Online safety - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We believe that the Government should, in due course, consolidate the law around child abuse images into a single Act of Parliament with a view to providing even greater clarity for the purposes of law enforcement and deterrence. (Paragraph 9)

2.  Given the worldwide nature of online crime, we recommend that the Government press for wider international adoption of both the Budapest and Lanzarote Conventions. The Government should ratify the Lanzarote Convention as soon as practicable. (Paragraph 10)

3.  We recommend that the Government examines whether adequate resources are being deployed to track down online paedophiles in sufficient numbers to act as a meaningful deterrent to others. If not, additional funding should be provided to recruit and train a sufficiently large number of police officers adequate to the task. (Paragraph 17)

4.  CEOP has been increasingly effective not least because it is not solely a criminal justice organisation: its education and social care work has also been very important in increasing public understanding of the problem of child abuse and in offering means of countering abusers. We therefore recommend that CEOP continues to publish an annual review which includes an assessment of its ongoing contribution to all three elements of its mission—education, social care and criminal justice. (Paragraph 18)

5.  We welcome the increasing use of alerting tools to identify individuals who seek out child abuse and other illegal material online provided these tools are deployed in ways that do not unduly compromise the privacy of the law-abiding majority. (Paragraph 23)

6.  We very much welcome the commitment by the Internet Watch Foundation to embark on proactive searching for online child abuse images. The sooner these can be found and removed, the better. However, we are concerned that seven additional staff might prove woefully insufficient to achieve substantial progress towards what must be an important intermediate goal: the eradication of child abuse images from the open internet. (Paragraph 29)

7.  Search engines and other internet service providers have a vital role in ensuring that access to online child abuse images is prevented and deterred. We expect the Government to monitor closely their degree of commitment and success and to consider the introduction of legislation should they fall short of reasonable expectations. (Paragraph 33)

8.  We welcome the Government's decision to include pornographic depictions of rape in the definition of extreme pornography. It has been illegal to publish such images for many years; outlawing their possession is long overdue. (Paragraph 34)

9.  There is clearly a need to obtain wider international consensus and cooperation in relation to combating criminally obscene adult material and terrorist material and we urge the Government to use all the influences it can bring to bear to bring this about within a transparent, legal framework. (Paragraph 37)

10.  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. (Paragraph 51)

11.  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. (Paragraph 53)

12.  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. (Paragraph 55)

13.  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. (Paragraph 62)

14.  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. (Paragraph 63)

15.  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. (Paragraph 66)

16.  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. (Paragraph 74)

17.  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. (Paragraph 0)

18.  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. (Paragraph 79)

19.  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. (Paragraph 80)

20.  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. (Paragraph 81)

21.  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. (Paragraph 83)

22.  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. (Paragraph 84)

23.  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. (Paragraph 86)

24.  Any changes to legislation, including consolidation of current laws, which clarify the status of bullying, whether off-line or online, would be welcome. At the same time, much could be achieved by the timely introduction of improved guidance on the interpretation of existing laws. (Paragraph 97)

25.  Both Facebook and Twitter have sensible terms and conditions attaching to the use of their services. However, these should be made much clearer, explicit and visible. People who might be tempted to misuse social media need to be left in no doubt that abuses online are just as unacceptable as similar misbehaviour face-to-face. (Paragraph 100)

26.  Given that Facebook and Twitter are aware of the extent to which their services are accessed by younger children, we expect them to pay greater attention to factoring this into the services provided, the content allowed and the access to both. The same applies to other social media companies in a similar position. (Paragraph 104)

27.  Twitter told us that users can mark their own tweets as sensitive which by default means a warning message is posted to anyone wishing to view these. This is a good reminder that self-restraint and self-regulation are crucial aspects of any enforcement regime in the online world. (Paragraph 105)

28.  In spite of reassuring words from Facebook and Twitter, it is clear that these platforms, in common with other social media providers, could do far more to signal the unacceptability of abuse and to stamp it out when it arises. (Paragraph 106)

29.  Social media providers should follow the examples of Facebook and Twitter in having appropriate terms and conditions. We believe there is significant scope for such providers—including Facebook and Twitter—to enforce such conditions with greater robustness. (Paragraph 107)

30.  Social media providers should offer a range of prominently displayed options for, and routes to, reporting harmful content and communications. They need to act on these reports much more quickly and effectively, keeping the complainant and—where appropriate—the subject of the complaints informed of outcomes and actions. (Paragraph 114)

31.  Ofcom should monitor and report on complaints it receives, perhaps via an improved ParentPort, regarding the speed and effectiveness of response to complaints by different social media providers. (Paragraph 115)

32.  We believe it is in the interests of social media platforms, if they wish to avoid a more regulatory approach, to put their money where their mouths are and provide more funding for the valuable work being done on internet safety by voluntary organisations and charities. (Paragraph 119)

33.  A good deal of advice on the safe use of social media is available already. This should be signposted more clearly for teachers, who are likely to be in the front line when it comes to dealing with bullying both in the playground and in the online world. (Paragraph 120)

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Prepared 19 March 2014