CARE campaigns for child protection through the law to be upheld online, just as it is offline. Research published in 2016 warned that 53 per cent of 11-16 year olds have seen pornographic content online with 34 per cent viewing it once a week or more. The report also found that this exposure to pornography was severely damaging to how these young people viewed sex and relationships.  During the past few years there have been a growing number of cases in the courts of boys sexually assaulting girls by acting out the hard core pornography they have seen online.
During the last parliament there have been some important steps forward in relation to improving online safety. Several reforms CARE called for have been introduced through the Digital Economy Act 2017 which passed just before parliament dissolved for the election.
The Act introduces mandatory age-verification safety procedures for all websites containing pornographic material (as is already the case for online gambling sites). The law gives powers to a new regulator to require Internet Service Providers to block access to websites that do not put the necessary age-verification mechanisms in place. The regulator also has the power to notify financial companies and others providing ancillary services to these websites encouraging them not to provide services to websites that do not meet the age verification requirements. These powers are significant because most pornographic material is streamed into the UK from websites based overseas.
The new regulator can also take action against websites containing a narrow range of extreme pornography. This material cannot be provided to anyone of any age. However, this category of pornography is much narrower than what is prohibited for sale offline. CARE is concerned that this will mean harmful, hard core pornography will continue to be accessible online and in time the limits of what is acceptable offline may be widened to match. The Digital Economy Act requires a review of the online limits and we are continuing to campaign for stricter regulation of online pornography.
CARE also wants to see all internet connections providing adult content filters which are turned on by default. These filters ensure that young people under 18 years old cannot view adult material, but can be easily switched off by adults following age verification. We welcome the steps the Government has taken to encourage greater use of filtering at present. However, it is still not mandatory for all internet service providers and mobile phone operators.
Questions for Candidates
1. Do you agree that promoting a voluntary approach to filtering amongst some internet service providers and mobile phone operators is inadequate?
2. Would you support the introduction of statutory default adult content filters that can be lifted only as requested by an adult?
3. Will you support the implementation of the age verification measures in the Digital Economy Act and work to see enforcement of the measures reach as many websites as possible?
4. Do you agree that violent pornography can have a damaging effect not only on children, but also for relationships, families and efforts to reduce violence against women?
5. Do you agree that the standards for control of pornography should be the same online as offline?