David Cameron is to give pornography websites one last chance to produce an effective voluntary scheme for age-restricted controls on their sites or he will introduce legislation that could see them shut down.
In a consultation to be launched in the autumn, the government will seek views on how best to introduce measures to further restrict under-18s’ access to pornographic websites.
The industry, in the shape of either UK-based websites or internet service providers, will be given an opportunity to develop proposals to block content through payment providers, such as advertisers and other means.
The consultation will also consider the best form of legislation should voluntary agreements not work. A regulatory approach could see primary legislation introduced to make it an offence in the UK to publish pornography online without age verification controls, possibly with a regulator to oversee and enforce controls.
The government recognises the spread of the internet makes it a challenge to find a form of legislation that would cover such sites both in the UK and internationally. The government has raised the prospect of setting up a pornography regulator to oversee the process and fine firms that breach either legislation or the voluntary guidelines.
The aim is to ensure that the rules that apply offline apply online, giving parents the peace of mind of knowing that their children can use the internet safely.
Cameron said his government was working:
To make the internet a safer place for children, the next step in this campaign is to curb access to harmful pornographic content, which is currently far too widely available. I want to see age restrictions put into place or these websites will face being shut down.
The minister for internet safety and security, Joanna Shields, said:
As a result of our work with industry, more than 90% of UK consumers are offered the choice to easily configure their internet service through family-friendly filters — something we take great pride in having achieved. It’s a gold standard that surpasses those of other countries.
Whilst great progress has been made, we remain acutely aware of the risks and dangers that young people face online. This is why we are committed to taking action to protect children from harmful content. Companies delivering adult content in the UK must take steps to make sure these sites are behind age verification controls.