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Lords bill demands ISPs and device makers block porn

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By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 5 Apr 2012 at 10:15

A new bill presented to the House of Lords demands both ISPs and device makers filter adult content.

The Online Safety Bill, raised in the Lords by Baroness Howe of Ildicote, asks for ISPs and mobile operators to "provide a service that excludes pornographic images" and for device makers to include ways to filter content at the point of purchase.

The proposal is a Private Members Bill, which rarely make it into law without Government support, and has yet to be subject to any debate.

Filtering by default will only reduce the degree of active interest and parental mediation, lull parents into a false sense of security and lead to over blocking

However, it's not the first time the issue has been raised. Claire Perry MP has repeatedly called for access to online pornography to be opt-in, with such content blocked by default.

The Government has instead helped broker a Code of Conduct between ISPs, requiring them to offer parental control software to customers - with Foreign Secretary William Hague specifically saying the Government does not agree with Perry's default filtering proposals.

Despite that, the issue has again been revived with Baroness Howe's bill, which goes further than Perry's own proposals. Like the MP's suggestions, it requires ISPs and mobile operators provide a "service which excludes pornographic images" unless the customer opts in, is over 18 and the company has verified that fact.

It also seeks to force device manufacturers to provide customers with a way to filter adult content "from an internet service at the time the device is purchased". That would apply to any devices that can connect to the internet.

The document also calls for ISPs to provide safety advice to their customers.

Backing for the bill?

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it would not support the bill, as industry was already taking steps to address the issue.

“We understand the sentiment behind this Private Members Bill, but it isn’t something that Government would support," a DCMS spokesman said. "Much can be achieved through self-regulation and it can be more effective than a regulatory approach in delivering flexible solutions that work for both industry and consumers. ”

Kathryn Wynn, a lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said Private Members Bills are "certainly less likely than Government sponsored bills" to be approved without Government support. However, she pointed out that others with a strong sense of "moral" grounding, including abortion laws, started out in such a way.

Wynn added that the success of the bill will likely hinge on whether industry efforts are deemed to go far enough. "When you have [industry] initiatives it raises a question mark over whether a law is necessary," she said.

Indeed, industry body the ISP Association said the bill was unnecessary.

"Filtering by default will only reduce the degree of active interest and parental mediation, lull parents into a false sense of security and lead to over blocking," ISPA told Outlaw.com, a legal website run by Pinsent Masons. "The question also arises of who decides what is pornographic and what is not."

"ISPA does not believe there is a need for legislation on this issue as there is healthy competition in the industry and ISPs are responsive to consumer demands," the organisation added.

There's also doubts over the effectiveness of adult content filters. TalkTalk's network level filter let through adult content last year, while our investigation into how blacklists are created highlighted the difficulty in deciding what content to block.

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User comments

The internet porn is already an opt-in option. People go to the porn websites only if they want to. I can't remember ever to be exposed to say, advertising banners with any nudity or 'bits' on a 'normal' non-adult content website.

If legally accessible porn will become awkward to get to, for many people the illegal ways will become the first alternative.

And on the more general note, are there really still people, in the 21st century, who are trying to fight the very human nature? In the name of what, exactly? The only thing the puritanism gave us so far is the USA and even here the jury is still out, whether we should be grateful or not...

By Josefov on 5 Apr 2012

Agree with Josefov

The only time I have seen porn was some years back when spam messages would display a wall of thumbnails.

Nowadays, most email clients block images by default so even if people are still sending that type of spam you're not going to see it unless you specifically click to show images.

Other than that it's just a matter of not clicking on links to porn sites in spam. (Although I don't recollect seeing any spam of that sort recently - it's usually penis enlargement and fake watches, these days.)

I wonder what the noble lords are doing to expose themselves to so much unwanted porn.

By qpw3141 on 5 Apr 2012

I would have thought the bill is more aimed at protecting people, ie children, against adult content, not stopping porn from being viewed at all.
Well it better not be, won't know what to do with all that spare time otherwise :)

By Divad on 5 Apr 2012

Forgot to add, go to Google and type in porn, it's that easy for a 12 year old. It should be up to the adult to educate their kids, not BangBus.

By Divad on 5 Apr 2012

@Divad

It is up to the parents to control what their children to online, not the ISPs or the Government.

Parents giving up their responsibilities for bringing up their children should be allowed.

When I was a kid, we sneaked in and looked at my dads collection of Penthous in his bedside cabinet, whilst he was at work. When we got caught, we knew about it.

There was nobody in government screaming that bedside cabinets should all have locks on them.

The same goes here.

By big_D on 5 Apr 2012

MENSCH!

Parents giving up their responsibilities should NOT be allowed.

I want an edit function!!!!

By big_D on 5 Apr 2012

@Divad

Try that on my son's PC and Microsoft Family Safety takes the pages out and email a log of his activity to me.
There are ALREADY simple free solutions to the "problem" of internet safety for children, that don't involve blanket censorship, for anyone with half a brain to find - if they bother to look!
It's up to adults to educate themselves before leaving a PC in the hands of their children.
Did they ban phones to stop 0898 numbers? Have they banned Televisions to stop children watching "unsuitable" material?
They can watch a naked woman writhing around on a number of Freeview channels from 9pm.
Puritanism and a nanny state are no substitute for responsible parenting.
Baroness Howe could probably hear sensible advice more clearly if she didn't have her head up her arse.

By cheysuli on 5 Apr 2012

Details, please

"They can watch a naked woman writhing around on a number of Freeview channels from 9pm."

Which channels are these?

Purely out of interest, of course.

More seriously, it always disgusts me that children are allowed to watch all sorts of violence, bullying, and killing with little restriction (bare the amount of gore), but let one uncovered female nipple appear before 9:00pm and a certain group of people are up in arms.

By qpw3141 on 5 Apr 2012

^^^ "bar the amount of gore"

We really do need an edit function.
.

By qpw3141 on 5 Apr 2012

It's not about giving up parental responsibilities, and the software works great on a pc, but what about a smartphone, or tablet. Things have changed since the good old days of finding a carrier bag full of mags down the local park, and not all parents are savvy to technology.
If you can be given the option for your ISP to block porn, what's the fuss about?

By Divad on 5 Apr 2012

@Divad

Parental responsibility would be NOT giving a £600 smartphone to a child. If they're old enough to earn £600, or sign a phone contract, they're old enough to look at boobs.

The "fuss" is about blanket censorship, which never stops at one thing.

By cheysuli on 5 Apr 2012

Smartphones are considerably cheaper than £600, try £60, Apple are not the only ones who makes phones. And you can get a second hand iPod touch for less than £100.

The story says to provide a service that excludes porn, not completely exclude porn from their service, there is a difference. There is no mention of blanket censorship, it's an option.

By Divad on 6 Apr 2012

Pointless & expensive

Kids know how to use Google.
Google knows how to bypass filters.
O2 block access by default to "adult" sites (including such ridiculous subjects as hacking).
Needless to say I have bypassed their filters.
Ignorant lawmakers are a bigger problem than porn TBH.

By dubiou on 7 Apr 2012

And whose definition of porn?

Has anyone come up with an automated porn filter that actually works yet? That can tell the difference between displays of naked boobs for the fun of it and, say, a site showing women how to check for breast cancer?

By Noghar on 7 Apr 2012

Stokegabriel

You can implement Open DNS right now, it's free and deployment is straight forward. IMHO blocking undesirable content at the DNS level (i.e. off site) is the way to go. What's the problem then? Truth is there isn't one.

By stokegabriel on 10 Apr 2012

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