Family filters won't block 'soft' porn: David Cameron retreats in war on internet porn, admitting there will be 'problems down the line'

Proposals criticised by anti-censorship groups, who warn that sites about sexual health and sexuality could inadvertently get caught up in the ban

Whitehall Editor

David Cameron is facing serious questions over how his plan for automatic internet “porn filters” in every British home would work - after he suggested that topless images such as those used on The Sun’s page three would be still be accessible online.

The Prime Minister used a major speech to set out a raft of reforms to protect children from “poisonous” pornography websites which, he said, were “corroding childhood”. He announced that internet service providers had agreed to introduce family-friendly filters that automatically block pornography unless customers chose to opt out.

But his proposals were criticised by anti-censorship groups, who warned that sites about sexual health and sexuality could inadvertently get caught up in the ban.

Significantly, Mr Cameron admitted there would be “problems down the line” with the system – and appeared to rule out “soft” or written pornography from the scheme entirely.

Separately, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP), Jim Gamble, said Mr Cameron’s plan to tackle child abuse images by removing results from search engines like Google would be “laughed at” by paedophiles.

“There are 50,000 predators...downloading abusive images on peer-to-peer, not from Google,” he said. “Yet from CEOP intelligence only 192 were arrested last year. That’s simply not good enough.

“We’ve got to attack the root cause, invest with new money, real investment in child protection teams, victim support and policing on the ground. Let’s create a real deterrent. Not a pop-up that paedophiles will laugh at.”

Mr Cameron laid out a multi-pronged approach to tackle the proliferation of both legal and illegal pornography on the internet, saying that the problem was “too big to ignore”.

Under his proposals, by the end of next year all households will have to “opt out” of automatic porn filters, which would come as standard with internet broadband and cover all devices in a house. Possession of the most extreme forms of adult pornography will become an offence, while online content will have the same restrictions as DVDs sold in sex shops.

To tackle child abuse images, search engines have been told they will have to redact results from specific searches, while anyone accessing websites shut down by the police for containing such images will see a message warning them that what they were doing was illegal.

But in interviews after his speech, Mr Cameron seemed unclear of exactly which legal sites should be banned by the new filters - and accepted that the technology still had weaknesses.

Speaking on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine programme, Mr Cameron said what would be included in the filters would evolve over time. “The companies themselves are going to design what is automatically blocked, but the assumption is they will start with blocking pornographic sites and also perhaps self-harming sites,” he said.

“It will depend on how the companies choose how to do it. It doesn’t mean, for instance, it will block access to a newspaper like The Sun, it wouldn’t block that - but it would block pornography.”

Mr Cameron said he did not “believe” written pornography, such as erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, would be blocked under the plans. But he added: “It will depend on how the filters work.”

He also admitted it could lead to some interesting conversations in families. Asked if the “opt in” system meant a husband would have to “fess up” to his partner if he wanted to look at porn, he finally said: “Yes, it does.”

He then added: “I’m not saying we’ve thought of everything and there will be many problems down the line as we deal with this, but we’re trying to crunch through these problems and work out what you can do and can’t do.”

But others were critical of such a “nanny state” intervention. Daniel Foster, founder of web hosting company 34SP, said: “To say that pornography is ‘corroding childhood’ is extreme. Having criticised the previous government for operating a nanny state, this reeks of hypocrisy.

“The fact that there is plenty of widely-adopted filtering software readily available means that internet users are already acting autonomously in policing content in their own homes.”

Mr Cameron was even attacked by one of his former female MPs, Louise Mensch, for attempting to ban video containing rape simulation. She suggested such fantasies were common in more than half of all women. “It is not for our government to police consensual simulation, between adults, of one of women’s most common fantasies,” she wrote on Twitter.

Padraig Reidy, of the Index on Censorship, said people should not have to opt out of the filters. “If we have, as the Prime Minister is suggesting, an opt-out filter we have a kind of default censorship in place,” he said.

“Families should be able to choose if they want to opt in to censorship. If a filter is set up as a default then it can really restrict what people can see legitimately. Sites about sexual health, about sexuality and so on, will get caught up in the same filters as pornography. It will really restrict people’s experience on the web, including children’s.”

Dr Paul Bernal, from the University of East Anglia’s law school, suggested Mr Cameron’s crackdown on child abuse images was also inadequate. “Plans like these, worthy though they may appear, do not, to me, seem likely to be in any way effective,” he said.

“The real ‘bad guys’ will find ways around them, the material will still exist, will keep being created, and we’ll pretend to have solved the problem – and at the same time put in a structure to allow censorship, create a deeply vulnerable database of ‘untrustworthy people’, and potentially alienate many of the most important companies on the internet. I’m not convinced it’s a good idea.”

Filtering porn: problems with the plan

Can the filters work effectively?

Filtering pornography is fiendishly difficult to do accurately. Although the technology is improving, filters set up in hospitals several years ago had to be switched off after doctors were unable to access clinical studies on breast cancer.

Even if they do work, can they be circumvented?

Some schools have used web filters to stop children accessing Facebook when they were meant to be working. But some children reportedly got around them by using “proxy websites” that re-diverted them to Facebook around the filters. Such problems could also exist for pornography – while parents think there are safeguards in place.

What is pornography?

Some women’s groups believe  that Page 3 in The Sun is  pornography – not a view David Cameron shares. Computer algorithms may not be the best means of deciding what is and what is not pornographic.

Do we want to live in a nanny state?

The basis of Mr Cameron’s argument is that people should have to make a conscious decision to watch pornography. But civil liberties groups take the opposite approach and accuse him of hypocrisy. It was Mr Cameron who used to decry Labour’s nanny state.

And what about marital harmony?

Some men (and women) in happy relationships may secretly watch pornography without their partner’s knowledge. This, as Mr Cameron admits, will force them to fess up or abstain. A husband whose wife finds he has secretly turned off the porn filter could find himself in trouble – possibly straining the institution Mr Cameron cares most about: marriage.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?