Online safety - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

3  Adult content

Nature and scale

38. While child abuse images attract worldwide opprobrium, there exists less consensus—both nationally and internationally—on what other kinds of material adults might properly access. Tensions can, and do, arise between the proscription of obscene material and freedom of expression. In the United Kingdom, it is perfectly legal for adults to possess images of explicit sexual activity of a kind that attracts an R18 certificate issued by the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC told us that that their guidelines "are the result of extensive public consultation with over 10,000 people across the UK being consulted during the most recent Guidelines consultation in 2013. Research demonstrates that the public agrees with the BBFC's classification decisions most of the time."[58]

39. The BBFC's written evidence provides a clear reminder of the qualitative difference in the nature and accessibility of pornographic material between the off-line and online worlds:

    The BBFC removes any material from pornographic works which is potentially harmful or otherwise illegal. As well as policing the border between legal and illegal pornography, the BBFC polices the border between the strongest, hardcore pornography, and the less strong, softcore pornography. The BBFC classifies hardcore pornography as R18, which means that it may only be supplied through licensed sex shops, as an extra precaution against underage viewing. However, the risk of children accessing even the strongest legal pornography is far greater online. In addition, there are fewer effective controls on the distribution online of pornography which the BBFC would not classify at any category.[59]

40. Judging from the evidence we received, pornography was the category of adult content that caused most concern. This could be an indication of its particular prevalence on the internet. The Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) told us that five of the top 50 websites most commonly accessed from the UK are "tube" websites offering unrestricted access to hardcore pornography videos. ATVOD also cited figures which suggest that those five sites were (collectively) visited over 214 million times by UK internet users during January 2013.[60] John Carr of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety told us that "right now today within the UK, there is nothing there routinely that restricts access to the most bizarre, the most violent and the most graphic types of pornography—anybody can get it."[61] Pornographic material, much of it illegal, is but "two clicks of a mouse"[62] away.

41. The NSPCC's Childline service provides one indication of the harm done to young people accessing pornography. According to the NSPCC:

    During 2011-12, there were 641 counselling sessions where the young person specifically mentioned being exposed to sexually indecent images. While these incidents will not exclusively relate to online content, a large proportion of this sexually explicit material will have been accessed through internet enabled devices. Young people often told ChildLine that they felt guilty and disgusted about what they had seen and were extremely worried about getting into trouble for accessing these sites. ChildLine has also seen a growing trend of young people talking about being addicted to online pornography.[63]

42. In January, we held a meeting at the House of Commons with eight young people, some of whom had been harmed by exposure to adult pornography. One young man told us how he had first encountered pornography at the age of eight; viewing pornography had subsequently become a habit which distorted his picture of loving relationships. Another participant told us how, as a teenager, she had been drawn accidentally into viewing pornography from information in a fashion magazine; just one encounter had made her feel ashamed and had affected her relationship with her father. Some girls told us how boyfriends sometimes expected them to behave like "porn stars" and that the exchange of sexually explicit material on mobile phones could lead to bullying.

The law

43. Online activity is subject to general offline legislation such as the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Publication of obscene material, including child abuse images and extreme adult pornography, is illegal under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (which extends to England and Wales). An important point is that the definition of obscene depends partly on the person who sees the material. "Legal" adult pornography that has an R18 certificate, issued by the British Board of Film Classification, would likely be classed as obscene if it was published in a way in which children could readily access it. Both the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety and the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) cited case law (in particular, R v Perrin) in support of this assertion. The test of obscenity in section 1 of the Act leaves little room for doubt in our minds:

    For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.[64]

44. The internet, where everyone with a connected computer is potentially a publisher, is largely a free-for-all—though some audiovisual content is becoming subject to broadcast-style regulation. The British Board of Film Classification engages extensively with the public in reaching decisions as to what standards are acceptable. The R18 classification is given to restricted videos depicting explicit consensual sexual activity which, by definition, excludes so-called "rape porn" and other illegal activities. R18 videos are only allowed to be sold in licensed sex shops (to which only adults are admitted); they may not be supplied by mail order. BBFC certification provides more than a useful yardstick as to content that adults may legitimately choose to access:

