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Automatic porn censorship legislation proposed

Internet service providers (ISPs) would be required to prevent customers accessing pornographic images unless those customers actively notify the ISPs that they want to access the material if draft new UK legislation being proposed receives backing.04 Apr 2012

The Online Safety Bill, if enacted, would place a "duty" on ISPs and mobile network operators that provide internet access services to "provide a service that excludes pornographic images" by default.

Only if subscribers aged over 18 actively "opt-in" to access the adult content would the ISPs and operators allow the material to be accessed, and even then access would have to be denied unless the website featuring the images "has an age verification policy which has been  used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over". The Bill is currently under consideration in the House of Lords.

Under the terms of the Bill a customers would be said to have opted-in to the material if they tell "the service provider of his or her consent to subscribe to a service that includes pornographic images".

The Bill would also force the manufacturers of "electronic devices" to "provide customers with a means of filtering content from an internet access service at the time the device is purchased".

The Bill defines 'electronic devices' as any device "capable of connecting to an internet access service and downloading content".

The ISPs and mobile operators would also be required to provide customers with "prominent, easily accessible and clear information about online safety" when they go to purchase their services and make that information "available for the duration of the service". Information about online safety relates to "the safe and responsible use of the internet by children and young people on an electronic device," according to the Bill.

However, a trade industry body representing UK ISPs told Out-Law.com that it was against the proposed legislation.

"It is important for parents to take an active role in what their children see and do online and configure and tailor tools as appropriate," a spokesperson for the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) said. "Many ISPs already offer solutions as part of their service to help prevent users accessing unwanted content online and ISPs actively promote these to their customers." 

"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. The question also arises of who decides what is pornographic and what is not," the spokesperson said.

"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 Bailey Report published last year also acknowledged that 'industry already does much to help educate parents about parental controls, age-restriction and content filters'.  Government should concentrate on helping educate consumers to ensure they know about the tools already available to them to restrict unwanted content," they said.

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