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 7:42 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It was supposed to be a class trip to a resort island. Instead, the ferry capsized, turning the afternoon into a deadly nightmare.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Ukraine says it's forces have regained control of an airfield from Russian separatists. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sky gazers caught a glimpse of the "blood moon" crossing the Earth's shadow Tuesday in all its splendor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
A staff stands next to the propellers of Sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB seen in silhouette during its first exit for test on April 14, 2014 in Payerne, a year ahead of their planned round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 is the successor of the original plane of the same name, which last year completed a trip across the United States without using a drop of fuel. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
This solar-powered aircraft will attempt to circle the globe next year.
ADVERTISEMENT