Porn sites should be filtered by age, demands British MP

Calls for ISPs to build digital 'top shelf'

A conservative MP has called for UK Internet service providers to protect youngsters by introducing an age-rated opt-in system for online porn.

According to Wiltshire MP Claire Perry, too many Internet users under the age of 18 are accessing online sex, either deliberately or by accident, with some consuming porn from ages as young as ten.

Her proposed solution is for the major UK ISPs - BT, Virgin, Talk Talk BskyB, Orange and O2 - to introduce a form of ratings system for online content similar to that used to classify movies, and to regulate TV content.

Perry doesn't elaborate on how age verification might work in practice by referred to a system introduced by the last government to stop youngsters accessing gambling sites.

"I believe that time has come to stop ducking and diving on an issue that is of enormous concern to parents, teachers and carers across the country," the MP wrote in an article on the Politics.co.uk website.

Many will have sympathy with the MP's calls whilst doubting that what she is calling for is technically feasible. Others will oppose it on the grounds that even if it is possible such a system would amount to censorship.

Filtering sites for porn using IP blacklisting is tough work. The number of sites if huge and spotting them all is almost impossible. Many legitimate sites might be caught up if their IP was in the same address range. Sites can also be filtered using content analysis but this is prone to similar problems, especially false positives.

A better approach is whitelisting, where site access is restricted to all sites except given exceptions. This is easier to implement on home routers than at ISP level - no UK ISPs have such facilities to manage connections in this way at the moment - but would severely curtail Internet use.

As to the age verification system used on gambling sites, this limits access without the production of a credit card, but that is a special case. Gambling sites are small in number and require a credit card to gamble anyway. Porn sites invariably offer free content.

Perry's call is a reversal of the current online porn regime which leaves filtering up to the Internet user. Some home routers allow certain search terms of sites tom be blocked, many don't. Even those that do can be circumvented by a technically-proficient teen with relative ease.

The MP has put the proposal to the House of Commons during an adjournment debate, which is a technical way of saying that it was being raised as little more than a talking point.

Swedish company NetClean currently offers a system that directly identifies individual child porn images from an established database. The system is designed for use by police forces rather than consumers and would not begin to answer the huge technical issues raised Perry's proposal.

This story, "Porn sites should be filtered by age, demands British MP" was originally published by Techworld.com.

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