SPECIAL REPORT: ISPs say blocking porn job of censor

Ireland’s internet service providers have hit out at proposals that the Government should force them to introduce widespread automatic filters to block access by children to pornography.

UK authorities are introducing pornography filters switched on by default to home broadband subscribers by the end of the year.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said he would consider introducing a system similar to Britain’s after the ISPCC and a number of politicians criticised the Government for inaction on the matter.

Paul Durrant, CEO of the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland, said it is not appropriate that ISPs should decide what content the citizens of Ireland should or should not be able to find on the internet.

“ISPs are not like TV stations. We do not decide what content will be presented to our customers,” said Mr Durrant.

Warning against any knee- jerk reaction to concerns over children accessing inappropriate material, he said: “The simplistic default blocking approach pushed by highly vocal lobbyists in the UK, which has now involved various pledges being made by [prime minister David] Cameron is not being taken up in other EU countries.”

Mr Durrant said if the Government follows the UK approach, the responsibility of filtering online content should rest with a publicly-appointed body such as a censorship board. “It is totally inappropriate that this responsibility should be divested to private commercial companies whose business and skills are to provide internet infrastructure,” he said.

ISPs are obliged under European law to freely provide access to all content unless it is illegal, Mr Durrant said, adding: “It is misdirected and ultimately ineffective to try to tackle this issue through the internet infrastructure providers.”

He argued that filtering of content should be done by parents and guardians.

However, Simon Grehan, Webwise project co-ordinator with Safer Internet Ireland Awareness Centre, said relying on parents to safeguard their children would not work, given the growing sophistication and proliferation in households of devices that can access the internet. He also pointed to the fact that, while 79% of Irish internet users have virus filters, only 41% have parental controls.

He defended the UK system, saying it will not be a blanket censorship imposed by the state but will allow users to choose to remove the filters if they wish.

Mr Grehan pointed to the system already in operation in Irish schools, which automatically blocks access to certain sites at various levels, depending on the age of the children involved.

“All websites accessed on the Schools Broadband Network go through a content filter that ensures that only appropriate sites can be accessed from inside the school,” said Mr Grehan. “Having filters in place gives teachers more confidence to use the internet in the teaching and learning in their schools by significantly reducing the likelihood of them inadvertently coming across something inappropriate.”

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