Leaked Government letter to ISPs calls for urgent action over child internet safety


The Government wants four of the UK's largest internet service providers to make urgent changes to their internet safety strategies, according a letter leaked to the BBC.

The document was sent by a Department for Education representative, and sets out four areas it claims the Prime Minister David Cameron would like Talk Talk, Sky, Virgin Media and BT to address as a matter of urgency.

For example, the letter asks the group to help fund an internet safety awareness campaign, the details of which still need to be hammered out, the letter acknowledges.

It will be challenging for you to commit to an unknown campaign, but please can you indicate what sum you will pledge.

"The Prime Minister would like to be able to announce a collective financial commitment from industry to fund this campaign," the letter states.

"I know it will be challenging for you to commit to an unknown campaign, but please can you indicate what sum you will pledge to this work that the PM can announce."

Elsewhere, the letter also requests the ISPs follow Talk Talk's lead by "trialling a browser intercept" that prompts customers to make a decision about the parental controls they employ.

"The Prime Minister wants to announce that by the end of the year, every household with a broadband internet connection will have had to make a decision to opt-out' of installing filters," the letter reads.

"Will the other three ISPs consider making a commitment to adopting this approach, even before it has been trialled?"

Further to this, it also calls on the ISPs to clarify the steps they take to verify the ages and identities of people that try to make changes to their household's internet filters, and adapt the language they use when discussing internet safety.

All of the major ISPs gave their backing to an initiative last year called active choice, which lets users choose between enforcing online parental controls.

However, the letter asks the ISPs to consider replacing the words "active choice" with the phrase "default-on", for simplicity purposes.

"Without changing what you will be offering, the Prime Minister would like to be able to refer to your solutions as default-on' as people will have to make a choice not to have the filters [in place]," the letter explains.

"Would you be able to commit to including default-on' or similar language both in the set-up screen and public messaging?"

The letter gives the ISPs until Friday to respond to the requests, and warns them they will receive further missives from the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about how to clampdown on illegal images online.

"We are all aware of the really excellent work that you are doing...but there are a number of specific areas that the prime minister thinks need further immediate action," the letter concludes.

According to the accompanying report on the BBC, the ISP community has taken a dim view of the letter and its content, with one source telling the site he found the requests "staggering."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.