Filth and fury: David Cameron’s U-turn on online porn

Cameron described online pornography as a “silent attack on innocence”

No one wants children to access porn online.

Working out the best way to protect them from the darker corners of the internet is a thorny issue that the government is trying to tackle.

But when the Department of Education last week released the results of its public consultation on whether or not pornography should be automatically banned by internet providers (unless a subscriber “opted in” to receive adult content), the overriding message was clear.

“There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the internet,” the Department declared. What parents wanted, instead, was the option to filter content and better knowledge of how to do that in order to protect their children from online porn.

After months of threatening internet providers with an automatic porn ban, the Government seemed to relent and recognise that policing the internet was primarily a job for parents, not the state.

Yet in the course of just a few days Downing Street appears to have swung back the other way after receiving a mauling in the Daily Mail – the newspaper which has campaigned vigorously for automatic porn restrictions and was furious that their call for an automatic ban had been rejected as unworkable.

Writing in today’s Mail, Mr Cameron described online pornography as a “silent attack on innocence” and instead announced plans to force internet providers to bring in new porn filters for any households with children present. The plans stop short of the “opt-in” porn ban that backbench Tory MP Claire Perry has been campaigning for. But it would nonetheless bring in some of the heaviest mandatory state-sanctioned internet filters in Europe.

What Mr Cameron envisages is a system whereby anyone installing a new computer at home and connects to the web will be asked whether there are any children in the home. If there are, parents will be automatically required to tailor their internet filters. If a parent skips too quickly through the filter process the highest restrictions will automatically remain in place.

It will be the job of internet providers, rather than computer manufacturers, to come up with the filter software.

Downing Street officials insisted today that the announcement was not a U-turn on porn filters and that Mr Cameron’s announcement was simply a way of illustrating what the Government has planned to give parents more control. But the onus is nonetheless firmly placed on internet providers to come up with mandatory filters with Whitehall sources indicating that a “legislative backstop” would be brought in they refused to co-operate.

That has caused concern among web providers, most of whom already offer content filters to their customers as a matter of course. One source involved in negotiations with the Government described Mr Cameron’s announcement as an example of “goal posts being moved”.

Critics of the plans called described them as “muddled and unworkable”.

“This is a back-of-the-fag-packet policy reversal announced after the Government’s own public consultation decided just a week ago that further filtering wouldn’t work,” said Jim Killock, from Open Rights Group, which campaigns against digital restrictions.

Nick Pickles, from the Big Brother Watch, added: “Mr Cameron seems to be suggesting a combination of network filtering and device filtering that isn’t even available at the moment, let alone possible. The danger here is it will alienate the ISPs who thought they’d been involved in the consultation process.”

Concern that young people are increasingly able to access pornography through computers, phones and tablets is universal. The disagreement tends to be over what effect porn has on children and where the responsibility lies for monitoring what children get up to online.

In Britain most parents are already being proactive in blocking adult content or tracking their children’s browsing habits. A recent study into European computing habits by the London School of Economics – one of the most comprehensive every undertaken – found that 54% of parents blocked or filter websites at home whilst 46% tracked sites visited by their children making Britain the most proactive country in Europe for filtering.

Mrs Perry, a mother of two who represent Devizes in Wiltshire, has now been promoted by Mr Cameron to advise the government on “the sexualisation and commercialisation of children.” In a statement released yesterday she said she would push for “more robust filters for internet content in our homes” and try to “to improve education for parents and children about online safety.”

Peter Warren, Cyber Security Research Foundation, says the government should concentrate on the latter proposal rather than the former if it wants to protect young people from porn.

“It’s easy to call for blanket bans but the technology is far ahead of anything you can do in those terms,” he said. “What would make far more sense is to raise the risks of going to porn sites. We need a massive campaign to raise awareness s among the public at large on all things to do with computer security and the internet. That is not just doable, it will have tangible results.”

Q&A: What now?

What is being proposed?

Downing Street wants to introduce a mandatory internet filter system for any new computer for any household where a child is present.

How will it affect internet users?

Parents will have to decide what level of protection they want to place on their new computer before they log on to the internet for first time.

Will it work?

The jury is out. The Government clearly thinks so but critics have concerns that heavy filters block out legitimate content whilst technology tends to outpace bans anyway.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform