ISPs to be pressured to block child porn

ISPs would be required "to declare publicly whether or not they have taken, or are taking, appropriate technical steps to block access to web sites that contain child pornography" under a new law which has had its second reading in the House of Commons.

If passed, the Control of Internet Access (Child Pornography) Act would require every ISP to declare in its annual report and on its website whether it is actively pursuing measures to prevent its customers from obtaining access to known child pornography websites. It would stop short of compelling an ISP to block access.

It was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by Margaret Moran, Labour MP for Luton South, last October. She told the House of Commons at the time: "Let us not be under any illusion. The situation surrounding internet child pornography is appalling."

She cited estimates from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, suggesting that 20,000 new images of child pornography go online every week.

Moran pointed to the Cleanfeed filtering system introduced by BT in [2004]. It prevents BT's customers accessing a blacklist of illegal websites, collated by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). "I commend those ISPs that have used the available technology to block such sites," said Moran. "AOL, BT, Yahoo! and Vodafone are models of good corporate citizenship."

But she said too many ISPs do very little to block child pornography sites. Hence the bill.

"The Bill is intended primarily as a public accountability mechanism," she said. The declaration in the annual report would come alongside others that are already required – such as declarations on carbon emissions or health and safety.

"The public, parents and policy makers are all entitled to know who is trying to kill off the trade in illegal child abuse images and who is not," she added.

These comments were made on 26th October 2005. The bill's second reading was on 12th May. Private Member's Bills rarely go further. However, on 15th May, the Home Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary Vernon Coaker suggested that if ISPs do not voluntarily block child porn by the end of next year, the Government will consider taking further action.

Coaker was answering a written question from Sian James, Labour MP for Swansea East, on what progress has been made by the Government with ISPs in preventing access to child porn.

Coaker pointed to a reduction in the proportion of illegal sites reported to the IWF that are hosted in the UK, from 18% in 1997 to 0.4% in 2005.

And of blacklisting by providers, Coaker said that all 3G mobile network operators currently block their mobile customers from accessing known illegal sites and the biggest ISPs (who between them provide over 90% of domestic broadband connections) are either currently blocking or have plans to by the end of 2006.

"We recognise the progress that has been made as a result of the industry's commitment and investment so far," said Coaker. "However, 90% of connections is not enough and we are setting a target that by the end of 2007, all ISPs offering broadband internet connectivity to the UK general public put in place technical measures that prevent their customers accessing websites containing illegal images of child abuse identified by the IWF."

He said that for new ISPs or services, "we would expect them to put in place measures within nine months of offering the service to the public."

He added, "If it appears that we are not going to meet our target through co-operation, we will review the options for stopping UK residents accessing websites on the IWF list."