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MP wants age verification for net smut

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A Tory MP has proposed that all UK-based ISPs should implement an opt-in age verification system to gain access to internet porn.

Claire Perry, Tory MP for the Devizes Constituency, put the proposal to the House of Commons during an adjournment debate last night. It will undoubtedly be music to the ears of newly-formed charity SaferMedia, which discussed this issue with Ms Perry on Monday night.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ms Perry told us: "As a mother with three children I know how difficult it is to keep children from seeing inappropriate material on the internet.

"We already successfully regulate British TV channels, cinema screens, high street hoardings and newsagent shelves to stop children seeing inappropriate images and mobile phone companies are able to restrict access to adult material so why should the internet be any different?

"British Internet Service Providers should share the responsibility to keep our children safe so I am calling for ISPs to offer an 'Opt In' system that uses age verification to access pornographic material."

As this was no more than an adjournment debate - a technical opportunity for members to voice their concerns on a particular issue - it will have little legislative effect as yet.

However, such debates are also a chance for MPs to test the waters for propositions that are not currently on the government agenda – and they are a sharp reminder to government of the strength of feeling in the House on particular issues. A strong showing in such a debate could result in government deciding that there is, after all, a case for considering this idea.

Ms Perry began by underlining the extent to which children had access to material that most would consider inappropriate. The influence of the recently-launched SaferMedia charity was clear as she informed the House that she had attended their launch event, where she "heard compelling evidence of (this) damage, including the explosion in the number of children in this country being referred to addiction clinics with a 'pornography problem', and that fact that many studies demonstrate that watching internet pornography contributes to people seeing women as sex objects, increases sexual risk-taking such as having unprotected or anal sex, and relaxes the boundaries of sexual violence in a completely unacceptable way".

The traditional response to Ms Perry’s remarks was given by Edward Vaizey MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. While stating the government’s commitment to an "open lightly regulated internet", he was not without sympathy. He revealed that the government is talking to the major ISPs in the UK – and is shortly to be meeting with the Internet Watch Foundation to discuss ways in which removal of illegal content can most effectively be dealt with.

Little change there – but it is clear that the issue is now well and truly on the parliamentary agenda, and that we have not heard the last of it. ®

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