The forthcoming Digital Economy Bill will argue that all sites containing any pornographic material must be hidden unless a user can prove they are over 18. No further details of how the blocks will be implemented or enforced have been announced.
The announcement follows a Conservative Party manifesto pledge to improve protection for children online. A survey commissioned by the government in February 2015 found that one in five children aged 11 to 17 had seen pornographic images “that had shocked or upset them”.
In response to the news, children’s charity NSPCC said the “the proliferation of online pornography” was giving some children a “warped view of sexual relationships”.
“Industry must do much more to ensure they cannot access this material by enforcing strict age verification rules,” the charity wrote on Twitter.
The announcement in the Queen’sSpeech follows months of consultation by the government.In February of this year the Department for Culture Media and Sport said “commercial providers” of porn should have verification controls to stop under 18s viewing inappropriate material.
Critics have argued the proposals set a “dangerous precent” for internet access. Speaking to WIRED at the time, Dr Paul Bernal, a law and privacy lecturer at the University of East Anglia warned that “web savvy” teens would be able to get around any measures introduced.
Similar criticisms have been made of current ISP-level adult content filters, which can be dodged using basic techniques such as VPNs or even GoogleTranslate.
A blanket age-block on all pornographic material online would be a major escalation of existing systems. In July 2013 prime minister David Cameron announced a scheme that required all internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK to ask their customers if they wanted adult content web filters turned on or off.
At the time the government said it wanted to create a “family friendly” internet free from pornography, gambling and extreme violence. But measures taken by ISPs to ensure that customers either turned the filters on or off proved controversial.
Following the European Parliament’s introduction of net neutrality regulations in October 2015, Cameron said ISPs would be legally required to implement and maintain the filters. The EU bill argued the internet should be provided without “interference or discrimination”, potentially threatening the UK’s adult content blocks.
Speaking in the House of Commons at the time, Cameron said he had “secured an opt-out” from the EU to allow “family friendly filters” to continue for now. The government has yet to pass legislation to make the ISP-level filters a legal requirement.