Baroness Howe of Idlicote (pictured, right) introduced her Online Safety Private Members Bill to the House of Lords on 10 May. It requires those companies that supply internet services – whether at home or on a mobile device – to filter pornographic content, unless an adult user specifically asks for access to such content. This mechanism is called an ‘opt-in’ system. The measure is intended to help parents bring up their children in an internet-enabled age without them being able to access, whether purposefully or by accident, such content. It would also allow those adults who do not want to access pornography, to surf the net more safely.
Because the internet is notoriously hard to police, due in part to issues related to where legislative boundaries begin and end, CARE believes that, at the very least, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Phone Operators (MPOs) should provide a service which empowers their adult customers to make decisions about what sort of content they don’t want on their home broadband or their children’s mobile phones. It should be offered to all adults, whether or not they are new customers or existing customers and should be promoted as a responsible mechanism to help children grow to maturity while enjoying the good that the internet can bring.
There is no reason why two separate approaches should exist for when children are walking down a high street, or when they are surfing the net. We do not allow children to buy films or computer games which are classified 18. We do this by verifying their age if it seems a person younger than 18 is attempting to purchase something they should not have. We should do it online as well. The technology exists. Talk Talk have implemented something which comes close to what we want to see, so other ISPs and MPOs should do the same.
Lady Howe’s Private Members Bill is the first legislative attempt to introduce an opt-in system for accessing pornography. It follows from the work of Claire Perry MP, who in 2010 introduced the idea to parliamentarians and recently conducted an Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection (view the Inquiry’s Report here). The Bill is a key milestone in the battle to secure a safe online environment for our children. The Government have so far said they are in favour of the proposals put forward by Mrs Perry, but would like the industry to self-regulate and bring about these changes without amending primary legislation.
Lady Howe made proposals that did not go as far during the passage of the Digital Economy Bill in 2009. Her suggestions then were to ensure ISPs and MPOs inform their clients, at the point of purchase and for the duration of the contract, about how they can help keep their children safe. These ideas were taken up by the Bailey Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood. Reporting to the Prime Minister later last year, the Review’s author – Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union – also said ISPs could do more to give parents tools to help protect their children online though he did not specify how this should be done.
The industry, responding to the review, made the pledge to bring forward self regulatory measures, but did not go as far as endorsing the requirement to have an opt-in to access pornography through a filter at network level.
That is why CARE is glad that Baroness Howe has brought forward this Private Members Bill, to encourage Government to require more from the industry to help parents bring their children up in the 21st century.
A copy of the Bill can be found here.