Some progress has been made in the fight
to protect children from harmful online material.
The Government has worked with some Internet Service Providers to come up with a voluntary industry agreement to protect children which being called ‘default-on’. This represents an important step forward but, crucially, it leaves over 10% of the home broadband market and hundreds of thousands of children beyond the agreement and will only be really effective if accompanied by robust age-verification for users which is sadly lacking from the industry’s own proposals.
That the current arrangements are insufficient was eloquently illustrated by an ATVOD report in March which showed that in one month 44,000 primary school children had accessed porn sites and 200,000 children under 16. In August a judge sentenced a boy for raping a 10 year old girl noting that he was acting out hard core porn he had freely accessed from the computer in his bedroom.
We believe that self-regulation is not a credible long term solution and that statutory backing is needed.
If we keep things solely on a self-regulatory basis we will have no long term security. It may be that under intense political and media pressure today the industry will get its house in order, but where will we be in five, ten or twenty years’ time? If it is true, as the Prime Minister has said, that ‘few things are more important than this,’ why is it that we have laws on myriad eventualities but nothing in relation to one of the most important areas currently affecting us and our children?
Last January Baroness Howe moved an amendment to the Children and Families Bill to address these issues. Although the amendment was lost, a very considerable vote was secured and many have said that had the vote not been delayed until 8.30 in the evening it would have been won.
The Government has failed to do anything substantive in the intervening period to deal with the problems that the amendment addressed. Mindful of this Baroness Howe has introduced an amendment (50D) to the Consumer Rights Bill which will be debated in the House of Lords on 26th November. If accepted this clause would require:
All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone operators (MPOs) to provide, as a default, an internet service without access to pornography – with adult subscribers able to opt-in to receive such material.
The provision of really robust age-verification procedures.
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