Community web filters?

We’ve been talking about filtering the Internet in the last week or so. There was some fairly high profile blocking/unblocking of sites on our LA primary schools filter this month, and much complaining as a result. Made me think about just how hard managing something like this is. For a while we’ve been sorting ourselves out with blocking here, and a flexible filtering option from Hampshire IT Services is on the way soon for others. As is becoming habit though, I’ve been wondering if there might be another option.

A completely flexible filtering set up is hugely powerful- being able to offer different levels to different groups of students, individual classes, etc is a fantastic tool. The ability to change things in real-time, or based around times of day is also great. But, this is great because we’re an 1800+ secondary with the time/need/skillset required to make use of this. If I was honest I’d say on a day to day basis we don’t actually make that many changes to our standard level of blocking, and we invest far more time and energy into enabling as open a system as possible based on the trust we have in our students.

So if we don’t use it that much, how often would this level be required in smaller schools? I’ve got a feeling the answer might actually be not very often, so the question then becomes about how much the flexible solution is going to cost. How big would the number need to be before you’d say no?

In that case to say that for some the standard LA filtering is too restricting, but the completely flexible option is probably going to be too expensive seems reasonable.

Enter a community based solution.

What if we had a filtering setup based around the current standard, but where everybody involved in the project could request sites to be blocked/unblocked, the community voting on the outcome of each. Would this be a democratic, teacher-led system that would provide a cheap middle ground to the problems I’ve touched on? Does it feel more like the way we should be working?

It certainly does to me. What also sounds good is technically this wouldn’t be hard to achieve, and it would be very cheap.

The problem. Liability. I haven’t got my clever answer for this yet, but working on it. When we moved over to filter our own connection we had to sign over liability for the connection from our authority. How could this work if your filtering was the responsibility of the community as a whole? As a school would you be prepared to be responsible for the actions of the group? How could we protect against this being a problem? This can’t be a new issue and I’m sure it is solvable, just not something I have encountered before.

Would this be something people would be interested in? Based on my random wanderings around schools I think there might be some mileage in it, and it would only take a few to take it to a point where we could justify actually doing it…

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