Skip to main content

UK wants to restrict access to online porn

Doug Gross, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron is cracking down on Internet porn
  • Cameron wants the UK's Internet service providers to filter out porn by default
  • To access pornography on home computers, users would have to opt in
  • Critics of the plan say effective Web filters simply don't exist

(CNN) -- Saying that "the darkest corners of the Internet" pose a real threat to children, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday rolled out a plan that would, by default, block pornography on most computers, smartphones and tablets.

British wireless and Internet providers have agreed to put adult-content filters on phones, public Wi-Fi networks and home computers in the coming months. By the end of the year, the filters will become the default setting for anyone setting up broadband Internet service at home, Cameron said.

"I'm not making this speech because I want to (moralize) or scare-monger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come," Cameron said. "This is, quite simply, about how we protect our children and their innocence."

All of those filters could be deactivated by those who can "prove" they are 18 or older, Cameron said.

The plan is the result of a monthslong effort by Cameron to restrict access to Internet porn. He has called Google and other search companies into meetings, demanding they do more to hide porn from children, and appointed Parliament member Claire Perry as a special adviser targeting the issues.

The plan will require no action from Parliament because service providers and other Web companies are participating voluntarily. Some already provide service with porn filters as their default settings.

Not surprisingly, Web freedom advocates and other critics were quick to decry the plan. For one, many say effective Web filters simply don't exist.

"As a technological feat, it would be utterly impossible," columnist Andy Dawson wrote in the Daily Mirror, a nationwide tabloid frequently critical of Cameron's Conservative Party.

"His porn shield speech today, and the proposals that are in it are the deranged ravings of someone who has decided that something must be done, has decided what it is, but doesn't (realize) that it isn't actually feasible. He's got just as much chance of banning (gray) clouds while giving us all access to the nice white, fluffy ones."

Critics say that automated filtering technology inevitably allows offensive material through accidentally as well as creating "false positives" that block inoffensive content. Others, such as BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, say default-on filters can create a false sense of security among parents, who could become more lax in monitoring their children's online behavior.

The Internet service providers that have signed off on the plan provide service to roughly nine out of 10 households in Great Britain.

In his speech, Cameron cited a two-pronged problem: the online exploitation of children through child pornography and the easy access children have to otherwise legal pornography at an early age.

"In one we're talking about illegal material, the other legal material that is being viewed by those who are underage," he said. "But both these challenges have something in common. They are about how our collective lack of action on the Internet has led to harmful -- and in some cases truly dreadful -- consequences for children."

The prime minister announced an effort to expand and streamline currently fragmented child-porn databases and a new interpretation of law that will make porn depicting rape illegal.

He also announced a new "Family Friendly Wi-Fi" label that will allow hotels, restaurants and other businesses to advertise that the Web access they provide has porn filters enabled.

Two recent British murder trials in which the defendants were each said to have viewed images of child sexual abuse online have heightened public concern over the issue.

One case was that of April Jones, a 5-year-old girl whose disappearance last year in a remote part of Wales sparked a huge search. Mark Bridger was found guilty of her murder in May, but her body has still not been found. The other was the murder of a 12-year-old girl, Tia Sharp, by her grandmother's partner.

Cameron said he had met with the parents of those two girls on Friday.

"Protecting the most vulnerable in our society, protecting innocence, protecting childhood itself -- that is what is at stake," Cameron said. "And I will do whatever it takes to keep our children safe."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
updated 7:32 PM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
updated 2:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
updated 11:03 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
updated 9:54 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
updated 11:29 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT