Web porn should be opt-in, MPs say

Web porn should be opt-in, MPs say

Summary: Internet users in the UK should have to opt in to view pornography, a cross-party group of MPs has recommended.The group of 60 MPs, led by Conservative Claire Perry, published its report (PDF) on Tuesday.

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TOPICS: Telcos
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Internet users in the UK should have to opt in to view pornography, a cross-party group of MPs has recommended.

The group of 60 MPs, led by Conservative Claire Perry, published its report (PDF) on Tuesday. The parliamentarians said the current system, where ISPs urge parents to set up parental controls, was insufficient.

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"As the internet evolves from an intermittently used, stand–alone system into an always-on, always-accessible backdrop to our lives, then the downsides of this accessibility become more apparent," the report stated. "Many feel that device-level filters are no longer offering sufficient protection for children online. Only a minority of parents use these filters and this number is falling."

The MPs noted that "freedom from prying eyes, human imagination and zero barriers to entry have led to an explosion of pornographic creativity with every possible sexual act represented online including many that are deeply degrading, disturbing and violent", and said tech-savvy children were often able to circumvent parental controls.

"A network-level 'opt-in' system, maintained by ISPs, that delivered a clean internet feed to customers as standard but allowed them to choose to receive adult content, would preserve consumer choice but provide an additional content barrier that protected children from accessing age-inappropriate material," the report read.

The MPs added that mobile phone operators already made pornography opt-in.

The report was welcomed by uSwitch, whose telecoms director Julia Stent said many parents feel "that addressing the issue of providing better parental controls and how to filter explicit, violent and offensive web content is long overdue".

"Offering parents simple and straightforward ways to block objectionable web content should make it easier to protect children from viewing unwanted material," Stent said in a statement on Wednesday. "However, parents too need to play their part to prevent children from seeing explicit content online and to ensure that they are surfing the web safely and sensibly."

Filtering

However, others were less welcoming. The ISP Association (ISPA) said that forcing ISPs to filter pornography at the network level was "neither the most effective nor most appropriate way to prevent access to inappropriate material online".

The question arises of who decides what inappropriate material is and for whom and whether there is a guarantee that filtering will not be used for other content.

– Nicholas Lansman, ISPA

"Government should concentrate on helping educate consumers to ensure they know about the tools already available to them to restrict unwanted content," ISPA secretary-general Nicholas Lansman said in a statement. "Additionally, the question arises of who decides what inappropriate material is and for whom and whether there is a guarantee that filtering will not be used for other content."

Jim Killock, head of the Open Rights Group, went even further, calling the proposals "appalling".

"These recommendations, if enacted, would endanger children, create disruption for small business, and would not work technically," Killock said in a statement. "Default filtering is a form of censorship. Adults should not have to 'opt out' of censorship. Governments should not be given powers to default censor legal material that adults see online."

Killock also pointed out that the filters used by mobile operators, supposedly to block adult content, had also taken in the websites of campaign groups and bloggers.

"It is trivial for a child to avoid the network blocking that Claire Perry recommends — sites using https are invisible to network blocks. Furthermore, default blocks may be appropriate for some older children, but too weak for others," Killock said. "Parents need help, but 'default blocking' is an appalling proposal."

Topic: Telcos

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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3 comments
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  • Is there no stopping this nanny?
    sickmanofeurope
  • A thought. Many years ago, after decades of dedicated study, Lord Longford pronounced on the corrupting effects of pornography - an effect which applied to everybody but him, apparently. That level of hypocrisy is still with us today.

    Back on topic, I carry no brief, pro or con, regarding online porn, but I sure as hell resent the interference of this prodnose government into areas which don’t concern them. Because porn is just the excuse; the aim, as ever, is censorship and control.

    They’ve succeeded in imposing their will on much of the press, and, most obviously, on the BBC, now they want to control the Internet, but because most of the content originates in countries where their writ doesn’t run, they’re trying to impose their will on ISPs. What they tend to forget, of course, is that no-one forces anybody to look at anything at all online, it’s their choice (whether kids should have that choice is a parental decision, not mine, not my ISP's). I well remember an early piece of parental control software, which monitored porn by the degree of pink on the screen, in certain shapes – problem was – and I’m sure you can see this coming – bald guys really screwed it up! Not to mention the fact that porn is an ethnically diverse industry.

    The responsibility for keeping kids away from potentially damaging material lies with the parents and, to a degree, with schools - it's their job to control what their kids watch online. It's not the task of ISPs .

    Just as parents have the responsibility to keep their children away from unsuitable TV after the watershed (though from what I've seen the most intellectually damaging programmes are on much earlier), so it's their responsibility to keep them away from unsuitable areas of the Internet. That they won't or can't, for whatever reason, or simply don't care, are the problems that need to be addressed.

    Porn has pretty much always existed, and kids being kids, they've always sought it out. When I was a child it was grubby, much-handled, copies of Health & Efficiency, pinched from some father's stash (generations of kids probably thought beach balls were women's genitalia!), then along came Playboy, and the same arguments we're hearing now were trotted out then, too. Now it's the Internet. More extreme, it's true, but a clip round the ear has always been the remedy, not interfering government.
    ronwgraves
  • Parental Controls are just that.
    If Those MPs are not capable of looking over what their own children are doing, they should be banned from having them.
    Do NOT try to force other people to look after your own responsibilities.
    daveaaaaaa5