    The Government has recognised the dangers of extreme pornography and in 2008 made possession of extreme pornography an offence under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. A BBFC classification is a defence against a prosecution under this Act therefore purchasing a legally classified work is a protection against inadvertently possessing extreme pornographic material. The BBFC regularly assists Local Government trading standards officers in ensuring that pornographic material has been classified by the BBFC and restricted for sale to licensed sex shops. However, these methods of enforcement are not available online.[65]

45. Transposing accepted standards into the online context represents a challenge for national institutions, not least because the internet is in many ways an international space.


46. Evidence from the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) extensively explores the potential use of the Obscene Publications Act. ATVOD draws attention to the current Crown Prosecution Service guidance for prosecutors on the interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act, which states that:

    where children are likely to access material of a degree of sexual explicitness equivalent to what is available to those aged 18 and above in a licensed sex shop, that material may be considered to be obscene and subject to prosecution. This applies to material which is not behind a suitable payment barrier or other accepted means of age verification, for example, material on the front page of pornography websites and non-commercial, user-generated material which is likely to be accessed by children and meets the threshold. see R v Perrin, [2002] EWCA Crim 747.[66]

47. ATVOD told us they could find no recent example of a prosecution being launched under the above guidance. John Carr of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety told us:

    That law is being honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. It is principally because most of the publishers are based overseas and the British police have not sought to extradite them or go after them, and that is a great pity. In our evidence, we have made a number of practical suggestions about how we might try to get at least companies that are based in Britain or operate from here to try to observe that particular law. That is to say, "If you are going to publish porn, okay, that is your business, but please take concrete steps to make sure kids cannot get easy access to it."[67]

48. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Edward Vaizey said: "Obviously nothing should stop us doing the right thing, in terms of prosecutions or clarifying the law. Nevertheless we do have to be aware that a lot of these sites do not provide suitable identification as to who owns them, and again ATVOD is suggesting that we clamp down on those sites by denying them their financial support."[68] Jim Gamble did not see access to legal adult pornography primarily as a law enforcement issue. Alluding to the "active choice" filtering solution, he told us: "I will deal with the inappropriate material first because it is the easy one. I think inappropriate material is a parental decision for those individuals who have duty of care of the young people to make and I think active choice is absolutely right. If parents and others are prompted to make a decision, I do not think you can do more than that. You are not going to go out into their homes and look after their children for them."[69]

49. ATVOD told us that they are working with the UK payments industry to design a process which would enable payments from the UK to be prevented to foreign websites which allow children to view hardcore pornography. However, there needed to be greater clarity over the legality of providing unrestricted access to hardcore pornography.

50. ATVOD has an enforcement role in connection with a limited number of television-like services. It was designated by Ofcom in March 2010 to regulate the editorial content of UK video on demand services. Its duties and powers derive from the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which was implemented in the UK via amendments to section 368 of the Communications Act 2003 ("the Act"). Under the Act, UK services which meet the statutory definition of an on demand programme service ("ODPS") must comply with a limited number of statutory requirements which have been incorporated by ATVOD in a set of Rules. ATVOD's primary role in relation to protection of minors is founded in Article 12 of the Directive, which forms ATVOD's Rule 11: "If an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it."[70] ATVOD's evidence anticipates legislation in this area:

    The DCMS strategy paper ("Connectivity, Content and Consumers") published in July 2013 sets out Government's intention to legislate to make clear that R18-equivalent material on ODPS must be provided only in a manner which ensures that under 18s do not normally see or hear it. ATVOD considers that such legislation would provide clarity for consumers and industry and better ensure deployment of effective safeguards. Such legislation would also remove the possibility of ATVOD's consumer protection measures being undermined by a legal challenge.[71]

51. We believe that the existing obscenity laws already proscribe the publication of adult material in ways that make it readily available to children. However, we are concerned that no prosecutions have been brought despite the proliferation of pornography sites which make no attempt to restrict access by children. We welcome the Government's declared intention to legislate to clarify the law in this area. However, in the meantime, we urge the prosecuting authorities to use the existing law to crack down on the worst offenders in order to put pressure on all suppliers of hardcore pornography to make greater efforts to ensure that such material is accessible only by adults.

