British Prime Minister calls for Internet blacklist

In an effort to combat illegal Web traffic, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a plan to blacklist certain Internet sites, and create "family friendly" Wi-Fi networks.

Andrew Winning/ Reuters/ File
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron on Downing Street, in central London. The prime minister announced on Monday that he wants to increase Internet safety.

A “family friendly” home network filter will become part of a default setting for the four major Internet service providers by the end of this year, says British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday.

During the speech, Mr. Cameron outlined his plan to protect children from destructive Web content with automatic filter systems for devices with Internet capabilities such as computers and cellphones.

A version of Cameron's speech was leaked on Sunday, and a transcript was made available on the prime minister's website before the speech took place. 

The increasing availability of pornographic images is harmful to children, and accessing such content is “distorting [children's] views of sex and relationships,” Cameron says. Pornography will still be available to those of age, he explains during his Monday speech. But websites with mature content will be blocked for those under the age of 18, in keeping with national laws prohibiting the underage from watching certain films, or going into sex shops. 

To filter underage content, the British government has made agreements with the state’s four major Internet providers – TalkTalk, Virgin, Skye, and BT – that only the account holder can change the Internet filters. By law, the account holder has to be an adult, 18 or older.

“Family friendly filters” will be applied across all public Wi-Fi networks. Mobile phone operators have agreed to put adult content filters onto phones automatically, and will require proof of age before granting access to mature content.

As part of his effort to create a safer Internet for Britons, the prime minister also put forward plans to filter search engine results to block child abuse images, pornographic portrayals of rape, and images of other illegal sexual acts.

Cameron proposed creating a blacklist of terms that would include, for example, "child abuse." Under this system, if you search “child abuse,” the search engine would offer a list of alternatives such as: “Do you mean child sex education?” or “Do you mean child gender?” This is designed to prevent Internet search engines from presenting pathways into illegal images.

The blacklist would be compiled by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.  

“I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest: you have a duty to act on this – and it is a moral duty,” Cameron says. The prime minister’s goal is “obliterating this disgusting material from the Internet.”  

In his speech, Cameron holds the Internet search engines accountable for their search results.

“You are not separate from our society, you are part of our society, and you must play a responsible role in it,” Cameron tells Internet providers in his speech.

Cameron has said that he does not want to legislate these changes, but if the Internet companies have not made changes by October, lawmakers are “already looking at the legislative options [that they] have to force action.”

Currently, it is illegal to posses violent pornographic material in Scotland, but a loophole in the law means that it is not illegal in England or Wales.

Internet companies are subject to laws in the country in which they operate.

However, critics of Cameron’s proposals to crack down on illegal Internet activity have labeled it “rather 1995.”

“Banning search terms seems unlikely to combat the serious activity, which is independent of search engines,” writes Jim Killock, the Executive Director of the Open Rights Group website, in a blog post on the organization’s website. Many predators are witting enough to use Web browsers and service that hide their tracks, such as Tor. Cameron’s symbolic gesture to get rid of child abuse images is valiant, but vapid, chasing hints of predatory behavior, while overlooking the larger problem of identifying real predators, Mr. Killock says. 

Cameron also announced that a curriculum for an Internet education program was being developed for both children and their parents to create a healthier understanding of how to use the Web. Telecommunication companies such as Vodafone are working to publish a new educational book: "The Digital Facts of Life."

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