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Prime Minister: UK ISPs Will Have To Block Porn

The government has outlined new measures to protect children online, but it’s unclear just how effective they will be

On by Max Smolaks 0

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the UK will be forced to offer an “opt-out” adult content filter, as part of the government’s efforts to protect children online.

“In the darkest corners of the Internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, announcing the new rules today.

Changes to legislation will also make possession of pornography depicting rape a criminal offence, along with several other measures aimed at “cleaning up” the Internet.

The forced introduction of “opt-out” filters doesn’t come as a surprise – last week, the BBC published a leaked memo in which the Department of Education asked ISPs to align some of the terminology used when talking about filters with that of the government.

“Opt-out” Internet filtering has been criticised as being ineffective, and giving parents a false sense of security.

Here come the filters

Under new rules, adult content filters will be automatically switched on for all new and existing customers, with the option to switch them off by contacting the ISP. Additionally, search engines will have until October to introduce new measures to block illegal content. The government also wants warning pop-ups to appear when users try to access content that might land them in trouble with the law.

Parental controls (c) Cartoonresource, Shutterstock 2013As part of the campaign, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will be tasked with investigating file-sharing networks to establish their role in exchange of child abuse images. The Centre will also be given more powers to investigate.

Finally, the government has authorised the creation of a single database of child abuse images collected by police, which will be used to identify and track such content and the people viewing it.

“Blocking search terms will raise the bar for initial access to this content, but the fact remains that the vast majority of this material is not found on the open, searchable Internet,” commented Christian Berg, CEO at NetClean.

“Stronger laws are a great exercise in demonstrating the strength of will behind this campaign, however the core of the solution is technology, and ensuring that the technology available to track, find and disrupt this crime is used effectively worldwide.”

Some critics of the automatic “opt-out” filters describe them as an outdated technology which is incapable of protecting children, and only serves the interest of politicians.

“The original filtering techniques were developed in the university sector, to stop students and adults accessing material that the provider of the connection didn’t want them to – not to protect them against an accidental encounter,” Chris Puttick, CEO of Internet protection firm TwoTen, told TechWeekEurope last week.

Adult content is something children will actually look for, when they reach a certain age (certainly by the time they are teens), and so-called porn blocks can do little to stop this. “This is stuff that children from a certain age actively seek,” said Puttick. “They are not wandering around and finding it accidentally, that’s not how it happens.”

Last year’s survey by YouGov revealed that just one in four UK adults with children in their household was in favour of having a default porn filter.

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Max Smolaks
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