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Culture and technology
27 April 2012

Internet pornography and the protection of children

Imagine that one of your neighbours is a distributor of pornography. His house is full of the stuff, with all but the most extreme images lying around everywhere. Now imagine that he leaves his door open at all times, allowing your children to wander in where they can view his collection at will.

How do you feel about this person? Obviously, you’d warn your children to keep well away, but wouldn’t you also want him to take some responsibility, to keep his door locked and his curtains drawn?

Now consider the actual example of our internet service providers. They may not intend to communicate pornography in a way that makes it accessible to minors, but nevertheless this is what happens. Can it really be right to put the responsibility for protecting those children on their parents alone?

Not according to the Conservative MP, Claire Perry, who makes her case in the Daily Mail:

  • “…current so-called safeguards are failing. The evidence we gathered shows that up to a third of ten-year-olds have seen explicit images on the internet. Four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls regularly access online pornography.
  • “I’m not just talking about the kind of images seen in top-shelf magazines. I’m talking about disturbing, depraved, violent images readily available both to young children accidentally viewing them and curious older children seeking them out.”

Perry calls for a system in which obscene content is automatically blocked at the point of connection to the home. Crucially, this would change the order of priorities from facilitating adult access to pornography to ensuring child protection. Though access wouldn’t be banned for adults, they would have to request that the block be lifted – as opposed to the current situation where it is parents who want the internet to be safe for their children who must take specific action.

As Perry points out, installing your own filtering software is an increasingly difficult task – due to the proliferation of networked devices in the home:

  • “…TalkTalk has pushed forward with a new product (HomeSafe) which will allow all customers to protect all devices within the home with one click. This one-click filtering should be a minimum requirement for all ISPs, otherwise safety filters will have to be installed on every device individually.”

Perry’s proposals have been attacked by some as a threat to freedom. But what we actually have here is a choice between freedoms. Which one should we value most?


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