UK Prime Minister David Cameron's anti-porn activities have been well detailed here recently, including his insistence that search engines enable child pornography and that ISP-level porn filtering should be on by default. Despite lacking the comprehension of the technology he's regulating or the inherent limitations of his proposals, Cameron has boldly moved on into the porn-free future, all the while claiming these moves have nothing to do with government censorship.
(We can also start taking bets on whether "opting in" to porn [by contacting your ISP and asking to be placed on the perv list] will have an effect on UK divorce rates -- after all, the filtering begins at the pipe and isn't something you can have available on some devices but not others. Let the awkward conversations begin!)
There's no censorship here, Cameron claims, while touting the porn filtering wonders of Homesafe, a filtering system built by TalkTalk and... Huawei.
On Monday the Prime Minister said TalkTalk had shown "great leadership" in setting up its system, Homesafe, which it has offered to customers since 2011.
TalkTalk told the BBC it was comfortable with its relationship with Huawei, and that the service was very popular.
Homesafe is a voluntary scheme which allows subscribers to select categories - including social media, gambling and pornography - that they want blocked.
Customers who do not want filtering still have their traffic routed through the system, but matches to Huawei's database are dismissed rather than acted upon.
That's right. Huawei, a Chinese firm, is performing the actual filtering for UK web traffic. No one knows filtering better than the originators of the Internet Great Firewall, and even though Huawei is not a state-run company, due to its nationality, there will always be questions as to its overall allegiance. Huawei, to its credit, has been very open about its operations and has invited critics, including the US government itself
, to investigate it if it thinks Huawei's such a threat to national security.
The UK government has had its own issues with Huawei.
But Huawei's position was recently the subject of an Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report. It criticised the lack of ministerial oversight over the firm's rapid expansion in the UK.
The committee said "the alleged links between Huawei and the Chinese State are concerning, as they generate suspicion as to whether Huawei's intentions are strictly commercial or are more political" - but added that it had not found any evidence of wrongdoing.
So, it's more or less above board, apparently. Should UK citizens be concerned their web traffic is being filtered by a company from a filter-heavy nation? Or should they be more concerned that control over content is being handed to a third-party private corporation rather than an independent organization that would be ultimately accountable to Parliament? Either way, it doesn't seem like this revelation will endear the new filtering system to the British public.
TalkTalk certainly recognizes the potential downside of this relationship as is evidenced by some earlier tap dancing it did around the subject.
Initially, TalkTalk told the BBC that it was US security firm Symantec that was responsible for maintaining its blacklist, and that Huawei only provided the hardware, as previously reported.
However, Symantec said that while it had been in a joint venture with Huawei to run Homesafe in its early stages, it had not been involved for over a year.
TalkTalk later confirmed it is Huawei that monitors activity, checking requests against its blacklist of over 65 million web addresses, and denying access if there is a match.
Interesting. While it's unfair to declare Huawei synonymous with the Chinese government, it's not unfair to question why the politicians pushing for this filtering system weren't more concerned about who would be handling the dirty job and perhaps steered the monitoring away from a contractor that would give the system the appearance of being more censorious than it is already.
But not to worry, Cameron's keeping an eye on the whole thing:
Mr Cameron said that the actions of ISPs would be monitored to ensure filtering is done correctly.
The ISPs are being forced
to implement this filtering. They're not
in charge of "doing" the filtering. The actual
filtering is being done by third parties, one of which is a Chinese company. It looks as if Cameron's more concerned ISPs might treat some customers like adults and flip the switch without making them fill out the appropriate "I HEART PORN" paperwork (which may include divorce papers), or just wants to be in a position to pounce if someone's underage eyes catch a glimpse of x-rated skin.
Giving the appearance that the UK government is hiring censors to help with its censorship apparently isn't as much of a concern.