No. 10 summit tackles web pornography and images of child abuse

Pornography hits the news again today. Today, internet firms are meeting ministers at No. 10 amid calls for more to be done to block images of child sex abuse and to stop children viewing pornography.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said more can be done to remove illegal material from the web and steer children away from legal adult content. Labour says voluntary controls are not working and parental authority has been undermined by technological change.

Despite this it would seem, web firms have elected to reject calls to impose parental controls as a default setting. Internet provides have been the centre of debate about showing online images showing the sexual abuse of children following two high-profile court cases in which offenders were known to have sought child pornography online.

Mark Bridger, sentenced to life last month for the murder of 5-year-old April Jones in Powys, searched for child abuse and rape images. Also when police searched the Croydon home of Stuart Hazell, jailed for life also last month for murdering 12 year old Tia Sharp, they had found ‘extensive’ pornography featuring young girls. This is not to say though that every child murderer has accessed child pornography, this just happens to be a correlation found within these two cases.

The prime minister has pledged to “put the heat on” companies to make removing obscene material and blocking access to indecent images more of a priority, saying he is not “satisfied” enough is being done.

The meeting in Downing Street, chaired by Culture Secretary Maria Miller, is being attended by Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, BT, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Vodafone, O2, EE and Three. Mrs Miller said: “Child abuse images are horrific and widespread public concern has made it clear that the industry must take action. Enough is enough. In recent days we have seen these companies rush to do more because of the pressure of an impending summit. Imagine how much more can be done if they seriously turn their minds to tackling the issue. Pressure will be unrelenting.”

The Internet Service Providers Association has argued that filtering tools should be more widely available but it opposes default settings as these can be ‘circumvented’. It also argues that education and empowering parents to make safe choices are also necessary.

The association has said it will use the Downing Street meeting to stress what the industry is already doing to block access to images of child abuse and criminally obscene adult material, and to remove them in conjunction with the police.

Claire Perry, the Conservative MP who advises the prime minister on the issue, said violent online images were still accessible even though they were outlawed and there was a link between them and horrific crimes committed against children. She said progress was being made on a voluntary basis to ensure adult material could not be accessed online in public places, and age-verification mechanisms and “one-click” filters, in place unless parents turned them off, were becoming widely available. “We’ve done it without regulation; we’ve done it by working systematically with the industry,” she said. “At the moment the filtering work is going really well, and no need for legislation.” I’m sorry Mrs Perry, but you’re wrong here. If it is not law, it will still exist. We should be looking to eradicate all access to this from both adults and children if we are to truly solve this problem. In this rare instance, I actually agree with Labour. These voluntary controls have not had the effect for the simple reason that with the advances of technology, these images have become extremely accessible with nothing to prevent it.

Now I’m not saying that if we impose the laws, it will solve the problem. It is unlikely to eradicate it completely, but it will allow the police to deal with websites hosting these atrocious images. Google has said it will help create a database of images to improve collaboration between the police, companies and anti-abuse charities as well as fund developers to improve better tools to block images. With these collaborations we can improve the situation and who knows, we may see a future where our children grow up being able to be safe online.

What do you think? Should we be heavier handed on these internet firms? Should we use parental controls or an alternative? If the latter what alternative?

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