I’m finding it increasingly more painful to watch politicians talking about areas of technology that they are poorly advised upon and have absolutely no clue. The dark internet has been one that’s popped up in recent weeks with regards to child abuse and pornography and as a justification of David Cameron placing more pressure on the ISP’s and search providers such as Google. Mainstream pornography and child abuse have been joined together rather cleverly by politicians to incite a public response, but are we really being well informed…?

Unfortunately, the dark internet, probably to people like you and me are the old protocols that are becoming increasingly more obsolete due to HTTP. As far as I know Gopher (the original internet) has been switched off but could be part of this dark internet as are many old protocols that aren’t readily supported. It’s only a matter of time before Usenet and FTP go that way – at its best it’s a few geeks talking about Dungeons and Dragons at worst its people planning child abuse and exchanging images.

There is also the ‘deep web’ which is buried, unindexed and passworded sites – still accessible but you have to get through hoops to get there. Ultimately most people don’t know what’s stored there and certainly not your average ISP or Google. They say that this is used by the underground criminals to trade such things as credit card details.w

Indeed, it could just be that the politicians have got their terminology wrong, it could even be me, I’ve used Wikipedia to look up the words the politicians are using! Maybe the dark internet to them is where all the people who exchange child porn hang out online, just kind of a dark place in “cyberspace” (cyberspace, so 90’s huh? Yep the politicians still use that).

What is ultimately happening is two very distinct issues are getting confused. Child abuse and mainstream internet porn. The government is purposely associating mainstream porn with children – their ability to access it and see things they shouldn’t. Therefore child and porn is associated in your mind and when the government says that they’ve forced the ISP’s to block porn by default – we all think they’ve solved the problem and hurray for Dave Cameron.

Unfortunately not.

Child abuse and abusive images – I tend to think they’re on Usenet groups, but ultimately don’t really know and to be honest I’m too disgusted by what the media puts in front of us to even critically analyse what may or may not be going on. I certainly don’t think these things are indexed by Google, nor do I even want to try.

Mainstream pornography – having put content filtering for a living in many companies I’ve often had to take categories out of the filtering due to so many sites receiving incorrect categorisation – ultimately it is generally an algorithm and not a person who sets up what category a site should be in and more often than not it’s wrong. These things quite often become a barrier to productivity and the appeals and changes processes are generally out with your control.

Even this week I had a request to look at a safety gear website that had been incorrectly classified as porn. It provides a source of amusement of which sites get wrongly classified – but ultimately the only real fix is to turn it off again.

So why am I bothered?

  • Firstly, I believe that the internet is like water, electricity and gas – it’s an essential utility that should be unadulterated by the time it reaches your home or business. THEN you can take steps to deal with the bits you don’t like, certainly the children in my family would be shielded from the less than nice aspects of the internet – it’s easily done and their family should be sorting that out – not the government.
  • Secondly, all this is going to do is hike up the costs of internet provision. The amount of support calls for website incorrectly classified will undoubtedly overwhelm ISP’s and force them to put their costs up. They would have to come up with some system to mitigate this.
  • Finally, it’s not going to change a thing and when children are still abused and the images are still shared online through forgotten areas such as usenet newsgroups and deep/dark web pages people are really going to feel mislead.

Unfortunately these problems can only be solved by the police and not the special task forces, every day officers in every force across the country becoming savvier when internet issues are reported to them, they need to be local to the people reporting it. If you’ve ever had an identity theft issue you’re probably left with the opinion that police are more interested in stopping speeding motorists than any crime that really affects people’s lives, same goes for burglary and car theft thinking about it!

In terms of pornography, if you’re worried about your kids seeing this – you can’t stop them getting a dirty magazine, DVD or sharing a USB stick at school, you can take some steps on your own router – but ultimately talk to them and know what they’re up to.

In terms of child abuse, we’re not going to solve it with some draconian filtering at an ISP level, nor should the implementation of this policy shouldn’t make any UK citizen feel any better. Short of monitoring everyone’s web-use big brother style, this isn’t going to be solves and as usual it’ll go further underground and back to the pre-internet days of simply sharing computer media. There’s only one clear way of reducing the risk – investing more in police and social services. Technology is not the criminal.