MPs call for better porn filters to protect children

Two children using a laptop
Image caption MPs want to see tighter filters to prevent children seeing unsuitable content online

A cross-party parliamentary inquiry into how safe children are online has concluded the government and internet service providers need to do more.

It found that children were easily accessing pornography and websites showing extreme violence.

The inquiry called on the government to back moves for stronger filters of adult content.

The MPs also recommended that the government appoint an internet safety tsar.

The inquiry said that internet service providers (ISPs) and the government should work together to draw up guidelines to make it clearer to parents what safety settings were available on their home computers and other internet-enabled devices.

'Hugely worrying'

Other recommendations included:

  • A government review of an opt-in filter to access adult material on the internet
  • Accelerated implementation of content-filtering system Active Choice for new internet customers
  • ISPs to roll out within 12 months network filters that provide one-click filtering for all devices connected to the same internet account
  • Public wi-fi networks to have a default adult-content bar

Conservative MP and chairwoman of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry on Online Child Protection Claire Perry said: "Our inquiry found that many children are easily accessing internet pornography as well as websites showing extreme violence or promoting self-harm and anorexia. This is hugely worrying.

"While parents should be responsible for their children's online safety, in practice people find it difficult to put content filters on the plethora of internet-enabled devices in their homes, plus families lack the right information and education on internet safety," she added.

ISPs must take more responsibility, both in providing internet safety education and appropriate filters, she said.

"It's time that Britain's internet service providers, who make more than £3bn a year from selling internet access services, took on more of the responsibility to keep children safe, and the government needs to send a strong message that this is what we all expect," she said.

All the big four UK ISPs, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin, have agreed to offer all new subscribers the option to install parental controls.

BT has been offering the system - known as Active Choice - to new customers since January and told the BBC it had also written to existing customers reminding them that parental control software is free.

TalkTalk is the only major UK ISP to have implemented a network level filtering system which offers parental controls for all devices that are connected via the home broadband service.

BT is looking into such a system but said that there are "some privacy issues" with this type of network monitoring.

It is also against introducing an opt-in system for viewing adult content.

"We think Active Choice amounts to the same thing. It is not for ISPs to be making these kind of judgements," said a spokesman.

Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, described the proposals as "appalling".

"Default filtering is a form of censorship. Adults should not have to 'opt out' of censorship. Governments should not be given powers to default censor legal material that adults see online," he said.

Social monitoring

Increasingly security firms are offering packages that allow parents to monitor what their children are doing on social networks.

Zonealarm's Socialguard, for instance, analyses accounts and alerts parents if it detects a problem.

Security firm Bullguard offers a package which allows parents to monitor their child's smartphone activity via a web-based system.

It give details of text messages and photos and can also tell parents where their child is at any given time.

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