MPs Want ISPs to Block Porn By Default

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ISPs should be forced to provide a censored internet feed to protect children from “adult” content, say MPs

MPs have proposed a system where porn would be censored online by default in the UK, in a bid to protect children from adult content.

The move, first suggested in 2010, has been firmed up , after a cross-party  Parliamentary inquiry examined the state of online child protection. The current proposal is a  “network-level ‘Opt-In’ system”,  going beyond the “active choice” model  launched by ISPs BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin last October.

This would provide a “clean internet feed” as standard, which has been criticised as “censorship”. Anyone wanting to watch porn would have to change their settings.

MPs said this “would preserve consumer choice but provide an additional content barrier that protected children from accessing  age-inappropriate material”.

“This model would emulate the system already used by most major UK mobile phone companies, where access to adult content is blocked until an age verification check is conducted by the network operator, and could use the filtering technology already operating in all schools and on some public Wi-Fi hubs,” the report read.

“We find it perverse that companies who apply an adult content block for their customers  accessing the internet via a mobile device would argue against introducing a similar system for their fixed broadband customers.”

Porn party poopers?

It argued there was no evidence the model would add “substantial cost” or slow down access speeds, adding that the main objections were ideological.

The inquiry said its research suggested an opt-in would be popular, with almost six in ten people saying they would use the service. However, only 27 percent of men said they would use it.

MPs are hoping ISPs will be forced to roll out suitable services in the next 12 months.

“We accept that providing an Opt-In system  might create a risk of  complacency among parents but think that in practice it would offer far better overall protection for children in the online  environment than the current system where only a minority of households install device-level filters,” the MPs said.

They also want the Government to “consider a new regulatory structure for online content, with one regulator given a lead role in the oversight and monitoring of internet content distribution and the promotion of internet safety initiatives”.

Former home secretary and one of the contributors to the inquiry, Jacqui Smith, said she had spoken to porn producers, who had concerns themselves about the ease of access to their sites. “The first thing I thought was very interesting was that the people involved in making pornography themselves, who were concerned about the extent to which free and un-age restricted access through the internet was enabling young people,who they themselves didn’t think should be watching their material, to be able to access it,” Smith said.

ISPs have done plenty of work to deal with porn access already. Late last year BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin all committed to offering customers an “active choice” at the point of purchase to block adult content. The move came after more government pressure to put more barriers in place to prevent users from accessing prurient material.

Those ISPs were quick to note that their measures would not be opt-in as some had suggested.

Misguided legislation?

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) has slammed the proposals, saying the measures would be inappropriate.

“Forcing ISPs to filter adult content at the network level, which users would then have to opt out of, is neither the most effective nor most appropriate way to prevent access to inappropriate material online,” said Nicholas Lansman, ISPA secretary general. “It is easy to circumvent, reduces the degree of active interest and parental mediation and has clear implications for freedom of speech. Instead parents should choose how they restrict access to content, be it on the device or network level with the tools provided.

“Government should concentrate on helping educate consumers to ensure they know about the tools already available to them to restrict unwanted content.”

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