Senators Le Marquand and Farnham have recently begun promoting the idea that the Internet is a dangerous place for children, and that the States should step in and do something about it. Senator Farnham was quoted in the JEP 27th August saying a default block on online porn “…is something his department would now consider”.
I am sure their intentions are good but it is one of the all-time easiest positions a politician can take. No one is going to argue against protecting children. I think the real question is “Do I need the government to hold my hand and do this for me, or can I do it better by myself?” I think you already know the answer to that one.
Fortunately this is easy to do right now, and for free. I’ll explain how anyone wanting a filtered, porn-free (or gambling-free, or whatever) Internet connection can have this sorted in a few minutes. The more important issue is whether we in Jersey will be sleepwalking into censorship. Opt-in versus opt-out is a key component of any of these protection schemes, with the government wanting control as the default option. For why this distinction is so important look at another recent issue in the news, organ donation. Jersey residents must opt-in to the NHS Organ Donor Register. The UK lags far behind other nations which take the more sensible ‘opt-out’ default. Opt-out France is at a staggering 99.91% consent rate while the UK lags far behind at less than 18%.
If you leave this for the politicians to sort out we will see the same disproportionate numbers, it is human nature. Worse, at least one UK ISP has this in place and is using a Chinese company to run the censorship scheme. I’m sure the Chinese are well experienced in censorship schemes but I’m not so sure it is something we need to imitate here in Jersey.
Right, so how do you do this yourself? I’ll give you the easiest way I know, using a service I have used for the last five years. OpenDNS is a company that offers a variety of technical services to companies and individuals. One of them, called Home Parental Controls, is free and only takes a couple minutes to set up. Basically you are just tell OpenDNS what filtering you want and then change a setting on your broadband router. From that point your router looks up websites via Open DNS instead of your ISP (JT Global, Sure, Newtel).
DNS is like a telephone directory, connecting names (the human-readable tombrossman.com) to numbers (the machine-readable 22.214.171.124). Read more about IP addresses if you like but it is beyond the scope of this post. This is how the Internet works, when you type a name of a website your computer needs to know the exact IP address. A DNS server gives you this info and your browser retrieves the page.
The biggest advantage to doing it this way is that all devices connecting to the Internet through your router will have Internet filtering enabled. There is no software to install. The filtering happens upstream, not on the device. End-users can’t bypass the filtering, it can only be disabled via the router’s configuration page.
By changing DNS providers you can choose one that will filter websites for you. I recommend OpenDNS because they have good documentation and have been consistent and reliable since I started using them. You can watch a video on how to set up an account, look up instructions specific to your model router, or read through their extensive documentation. You can skip the pre-selected “OpenDNS Home VIP” plan and choose the free FamilyShield option. If you want more features you can always upgrade, but for most parents the free plan will be perfect.
Take a few minutes to create an account and configure your router. Then, when you see how easy and effective it is at filtering objectionable content you might contact your Deputy or one of the above-mentioned Senators and express your opinion on their plan to censor the entire Island’s Internet by default.