52. A major difficulty lies in the fact that ATVOD and Ofcom can only regulate services based in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the requirements of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive are interpreted differently in other Member States. The Dutch regulator, for example, takes the view that hardcore pornography does not seriously impair the development of under 18s and such services operating from the Netherlands are not required to ensure that under 18s cannot normally see or hear them.[72] In any case, the majority of online hardcore pornography services available to children in the UK operate from outside the European Union (most commonly from the USA).

53. The Government should seek agreement with other European Union Member States to ban on demand programme services that make pornography readily available to children. We further urge the Government to engage with other international partners, particularly the USA, with the aim of securing a similar outcome more widely.

54. Evidence from Ofcom includes a reference to a research report, 'Protecting audiences in a converged world'.[73] This research looked at public attitudes within the context of convergence, in order to understand the public's expectations for protection and how content should be regulated in the future: viewers have high expectations of content regulation on broadcast television, and associated video on demand and catch-up services, less so for internet content accessed through devices such as PCs and laptops. Quite how public expectations will develop as smart TVs and other manifestations of media convergence become more commonplace remains to be seen.

55. An independent parliamentary inquiry into online child protection (April 2012), chaired by Claire Perry, suggested that the Government should consider a new regulatory structure for online content, with one regulator given a lead role in the oversight and monitoring of internet content and in improving the dissemination of existing internet safety education materials. Ofcom already has a role in relation to internet services, though this is largely confined to promoting media literacy and performing research. Ofcom told us: "We regulate television channels delivered over the internet and notified ODPS when they are established in the UK; but we have no statutory powers to regulate any other online content."[74] We believe that, as part of its existing media literacy duties, Ofcom has an important role in monitoring internet content and advising the public on online safety. However, we are anxious to avoid suggesting a significant extension of formal content regulation of the internet. Among the unintended consequences this could have would be a stifling of the free flow of ideas that lies at the heart of internet communication.

Age verification

56. Providers of adult content can prevent children from accessing inappropriate and harmful material by putting in place systems that require evidence of age. In this regard, the mobile network operators have stolen a march over the internet service providers. A majority of children have a mobile and an increasing proportion of them go online using a mobile phone or smart phone. The mobile operators' work in online safety is underpinned by a Code of Practice that was first published in January 2004, 'The UK code of practice for the self-regulation of new forms of content on mobile'. The second edition of the code was published in 2009 and the third (and current) edition in July 2013. The Code was the first of its kind and was used as the boiler plate for similar codes introduced by mobile operators throughout the EU.[75]

57. The Code covers a broad range of topics: commercial and internet content, illegal content, malicious communications, spam communications and customer education. A distinction is made between commercial and internet content. The Mobile Broadband Group told us: "The mobile operators' respective responsibilities for commercial content—where they have contractual agreements in place with content providers—as against general content on the Internet are different."[76] Any commercial content with an 18 rating (determined by the British Board of Film Classification) is placed behind access controls and subject to "a robust age verification process"[77] (acceptable methods of which are set out in the Code).

58. Age verification is clearly more challenging when accessing content does not involve a direct financial transaction and where the users have an expectation of some degree of anonymity. There is a stark contrast between the requirements on the online gambling industry and those on other providers of online services to adults. As the Remote Gambling Association highlighted:

    The Gambling Act 2005 allowed for a wider range of advertising of gambling products in Great Britain. To be able to advertise a gambling operator has to hold an operating licence issued by the Gambling Commission, or an equivalent licence issued by an EU gambling regulator or an overseas regulator which issues licences with equivalent standards to the UK regulator. These licences require that before bets can be settled the customer is over 18 and has had his or her identity verified.

    As far as we are aware, no other adult service providers are required by law to ensure that their customers are over the age of 18. This puts the regulated online gambling industry in a different position to other e-commerce sectors. Because there are mandatory safeguards in place, but especially where children are concerned we believe that the principles at least should be applied equally.[78]

59. Online gambling of necessity involves a financial transaction which makes age verification relatively easy. There are, however, difficulties in relation to the use of other services or consumption of content which do not necessarily involve direct payment. British Naturism told us: "Age verification is used, for example, by gambling websites where the possession of a valid credit card forms both the financial security and implicit verification of the person's right to gamble. But in the general case of free access to unsuitable websites, it is unclear to us what mechanism could be devised that verifies the age of the individual who has made initial access, but does not block the unverifiable access by, say, another family member or friend to whom control of the device is passed."[79]

60. The Christian social policy charity, CARE, acknowledged that many adult websites require robust age verification to access 18+ content. "However there are many more websites that provide such content for free without robust age verification. Moreover, the business model of these websites can be driven by their click through rate as it relates to advertising. This means that the more clicks a website receives, the more money they make, disincentivising the owners of these websites from applying age verification."[80] The Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) provided us with further details on the business models of hardcore pornography services, most of which are operated from overseas: "The most frequently accessed services use a variation on the You Tube business model (and are consequently commonly referred to as "tube sites"). Such tube sites offer significant quantities of unrestricted free hardcore porn videos as a shop window in order to attract large number of viewers whose visits are monetised in a number of ways: by up-selling to a premium version of the free service (offering a wider choice, longer videos, better picture quality, etc); by driving traffic to other paid (pornographic) services operated by the provider of the tube site; by charging on a 'click through' basis to affiliates whose content is featured on a 'try before you buy' basis on the tube site; and by selling advertising space (eg for 'contact' services or penis enlargement treatments)."[81]

61. Among the measures recommended by CARE is financial transaction blocking of adult websites that do not put in place "robust" age verification procedures. ATVOD provided us with the following examples of suitable age verification methods:

·  Confirmation of credit card ownership or other form of payment where mandatory proof that the holder is 18 or over is required prior to issue.

·  A reputable personal digital identity management service which uses checks on an independent and reliable database, such as the electoral roll.

·  Other comparable proof of account ownership which effectively verifies age[82]

62. The Mobile Broadband Group argues that providers of age restricted services should themselves be putting in place their own processes to protect minors. We agree. Providers of adult content on the internet should take all reasonable steps to prevent children under 18 from accessing inappropriate and harmful content. Such systems may include, but will not necessarily be restricted to, processes to verify the age of users.

63. The Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety suggested to us that more could be done in relation to age verification. Their written evidence includes a suggestion that refers to case law supporting the view that publishing adult material in ways that makes it accessible by children is in breach of obscenity legislation: "Nominet should make compliance with R v Perrin a condition of operating a .uk domain name e.g. if a site is to publish pornography the operator must give a binding undertaking to put an effective age verification process in place".[83] Nominet describes itself as "the trusted guardian of the .uk domain name space, Nominet is responsible for the stability and security of one of the largest internet registries in the world, with more than 10 million registered domain names."[84] We have no reason to suppose that Nominet has either the resources or inclination to police the internet. Age verification, while ideal, is not the only way of preventing children from accessing unsuitable content. However, we believe that no .uk site should offer unimpeded access to adult pornography to children. This should be made a condition of registration.

Site blocking

64. The site blocking approach enabled by the Internet Watch Foundation, with the necessary cooperation of ISPs, is one instrument—albeit a blunt one—aimed at preventing access (by anyone) to online material. It has so far been applied mainly to images of child abuse. Extending this approach to other material, including some adult sites, would face challenges both of scale and cost. BCS[85], the Chartered Institute for IT, told us:

    There has been much resistance to the Internet Watch Foundation's widening its remit to the other material in the Select Committee's question, and BCS does not believe that this is the way forward.

