Free expression online

Free expression online

  • We believe people should be free to access the legal content and services they want on the internet. It’s essential for free expression.
  • We support the Open Internet Code of Practice where we committed to providing “full and open internet access products” whenever possible, and to being transparent about the circumstances when we can’t.
  • Our activities in content blocking are limited to the provision of BT Parental Controls, blocking access to child sexual abuse images, complying with court orders, and protecting our customers or network from harmful traffic.
  • We offer customers an “unavoidable active choice” for free BT Parental Controls. It leaves choice with customers and helps when it comes to educating people about how to stay safe online.
  • We believe parents with children who engage proactively in the decision will be more likely to consider broader online safety measures beyond mere filtering. This is less likely with “default on”.
  • We take over-blocking of sites very seriously. We quickly look at concerns raised with us and rectify incorrectly blocked sites as fast as possible.

We believe people should have the freedom to access the content and services they want on the internet. Restrictions to this right should only be imposed in very limited circumstances – the rights people have offline should be available online too.10

In July 2012, BT signed the Open Internet Code of Practice where we committed to providing “full and open internet access products” whenever possible, and to being transparent about the circumstances when we can’t. We’ve also committed to the Voluntary Industry Code of Practice on Traffic Management Transparency. As part of that commitment, we publish information about our how we manage traffic across our network.11

Sometimes, we block certain websites or “filter” content, even though we’re only carrying that material across our network. These actions fall into four categories:

Customer choice –
we provide BT Parental Controls for our customers to choose (and filter) what content they can access on the internet. They might restrict access to pornography or social media networks, for example, or choose to limit access to certain content at different times of the day.

Child sexual abuse images
we block or filter child sexual abuse images that the Internet Watch Foundation tells us about.

Court orders –
a court requires us, and other communications providers, to block access to content which infringes other people’s intellectual property rights, like in films, music and videos.

Protecting our customers –
we may block harmful traffic - such as that generated by malware - which could harm our customers’ computer systems and communications or affect our services.

We consider with great care any requests or attempt to restrict our customers’ use of the internet. We look at whether restrictions are proportionate and lawful. And we talk about these issues regularly with government and other stakeholders to influence the debate in a way that respects free expression.

Use of BT Parental Controls pre-defined filters

Use of BT Parental Controls custom filters

The BT Parental Control setup screen 

Court proceedings were taken against us because we refused to block content when first asked to do so.12 (It was alleged that the sites enabled copyright infringement.) We defended these proceedings, to clarify the law that applies when deciding whether content must be blocked. By doing this we’ve helped develop new processes that provide a fair balance between competing rights.

In 2013 and 2014, we also took part in the public debate about whether adult material online should be automatically blocked by default, with people wanting to access it having to switch off automatic filters. BT and other communications providers took the view that default-on filters (where the communications provider decides to block content in advance, and the customer has to choose to unblock it) would undermine the principle of freedom of access. We argued instead for a system where users have to make a choice about having filters switched on or off.


10 United Nations Human Rights Council resolution 20/8: The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet
11 See our Key Facts Indicator which we publish as part of our commitment to the Voluntary Industry Code of Practice on Traffic Management Transparency for Broadband Services March 2011

12 Twentieth Century Fox & oths v British Telecommunications [2011] EWHC 1981 (‘Newzbin case’). This site provided a search engine facility to allow users to find and access music, films, apps and books.