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Content filters brought in by major UK Internet Service Providers are blocking access to sex education websites whilst at the same time failing to block actual pornography.

A promotional image from TalkTalk for their internet filtering – which blocked only 7% of tested porn sites.

The four major ISPs (BT, Virgin, TalkTalk and Sky) have now launched their internet content filters. The filters, which were requested by the UK government, are designed to block access to objectionable content such as pornography, violence and gambling to children. These filters are now active as default for all new customers, but can be turned off by request.

However BBC Newsnight has discovered that the filters are blocking access to important sex education sites as well as sites on porn addiction and rape counselling, as well as failing to block large numbers of porn sites.

Each ISP has chosen and implemented their own filtering system and uses different lists with varying results.

  • TalkTalk’s filter, which has been running since May 2011 and is endorsed by David Cameron PM, blocked only 7% of the 68 porn websites that BBC Newsnight threw at it – whilst managing to block bishUK.com a well known and respected UK based sex education site, as well as the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre.
  • Sky’s filter blocked 99% of the porn sites Newsnight tried to access, but it did block access to six porn-addiction advice sites.
  • BT’s filter was similarly effective but denied users access to Sexual Health Scotland, Doncaster Abuse Helpline and Reducing The Risk amongst others.

bishUK’s Justin Hancock said that he wasn’t aware that some of the filters were blocking access to his site.  “It’s really frustrating because I’m trying to provide a sex education site for young people and it’s hard enough directing young people to good quality information on the internet. They might fix my site in the short-term but what about all the other sites that are out there for young people, not just sex education sites… who are TalkTalk to say what is allowed and isn’t?”

Many sexual health, abuse and addiction charities and services expressed concerns, when the UK internet filter scheme was announced, that their invaluable online resources could be blocked. It looks as if their concerns are turning into reality.

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