    Some people say that more should be done, and imply, without saying so, that content-based filtering should be used, so that more such material could be blocked. This would require a major change in society's attitude to censorship, as well as primary legislation to enact fundamental changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. BCS does not believe that this is either feasible or desirable.[86]

65. BT, a major ISP, has also expressed concerns:

    In the absence of clear primary legislation from Parliament, or an EU-wide legislative instrument, BT does not wish to police the internet beyond preventing access to illegal material. To do so would set an unfortunate precedent in which an ISP would become the arbiter of taste and decency in relation to online content. It is not for an ISP to be placed in such a position.

    Legal opinion informs us that filtering any internet material on home broadband or public wi-fi may be illegal under RIPA 2000 and that this is so even if the purpose for filtering is child protection, and even if the internet user has chosen to set up filters. BT has raised with government the potential conflict between network level content filtering and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA 2000). We would expect to receive clarity that our employees and or those of our wi-fi site partners would not face a criminal prosecution under RIPA 2000 by offering filtering activities to our wi-fi site partners for blocking unsuitable content from reaching vulnerable individuals.[87]

66. The Internet Watch Foundation describes blocking of child abuse sites as "a short-term disruption tactic which can help protect internet users from stumbling across these images, whilst processes to have them removed are instigated."[88] Site blocking is highly unlikely to be a suitable approach for adult pornography or violent material much of which is legal (at least if it is unavailable to minors) and which is prevalent on the internet. However, blocking should be considered as a last resort for particularly harmful adult websites that make no serious attempt to hinder access by children.


67. An independent parliamentary inquiry into online child protection (April 2012), chaired by Claire Perry, noted that "while parents should be responsible for monitoring their children's internet safety, in practice this is not happening".[89] The report went on to recommend that the Government "should launch a formal consultation on the introduction of an Opt-In content filtering system for all internet accounts in the UK" as well as seeking "backstop legal powers to intervene should the ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution".[90] Following a subsequent Department for Education consultation, the Government stopped short of proposing a default-on or opt-in filtering system, partly on the grounds of practicality, the danger of blocking legitimate sites and the inability of such systems to cut off other types of harmful material such as grooming and bullying. The Perry report came on the back of a number of other studies that have looked at how best to protect children, for example, Reg Bailey's Letting Children be Children (June 2011) and Tanya Byron's Safer children in a digital world (March 2008). The latter report led to the setting up of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety in September 2008. Our predecessor Committee also published its report, Harmful content on the Internet and in video games, in July 2008.

68. In its evidence, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport notes that 91% of children live in households with internet access and that a greater proportion of children aged 12-15 own smartphones than adults. The Government "understands that, first and foremost, responsibility for keeping children safe online falls to parents and guardians; however, Government is acting to ensure that parents have the tools and information they need to be able to do so."[91] In particular, the Government has been working through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) "to pursue a voluntary approach to child internet safety and has called on industry to make the right tools available to allow parents to protect children online."[92]

69. In their submission, Intellect rehearsed the roles the technology industries have been playing in the development of parental control tools such as filters. They also refer to a "continual process to innovate and update these tools".[93] Intellect added:

    Thus it is clear that an irreversible momentum has developed across the industrial ecosystem providing internet access to continually develop technology tools in response to the fast evolving internet environment. It is this application of technology innovation which will ensure the diverse set of tools needed to support a safe online environment—not regulation which in contrast could freeze innovation.[94]

70. In a speech to the NSPCC on 22 July 2013,[95] the Prime Minister announced a range of measures to tackle the "corroding" impact of online pornography on childhood. Some of these would prevent children from being able to access (legal) pornography while other measures would target child abuse images and the activities of paedophiles.

71. On access to pornography, Mr Cameron said that by the end of the year, family-friendly filters would automatically be selected for all new broadband customers (unless the account holder chose otherwise). Once installed, the filters would cover any device connected to the customer's internet account and only the account holder, who must be an adult, would be able to change the filters. Internet service providers would be given until the end of 2014 to contact existing customers and present them with an "unavoidable decision" about whether or not to install family friendly content filters.

