

I have recently been discussing with a few friends the issue of access to porn and other adult content on mobile phones. It has recently been noted in the UK that children as young as 11 are routinely exposed to and accessing Adult content on their phones.

This has been a growing concern, and, thankfully, some mobile phone companies are beginning to take notice. The most responsible block all adult content by default until the user has (a) proved that they are over 18 and (b) asked for the block to be removed.

This is definitely the way things should go, as it is both the most secure way of protecting minors while making exposure an opt-in one if the user so chooses.

Who Blocks As Standard: A quick search on websites shows that the information is not always easy to find, but what seems apparent is:

  • T-Mobile – blocks all adult content as standard, user proves age and applies for block to be removed.
  • 3 – blocks all adult content as standard, user proves age and applies for block to be removed.
  • Talk-Mobile – blocks all adult content as standard, user proves age and applies for block to be removed.
  • O2 – blocks all adult content as standard, user proves age and applies for block to be removed.
  • Vodaphone – blocks as standard where the age of the user is unknown. No indication of whether someone buying with a credit card is offered this block on their phone as standard.
  • Orange – No Information
  • Virgin – No Information

Fuller information is given below:

Vodaphone: Provides Content Control which is applied automatically to all phones where the age of the user can not be determined. The block can be removed if the user can confirm they are over 18. It is not clear if the block is automatically applied if you buy a new service or phone with a credit card.

  • blocks 18-rated content and services which includes premium rate picture messaging, premium rate picture messaging, chat and dating services, erotica, gambling and betting and violent games.

T Mobile: Provides Content Lock automatically to all pay as you go and pay monthly mobiles. It blocks all adult content until you  prove that you’re over 18 by a credit card or by a name and address check through a credit reference agency. You can then request the removal of the block.

  • Blocks unmoderated social networking sites and chatrooms, sites with persistent bad language, visual material of a sexual nature, horror and extreme violence.

Talk Mobile: Adult Content Restriction as standard on all their Pay As You Go, Prepay, World, Pay Monthly, SIMple and Control plans. The block is removed by paying a fee via a credit card to verify age. The restriction is then removed. There is no indication as to whether the restriction can be applied again. The site does not give any information about type of content blocked or what blocker is used.

Three (3): Applies Adult Filter as standard to all mobile phones. The user must prove they are over 18 and then are given a security pin to allow access to the content.

  • Blocks nudity, unacceptable violence, racism, and websites that could expose you (or their network) to hacking, phishing and other harmful content.

O2: Applies Parental Control as standard, limiting web content to that deemed suitable to a 12 year old. It seems a fee is applied every time the Parental Controls are activated or deactivated.

Virgin Mobile: At date of writing I could find no information on the Virgin Mobile site about blocking Adult content etc on phones.

Orange: At date of writing I could find no information on the Orange site about blocking Adult content etc on phones.

So that is mobile phones story. It would be very neat if ISP’s applied the same options to services they offer from their end. The technology is there.

Christmas Winter Sun 2009

December 31, 2009

After chaos in England due to snow just before Christmas, I managed to escape London to spend the time with family in Bournemouth. The south coast was blessed with sunny days, even if a bit cold. This gave opportunity for a few walks along the coast and to a couple of famous hill forts. Naturally, my camera tagged along yielding some great scenes in the low, winter sun.

Christmas Eve: Time with family, for this is our Christmas. Brothers, nieces and nephews running around my Mother’s place followed by great food.

Christmas Day: a brief visit to Badbury Rings before heading out to lunch. Getting the exercise in before devouring food knowing that neither the light or my body would support such activity afterwards. Badbury Rings is one of the more famous hill forts in Dorset, shown clearly in the picture below.

360 panorama of Badbury Rings in Dorset

360 Panorama of Badbury Rings in Dorset, © Peter Watts

Boxing Day: Walk with brothers from Sandbanks Ferry to Studland for a meal at the Banks Arms pub. No camera that day, very overcast, windy with a bit of rain. Stunned at how much the beaches have been eroded, with high tide marks all the way up to the sand dunes. Not like I remember as a child at all.

27th December: Visit to Maiden Castle near Dorchester followed by visiting various parts of extended family. Maiden Castle is one of the largest and most extensive Iron Age hill forts in Europe. Surrounded by rings of steep embankments, ramparts and ditches the fort has a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. Hard to take a panorama that gives a good impression, but I had a go – there are more on Panoramic Earth:

Maiden Castle - 360 Panorama

360 Panorama of Maiden Castle - © Peter Watts

28th December: The last day before returning to London. A slightly misplaced attempt to get to Dancing Ledge placed us at Worth Matravers, a small village on the south coast. From there it was a short, but very muddy walk (more like squelch for much of it) down to Winspit:

360 panorama of the view over Winspit in Dorset

360 panorama of the view over Winspit © Peter Watts

This is part of the famous Jurassic Coast and a World Heritage Site. Winspit has a disused quarry and, while on private land, is open to the public at their own risk. Children love clambering over the rocks, around the caves and the cliffs. The more fretful amongst the HSE inspectorate would never allow it, but I am glad that in some rare places like this adventure predominates fear.

Worth Matravers also contains one tiny Saxon / Norman St Nicholas Church, in the graveyard of which is the grave of a Benjamin Jesty who, in 1774, infected his family deliberately with cowpox in a successful attempt to protect them from an outbreak of smallpox. This was about 20 years before the much better known Edward Jenner.

All in all, it was a great few days involving family, fun, walks and sun.


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