updated 05:19 pm EDT, Mon July 22, 2013
Content filters in UK to be set on by default, search engines given filtering orders
New Internet connections in the United Kingdom will have adult content filters applied to them before the end of the year, unless account holders opt out, according to Prime Minister David Cameron. The move is accompanied by a number of other similar measures, including requests for search engines to take more responsibility for filtering content, and proposed changes to existing laws.
The new filtering system will be put in place at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level, rather than on computers. New Internet connections will have the filters enabled by default, though this can be overridden by the account holder. The remaining 19 million connections will be contacted by ISPs to ask if they want the filters turned on or left off in an "unavoidable decision," according to Cameron in a speech, with account holders also able to change the state of the filters at a later time. Operators of public hotspots have agreed to turn on the "family-friendly filters" on more than 90 percent of public hotspots by the end of August, with a "Family Friendly Wi-Fi" symbol also being offered to businesses to show the added safety. Carriers have already implemented a content filtering system on lines, and have done so for a number of years.
Cameron also advised that the new national curriculum in schools now have requirements for teaching children about online safety. The classes will educate students "not just about how to stay safe online but how to behave online too - on social media and over phones with their friends," states Cameron. Parents will also receive advice on how to look after their children online, as well as the dangers of sexting and online bullying.
Laws on extreme pornography have also been targeted. A loophole that allowed for the possession of extreme pornography, such as those depicting rape, is being closed by the government. There will also be the introduction of legislation that would limit scenes in pornography to be subject to the same rules as titles bought in a retail store or licensed sex shop. "Put simply - what you can't get in a shop, you will no longer be able to get online," said the Prime Minister.
Part of Cameron's speech talked about child abuse images appearing online. While he commended the police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP), he believes that CEOP will become more efficient once it becomes part of the National Crime Agency, along with the creation of a single database of illegal images of children from next year, to combat pedophiles.
The government agency approach is also being accompanied by more pressure on Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to block indecent material online, to deter people looking for child abuse images. The current system, consisting of search engines and ISPs blocking such content once they have been reported or found by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), is apparently not enough for the Prime Minister. Cameron suggested that, upon using potentially sensitive keywords such as 'child' and 'sex,' there should be "clear routes out of that search to legitimate sites on the web" rather than links to sites or images that have yet to be reported to CEOP or IWF. Pop-ups warning of possible arrest and phone numbers for help lines are also to appear under the move.
Cameron asks search engines "If CEOP give you a black-list of Internet search terms, will you commit to stop offering up any returns to these searches?" He followed the question by suggesting "If in October we don't like the answer we're given to this question if the progress is slow or non-existent," that government will find legislative options to act. "You have a duty to act on this - and it is a moral duty." Considering the nature of the request and the possibility of censoring legitimate content, it is possible that search engines will attempt to fight the request, and instead suggest less overreaching means.
The changes proposed by David Cameron has been welcomed by a number of organizations, including the Rape Crisis group and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, though some doubt the effectiveness of the plans. Former boss of CEOP Jim Gamble told the BBC that it was important to "get to the root cause" of illegal pornography via the capture and sentencing of the creators. "You need a real deterrent, not a pop-up that pedophiles will laugh at," said Gamble.