Internet filtering laws in the UK could soon be updated to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to legally block explicit website content.
Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced in 2013 that his – and his party’s – aim was to implement greater controls over the Internet and to start blocking pornography by default. In the summer of 2013, pornography filters were put in place by most Internet Service Providers in the UK. Major ISPs in the UK now require customers to opt-in if they wanted to use their computers to view online pornography. However, unless requested, pornography filters are applied.
However, last year, as part of a new EU ruling covering mobile phone roaming charges, the porn filter in the UK was determined to be illegal. The EU ruled that companies are not permitted to block access to legal website content, only website content that is illegal in member states.
The UK opted out of the law after it was passed last year, allowing ISPs to continue to block Internet porn without violating the EU’s ‘Net Neutrality’ laws. However, even though the UK voted out, ISPs were only ever requested to implement porn filters. Internet filtering laws in the UK have never been introduced.
The Digital Economy Bill – which has already been passed by the House of Commons – has had a number of amendments added this week, one of which covers the use of Internet filters. If the Bill is written into law, this will be the first legislation in the UK covering the use of Internet filters.
The new clause is as follows: “A provider of an internet access service to an end-user may prevent or restrict access on the service to information, content, applications or services, for child protection or other purposes, if the action is in accordance with the terms on which the end-user uses the service.”
The UK’s House of Lords will now subject the bill, and the proposed amendments, to close scrutiny next week, examining the Bill line by line. While it is possible that some of the controversial elements of the Bill will be dropped, it is now looking likely that Internet filtering laws in the UK will be introduced.
The Bill also requires ISPs in the UK to block websites containing pornography that do not have any age verification mechanism in place. According to Department of media, culture, and sport parliamentary under-secretary of state Lord Ashton, ISPs will be required to block these websites, with the legislation enforced by the British Board of Film Classification.
While the UK has voted to leave the EU following the ‘Brexit’ vote, until the UK actually leaves the European Union it is required to comply with EU laws. Currently there is some confusion over whether the blocking of pornography by default in the UK contravenes EU laws.
While there is some doubt over the matter, the UK’s communications regulator – OFCOM – has not instructed ISPs to lift the block and require customers to opt in if they want to restrict access to pornography.
A spokesperson for the Department of media, culture, and sport said “We are committed to keeping children safe from harmful pornographic content on the internet and this amendment will give internet service providers reassurance the family friendly filters they currently offer are compliant with EU law.”