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Digital Economy Bill Critics Stopping Children Being Protected From Online Porn

29/11/2016 16:50
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As is always the way when interests are threatened and a political battle is being lost, the claims become wilder in a last ditch attempt to maintain the status quo. But even by the 'post-truth' standards set recently in the Brexit and US Election campaigns, the commentary by libertarian critics of the Digital Economy Bill seems to be misleadingly alarmist.

When I wrote my blog on this topic last month, I asserted the case for how laws regarding pornography online should mirror those in the offline world. That is, that adequate safeguards should be put in place to prevent children accessing such material via the internet just as they are in newsagents or licensed sex shops, and that these should be backed by commensurate enforcement just as they would be in the real world - i.e. by preventing those flouting the laws from retaining their license.

It is to the Government's credit that they have now committed to a system of enforcement. Ministers have accepted that the power to block non-compliant sites (at least as a last resort) is the only way to ensure we can adequately protect children from the debilitating effects that exposure to graphic pornography appears to be having on a generation. This is in response not only to concerns of professionals in education, the police, and social services, but also those of young people themselves - particularly girls - who are aware of how sexual attitudes are being warped at the most impressionable age of sexual development.

But it seems some lobbyists are happy to conflate the sensible attempts of this Bill to constrain the present easy access teenagers have to porn, with a different debate about what pornography should or shouldn't be permitted. Now the BBFC have been appointed as the proposed regulator of age verification they, naturally, are assuming that the standards for what is deemed acceptable online should reflect what they currently sanction for sale in licensed sex shops - which campaigners argue is not what now constitutes the 'norm' online after more than a decade of broadband pornography most often from countries outside the UK with different laws.

This is a mendacious attempt to derail sensible safeguarding measures presumably as it is perceived to be easier to decry any attempts to regulate internet sites as 'unworkable', than have to make the case for why existing BBFC regulations for classification of sex on film might be reviewed and possibly modernised in light of changing sexual attitudes. The argument of the Open Rights Group and others seems to be that there should be no further public debate about whether or not such pornography should be legally available for consumption.

We understand that there may be space for debate about what pornography should or shouldn't fall foul of regulation - this is not a matter which Barnardo's has any expertise or interest in. What we do care about is responding to the epidemic of emotional and mental health issues that free access to such content is wreaking on children ill-equipped to process disturbing material. As such we will fight hard to rebut any arguments which put the interests of adults using fetishist pornography above the rights of children to surf the internet safely.

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