72. In March 2012, TalkTalk had become the first internet service provider to introduce a genuine "unavoidable choice" for new customers when they signed up to TalkTalk broadband, as per the recommendation of the Bailey Review. TalkTalk told us that customers are asked to make a 'yes' or 'no' decision as to whether they want to filter access to content that might be inappropriate for under 18s on their broadband connection or not.[96] TalkTalk then applies this to their internet connection as soon as it is live, and no further action is required by the customer. The customer is also alerted by email and/or text if any of the so-called Homesafe settings are changed - safeguards such as this aim to ensure children aren't changing settings without their parents' knowledge.

73. The Internet Service Providers' Association told us: "The main consumer facing ISPs are moving to a system where new and existing customers are presented with an unavoidable choice of whether to apply filters or not. These filters cover the whole home ... Some smaller consumer-facing providers are considering solutions that offer family friendly filters but can be deployed on smaller scale and at lower costs. ISPA is currently discussing this issue with its members."[97] Claire Perry told us that the top four ISPs are introducing "unavoidable choice" filtering solutions. She said: "we would like the others to commit to the same thing. They will ask you in different ways. Some might ask you when you go to query your bill online, some may interrupt your browsing session, which is a first for the UK to do that. This is the commitment that Ofcom will be monitoring. Every household will be contacted and asked whether or not they would like to switch on the ?lters, and the box, "Yes, please" will be pre-ticked."[98]

74. We welcome the introduction of whole home filtering solutions that prompt account holders with a choice to apply them. We encourage all internet service providers to offer their customers this valuable service. Ofcom should monitor the implementation of this filtering and report back on its level of success and adoption.

75. While greater use of filters is welcome, they should not be seen as a panacea. ATVOD told us: "The usefulness of parental control software depends not only on its uptake but also on its effectiveness. This is especially important lest parents who use parental control software are lulled into a false sense of security about the extent to which their children have been protected when using the internet."[99] ATVOD further cites EU Commission research which suggests that the ?lters themselves when set to block "adult" content suffer from relatively high rates of over-blocking (accidentally blocking non-adult sites) and under-blocking (failure to block adult sites). Although the efficacy of parental controls may have improved since that research was conducted in 2011, ATVOD told us it is clear that both "over-blocking" and "under-blocking" still occur.[100] The Internet Service Providers' Association told us that filtering does have limitations and that over-blocking and under-blocking of content "is inevitable".[101]

76. When we held a meeting with eight young people in January, we heard varying views on filtering. Some called for stronger filtering to prevent access to harmful material online, particularly pornography. We were told of boys circumventing the filters in place in school to access age-inappropriate content. However, others expressed concern that if filters were too strong or inappropriately applied, young people could be prevented from accessing websites offering advice on sexual health and online safety.

77. TalkTalk described its 'Homesafe' system as a "whole home parental controls system that allows parents to protect every device connected to the home broadband and control the types of websites their family is able to visit."[102] Homesafe has three features:

·  Kids Safe—parental controls that allow the account holder to block content they don't want to be accessed on their connection. There are nine different categories, and customers can also choose to block other specific websites.

·  Virus Alerts—an alert system that blocks access to web pages infected with malware[103] and phishing sites.[104]

·  Homework Time—this allows parents to block social networking and online games sites—common sources of distraction for children from homework—during a specified time of day.

The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment describes as "deeply troubling" the inclusion of games in the TalkTalk list. They told us of the "potential for this to do signi?cant collateral damage to the UK games industry."[105] We value the UK games industry and the many educational and recreational benefits it provides to children. As filtering technologies continue to develop, as they should, we trust parents will be empowered to provide the supervision they want of what games their children play and when.

