Wednesday 21 January 2015

Effective protection for children online

Last week the Telegraph ran an article on pornography by Martin Daubney putting the case for what he described as ‘state-approved porn in the UK’.  ‘If we can’t axe it, should we tax it – like soft drugs in Holland or prostitution in Germany’ - he suggested

Mr Daubney is the former editor of lad’s mag Loaded and he has previously spoken of his concern that the magazine he edited might have acted as a gateway to pornography for a generation of young men.  He also presented the Channel 4 documentary Porn on the Brain which looked at the effect of pornography consumption the adolescent brain and in which he described online porn as ‘the most pernicious threat facing children today’.

According to Mr Daubney his massively controversial proposition could even achieve the unthinkable: and unite censors, MPs, child protection agencies and, perhaps most astonishingly of all, the pornographers themselves.

 He proposes that all sites carrying pornographic material be confined to a dedicated domain for example – with compulsory age verification.  These sites would host material within agreed, legal parameters of taste and be licensed by the government and any sites not in compliance would be blacklisted and blocked by ISPs. 

On the face of it this is a great idea; if the internet is the Wild West than a corral for such material has to be better than nothing.  However whether it would seriously impact material hosted on foreign sites, which are currently where the most extreme, violent and degrading material is hosted, is a moot point.

Just because there is a demand for pornography which does not appear to be abating does not mean that its use is without consequence. 

This proposal provides porn with a veneer of respectability which it does not merit.  It fails to acknowledge the very real potential harm of pornography.  We cannot trust the industry itself to acknowledge this when its current advice site offers nothing more than information on child protection filters.

Our proposals for opt-in regulation met with criticism this yet this model would be far more problematic; with material being blocked by ISPs it really would be state-sponsored censorship.  Could all overseas porn be blocked with violating trade agreements?  It’s also doubtful whether it could work in the long term as vested interests push for more latitude.  We’ve seen time and again that rules on what and what is not acceptable are open to interpretation leading to a constant pushing boundaries – why should porn be different?

Clearly verifying the age of children attempting to access pornography is crucial.  Sites hosted in the UK already verify age but ATVOD has offered a creative solution to target overseas sites - by impacting their revenues.  The UK is a substantial market and to access customers in the UK would be quite a powerful incentive to introduce restrictions.

ATVOD wants all adult sites to request a licence, which would only be granted if age checks were in place, with banks and other payment processors not allowed to handle fees for services from UK citizens to unregulated sites.  Payment firms say they will act if shown that sites are breaking the law and the regulator accepts that this means new legislation.

ATVOD say this matter is so urgent it is ‘critical the legislation is enacted during this Parliament’.   With an election coming up this is something you might like to raise with anyone canvassing your vote.