David Cameron could turn to Chinese internet filter HomeSafe in porn battle

Prime Minister David Cameron's call for Internet Service Providers to do more block pornographic images and offensive material may result in a filtering system developed by the Chinese company that has been closely linked to the Chinese Government, after he praised the system.

The PM’s demand that ISPs move to a “Active On’ default opt in filtering system means pornographic and other sites deemed offensive will be blocked, unless the user phones their ISP and ‘opts out’ of the filtering system. A Chinese company named Huawei, effectively owned and controlled by the Chinese government, has developed a series of filters that block certain content from ever reaching users and this technology is already place at the ISP TalkTalk under the name Homesafe.

HomeSafe is essentially a large database of sites that are banned or considering not being part of the Active On system. The filter allows URLs for a limited number of user-selected categories to be blocked for the home connection. This allows a user to block sites categorised as "Pornography" but to allow sites categorised as "Social Networking. The list of blocked sites is maintained by both ISPs and Huawei employees.

In an earlier incarnation of the system operated by TalkTalk both employees of Huawei and the ISP were able to add and remove sites from blacklist database independently. The system works by trafficking material through this large database. If a customer does not want the filtering system in place, then matches to Huawei's database are ignored.

Regardless of whether TalkTalk customers sign-up to the system, any URLs requested using TalkTalk's network are retrieved using DPI and added to a list for later testing. This means that the system isn't truly 'opt out' as it is claimed.

However, one expert insisted that private companies should not hold power over blacklists, and that the responsibility should lie with an independent group. Dr Martyn Thomas, chair of the IT policy panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology stated; "It needs to be run by an organisation accountable to a minister so it can be challenged in Parliament.”

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group added: “Pervasive network filtering would be an extremely bad idea. Based on inspection of users’ traffic, and being highly scalable, it would offer governments new means to snoop on users, and gradate censorship regimes. Censorship could be voluntary (opt out) or compulsory. Politicians could press to move new categories of “undesirable” sites into these bands. Opting out of censorship could be discouraged by the stigma of your ISP knowing what you wished to access, be that pornography, terrorism or hate speech.”

Last year Huawei came under intense scrutiny from both the American and British governments as questions were raised about the company’s rapid expansion in the west. Concerns in the US led to a Congressional inquiry into whether after Huawei-made telecommunications equipment was designed to allow unauthorized access by the Chinese government and the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party raised concerns about security over Huawei’s 2005 bid for Marconi 2005 and in 2009 a government briefing by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee Alex Allan considered Huawei’s equipment as an alleged potential threat.

Mark Leiser

I am a PhD Candidate in Cyber Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I share lecturing responsibilities for Internet Law (LLB) and the Law of Business Associations (Honours). I tutor Voluntary Obligations, Property/Trust/Successions, Legal Methods, Business Law, Internet Law, Commercial Law and BA Legal Methods. I also tutor Commercial Law 2 and Business Law 2 at Glasgow Caledonian University.

My PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics and focuses on the effectiveness of cyber-regulation. My research and interests revolve around main areas of Internet law and policy including internet governance & regulation, democracy, social media, privacy, and intellectual property. My PhD research focuses on developing a system of modelling to measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of Internet Regulation.

All by Mark