78. In connection with filters applied by mobile network operators, the BBFC has a role in calibration: providing advice to mobile operators on where to set their Internet filters. The Mobile Broadband Group told us that processes also exist to remedy inadvertent or unfounded over-blocking. The Group also told us: "The BBFC framework is binary—18 or unrestricted. This is because 18 is the only age at which it is currently practical to implement convenient, ubiquitous and robust on-line age verification. Stricter filters are available in the market for parents that may want a narrower range of content for younger users but these fall outside the Code."[106] At a recent seminar, Adam Kinsley, Director of Policy, BSkyB, gave details of that ISP's more granular filtering solution which has additional age categories analogous to those used for cinema exhibition.[107]

79. The Mobile Broadband Group reminded us that mobile operators have had network filtering in place for nearly ten years. They added: "Great pressure has also recently been put on the domestic ISPs and public wi-fi operators to do the same—and this is happening. However, all these efforts would be complemented with the availability of better user controls at operating system and device level. The UK, through UKCCIS and other channels, should continue to examine closely what the manufacturers and operating system providers are offering in the area of child safety and challenge them to be as equally committed as the network providers."[108] We agree that the availability and performance of filtering solutions must be closely monitored, both for efficacy and the avoidance of over-blocking. It should also be easy for websites inadvertently blocked to report the fact and for corrective action to be taken.

80. A recent report by Ofcom notes: "The provision of accurate content labels or metadata by content providers would help filtering systems to categorise content correctly. However, only a tiny proportion of websites are labelled in a way that allows easy categorisation for the purposes of filtering."[109] Websites that provide adult content should signal the fact clearly to enable filters better to take effect. A failure on the part of the operators of such sites to do so should be a factor in determining what measures should be taken against them.

81. One of the arguments given against filtering is the ease with which it can be circumvented. According to Ofcom research, most parents report that they know enough to keep their child safe online, but around half of parents continue to feel that their child knows more about the internet than they do, including 14% of parents of children aged 3-4. Ofcom also acknowledges: "In some cases, children will be able to bypass filters, either by altering the filtering settings or by using tools to conceal the sites they are visiting from the filtering software. The main mechanisms by which filters may be bypassed are through the use of a VPN (virtual private network), which encrypts all internet traffic, and the use of proxy sites."[110] Ofcom research has also established that 18% of children aged 12-15 know how to disable online filters or controls, but considerably fewer (6%) have done this in the past year. Filters are clearly a useful tool to protect children online. Ofcom should continue to monitor their effectiveness and the degree to which they can be circumvented.

Media literacy and education

82. Filtering systems will in general fail to capture text and picture messages sent directly between individuals. Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in Information Technology, Plymouth University, told us about some of the discussions he has had with young people themselves:

    Protection from access is an interesting concept. How can we protect them from content they wish to access (which is certainly something I would observe from talking to boys far more than girls)? This, again, was re?ected in discussions recently with a very mature group of 14-16 year old boys in a local school—one boy, who was discussing the recent policy discussions around "opt-in" and ?ltering in the home, made a very clear statement: "You will not prevent teenage boys from accessing pornography". He did not state this to be rebellious or controversial, he was stating it from his observations of his peers. They access and share pornography and have many ways of doing so.[111]

83. Comments such as this serve only to highlight the importance of media literacy and education. The difficulty in entirely preventing access to age-inappropriate material emphasises the importance of e-safety in the school curriculum and the availability of advice to parents and carers. Such advice should include how to report harmful material. Evidence we received from the DCMS did highlight the role of education in online safety.[112] From September 2014, the national curriculum will extend e-safety teaching to pupils aged between 5 and 10 (11-16 years olds are already covered). The DCMS also referred to several general educational tools and programmes: Think U Know (from CEOP); the UK's Safer Internet Centre (which has a hotline for internet safety information); Get Safe Online (providing advice at the initiative of government, law enforcement, businesses and the public sector); online resources, including Know IT All, from the Childnet charity; the South West Grid for Learning; and ParentPort. The last of these is a complaints portal that directs individuals to the relevant media regulator, or to sources of advice for content that has no regulator responsible. Edward Vaizey told us: "Ofcom was behind setting up ParentPort because it felt you needed a one-stop shop for parents to go to get all the advice they needed."[113] We welcome the introduction of ParentPort but believe Ofcom should seek to promote and improve it further. For example, more use could be made of it to collect data on complaints concerning children's access to adult material.

