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UK Government Backs Call for Broadband ISPs to Block Adult Websites

Posted: 06th Jun, 2011 By: MarkJ
parliamentuk department for educationThe UK governments Department for Education (DfE) has today put its weight behind an independent review into the sexualisation of children by retailers and popular (pop) culture. In particular it calls upon broadband ISPs to help make it easier for parents to censor adult and age restricted content (e.g. websites) on the internet.

The review - 'Letting Children be Children' - was penned by the Chief Executive of Mothers Union, Reg Bailey, and outlines a range of proposals for tackling the wider problem. It stops short of recommending a mandatory ISP filter for related online content, although Bailey does suggest that regulation should be imposed if, after 18 months, progress is deemed to be "insufficient".

Sample Quote - Bailey Review Recommendation (5)

To provide a consistent level of protection across all media, as a matter of urgency, the internet industry should ensure that customers must make an active choice over what sort of content they want to allow their children to access.

To facilitate this, the internet industry must act decisively to develop and introduce effective parental controls, with Government regulation if voluntary action is not forthcoming within a reasonable timescale.

In addition, those providing content which is age-restricted, whether by law or company policy, should seek robust means of age verification as well as making it easy for parents to block underage access.

The review acknowledges that ISPs are already working towards better self-regulation in this area and calls for that commitment to be more "forthcoming". It also notes related discussions at European (EU) level and concern over the impact that imposing an automatic universal block of adult sites could have. The solution is to offer "a choice at the point of purchase" (e.g. when signing up to a new broadband ISP / package).

Sample Quote 2 from the Bailey Review

We see filters as a hugely important tool and we would like to see manufacturers, retailers, internet service providers (ISPs) and others adopt an approach that is much more supportive of parents. ... However, it is not acceptable to expect parents to be solely responsible for what their children see online, and industry must take greater responsibility.

Specifically, we would like to see industry agreeing across the board that when a new device or service is purchased or contract entered into, customers would be asked to make an active choice about whether filters should be switched off or on: they would be given the opportunity to choose to activate the solution immediately, whether it be network-level filtering by an ISP or pre-installed software on a new laptop.

Bailey also admits that "filters are not completely effective"; indeed most modern children would probably be clever enough to circumvent them. Likewise the review notes that imposing a "robust means of age verification" upon online content could be difficult (e.g. any child can easily fake an adults details), yet proposes no firm solutions of its own.

Another thing likely to worry those concerned about the impact upon Journalism and Freedom of Speech is the fact that some ISP solutions for filtering internet content, such as TalkTalk's recently launched HomeSafe service, can often go too far and end up blocking perfectly legitimate content (example). Meanwhile smaller ISPs may simply find it to be too expensive.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, intends to discuss all of these issues in more detail and has invited a "wide range of businesses and regulators" into Downing Street for October, where they will be asked to report on any steps they have taken to address the issues raised by Bailey's report.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

So I would like [Reg Bailey] to join me and Sarah Teather at a meeting at Downing Street in October, to which we will also invite retailers, advertisers, broadcasters, magazine editors, video games manufacturers, music producers, internet and phone companies, regulators and all other interested parties. We can use this opportunity to ask them to report to us the steps they have taken to address the issues you raise in your report and act on your specific recommendations. Sarah Teather will be keeping me closely informed of progress in the meantime, and has arranged an initial meeting later this month with all those to whom your recommendations are addressed.

Ofcom UK's Group Director of Content, Chris Woolard, added:

"Protection of children is one of Ofcom’s most important statutory duties and we therefore welcome Reg Bailey’s review of this significant area.

Ofcom recognises the critical importance of parents’ views about what children watch on TV. We will continue to focus on exploring parents’ views in our enforcement of broadcasting standards relating to the protection of children."

It's worth pointing out that many ISPs already offer Parental Controls and most mobile operators also impose similar restrictions by default, which usually require Credit Card Verification to disable. There are also plenty of third party software solutions available.
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