Prime Minister David Cameron’s (pictured) favoured model for blocking internet pornography in the UK does not go far enough to protect children, charities have warned.
The UK Government yesterday launched a consultation on a possible change in the law to give parents more control over the material their children are viewing online.
It follows growing concern over sexually explicit and violent material children are able to view and share on the internet.
Online pornography is worth an estimated £3 billion a year to companies.
Internet service providers have been in talks with the Government about ways of enabling parents to block sites containing sexually explicit or gambling as well as forums glorify suicide and self-harm.
Ministers, including Mr Cameron, favour forcing internet users to make a choice between different levels of parental control when they buy a new computer or smartphone or sign up for broadband.
Parents and computer experts are being asked to choose between an automatic filter which would block potentially harmful sites, but which could be switched off, or one in which people are forced to chose safety settings.
The so-called “active choice” system would give people the choice of blocking material such as 15 rated films or even social networking sites from a list when they sign up for a new broadband service, buy a new computer or set up a new smartphone.
But a report by MPs called for a full “opt-in” which would automatically block adult material unless the user chose to deactivate it.
Google has argued that an automatic block as a “mistake”, while Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk and Sky have developed versions of the “active choice” system which makes users chose whether they want parental controls when they sign up, rather than imposing them automatically.
The TalkTalk system then block harmful material on any computer, mobile phone or tablet using the household internet. Others, such as Virgin Media’s safety software works only on individual devices.
Charities including the NSPCC say that while these controls would be a “step in the right direction” they do not go far enough.
And last night the Government’s families tsar – Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute – warned that the current options could still leave millions of existing internet users with no automatic controls as they mainly apply only to new customers.
“Whether it’s a straight block or ‘active-choice plus’ block, a default block must be included to ensure it is easier for parents to protect children from pornography,” she said.
“We are particularly concerned about how the millions of pre-existing internet subscribers can be reached alongside new subscribers. Any new system must address this issue.”
Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Long term we back the next step which is the introduction of an opt-in filtering system for all internet accounts in the UK, if necessary, supported by Government regulation.
“This will mean all new internet accounts will default automatically to a setting that blocks access to adult content.”
Claire Walker, head of policy, at the charity Family Lives, which this week published a hard hitting report on online dangers, said parents would be more secure with an automatic block.
“I see the Government’s position, I think it is reasonable and valid, but we also think that parents feel that they don’t have the skill and know-how to block this kind of material,” she said.
“Their children have much more knowledge and when hey buy these boxes it is often the children that install it.”
Meanwhile, charities in Scotland have warned that internet pornography, and young children sending each other sexual images online is partly to blame for an increase in sexual offences.
Responding to recent figures, one group warned that children are easily getting hold of “extreme pornography”, while parents were also urged to get a grasp of what their children are seeing online.
Sandy Brindley, from Rape Crisis Scotland, told The Herald newspaper: “There seems to be more young people committing sexual offences and this could be linked to the accessibility of extreme pornography.”
Gillian Wade, head of the National Sexual Crimes Unit, partly blamed the “unlimited access to the internet and social networking sites” for the rise.
According to Scottish Government figures, sex crimes reported to the police rose by a total of 10 per cent in 2011-12 from the previous year.
Rape and attempted rape were up by 13 per cent.
According to media reports, some of the increase could also be explained by new legislation which was introduced at the end of 2010.
Following the concerns, politicians in Scotland called for action to combat the problem of children accessing pornography.
Last month it was reported that a boy of twelve raped and sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl after viewing online pornography.