Web porn should be opt-in, MPs say

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.

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.

"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."