84. We further recommend that Ofcom regularly reports on children's access to age-restricted material, particularly adult pornography and the effectiveness of filters and age verification measures. Ofcom is well-placed to fulfil this role given the work it does on its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report.

85. Childnet International commented on the need for further work on the education front:

    There is a need for ongoing educational and awareness work in this area ... As the UK Safer Internet Centre, Childnet (along with the Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning) will be running Safer Internet Day 2014 which will take place on 11th February. The theme of Safer Internet Day is "Let's create a better internet together". This positive call to action provides all stakeholders with the opportunity to reach out and positively work to empower internet users in the UK.

    We are hoping a proposed industry-led awareness campaign, led mainly by the 4 big ISPs, can combine with our work and help make Safer Internet Day 2014 even bigger than last SID 2013, which reached 10% of the population, and led to 40% changing their online behaviour as a result of the campaign.[114]

Safer Internet Day 2014 was subsequently celebrated by 106 countries, and early indications are that it was a great success: over 25 million people were reached by the "SID2014" Twitter hashtag alone.[115]

86. In their evidence, the sexual health charities FPA[116] and Brook included the following: "Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) guidance pre-dates recent and emerging issues on technology and safeguarding, with no reference to addressing on-line safety, "sexting" or pornography in SRE. Brook and FPA recommend that the Government should update SRE guidance for the modern era."[117] The young people we met in January were unanimous that schools should be required to offer sex and relationships education. As one young person put it, teachers are a sounder source of professional information on sex than friends or the internet. The young people said providing them with the knowledge, tools and confidence to navigate potential online dangers would ultimately be more beneficial than technical measures. The NSPCC recently told us that the Government has committed to emailing every school SRE advice developed by Brook, the sex education forum, and others.[118] We note comments on the state of, and access to, sex and relationships education. We are aware this is a politically contested subject but believe the Government should take into account the views of the young people who gave evidence to us of the value and importance of good quality mandatory sex and relationship education as policy develops. In the mean time, teachers have many opportunities to use their professional judgement in advising children both on online safety and on respect for each other. We believe there is scope for providing teachers with clearer signposting of the advice and educational resources that are already available.

58   Ev w14 Back

59   Ev w15 Back

60   Ev w135 Back

61   Q 7 Back

62   Q 7 Back

63   Ev 69 Back

64   Section 1, Obscene Publications Act 1959 Back

65   Ev w15 Back

66   Ev w137 Back

67   Q 6 Back

68   Q 222 Back

69   Q 113 Back

70   Ev w133 Back

71   Ev w135-w136 Back

72   Ev w134 Back

73  Back

74   Ev 95 Back

75   Ev 86 Back

76   Ev 86 Back

77   Ev 86 Back

78   Ev w7 Back

79   Ev w120 Back

80   Ev w129 Back

81   Ev w134 Back

82   Ev w133 Back

83   Ev 65-66 Back

84 Back

85   Formerly known as the British Computer Society Back

86   Ev w35 Back

87   Ev w57-w58 Back

88 Back

89   Independent parliamentary inquiry into online child protection: findings and recommendations, April 2012, p5 Back

90   Ibid, p8 Back

91   Ev 108 Back

92   Ev 108 Back

93   Ev w140 Back

94   Ibid. Back

95  Back

96   Ev 83 Back

97   Ev 80 Back

98   Q 207 Back

99   Ev w137 Back

100   Ev w138 Back

101   Ev 81 Back

102   Ev 82 Back

103   Malicious software Back

104   Phishing sites aim to obtain personal data by deception Back

105   Ev w92 Back

106   Ev 87 Back

107   Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar, Childhood and the internet - safety, education and regulation, 29 January 2014 Back

108   Ev 88 Back

109   Ofcom Report on Internet safety measures: Strategies of parental protection for children online, 15 January 2014 Back

110   Ibid. Back

111   Ev w111 Back

112   Ev 109 Back

113   Q 206 Back

114   Ev w90 Back

115 Back

116   Family Planning Association Back

117   Ev w100 Back

118   Ev 112 Back

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Prepared 19 March 2014