Architect of UK porn filter scheme sued after hack spat

Claire Perry

Claire Perry, the member of parliament who led the campaign for an on-by-default porn filter in the UK, is being sued by a blogger after accusing him of “sponsoring” a hack on her website. The whole episode provides a fascinating insight into Perry’s technical knowledge.

Here’s what happened: a couple of days ago, someone hacked Perry’s website to display offensive images. Paul Staines, a right-wing political blogger who writes as “Guido Fawkes”, duly reported on the incident, complete with a screenshot of one of the more tame images displaying on Perry’s site. Perry took to Twitter to accuse Staines of “hosting a link that distributed porn via my website”; Staines replied that Perry was “confused by technology”; Perry didn’t back down, and repeated her reference to “the hacking of my website sponsored by @GuidoFawkes.”

(Click here to read the full, facepalm-worthy argument.)

Now, don’t forget that the UK has very strict libel laws. While Staines is usually on the defensive rather than offensive side of such issues, he polled his readers to see whether they thought he should sue. Eighty six percent said he should, so late on Wednesday Staines wrote that he was “reluctantly” instructing his lawyers.

If you’re reading this site, chances are you don’t need to be told that a screenshot of a hack does not equate to responsibility for said hack – in terms of determining cause and effect, it’s utterly back-to-front. But then again, Perry reacted to the news of her porn-blocking success by claiming it “represents a comprehensive and pragmatic approach to tackling the key issues which threaten the safety of our children online.” As I and many others have argued, the system won’t do what it’s meant to, and will probably lead to the unintended censorship of a wide range of online material.

Perry is, however, probably a bit more technically literate than Rhoda Grant, a member of the Scottish parliament. Grant recently asked why, if there is a watershed on TV – the 9pm break point before which adult material shouldn’t be shown, for fear of children seeing it – there can’t be one for the internet too.

The U.S. had Ted Stevens and his “series of tubes”; the United Kingdom has Perry and Grant. I think there’s a strong case for lawmakers being forced to undergo some basic training on how the internet works before they get any opportunity to try “fixing” things through new legislation.

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