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UK kids' charity lobbies hard for 'opt-in' web smut access

Parenting fail or p0rn0 too easily available? Esther Rantzen says it's the latter

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The founder of British charity ChildLine is calling on the government to take a hardline approach against what some consider to be hardcore pornography online - by enforcing an opt-in system for adults to protect kids from being traumatised by the images.

Esther Rantzen said in an opinion piece published in the Daily Mail - which is currently running a campaign to block porn on the web - that the Tory-led coalition was "on the cusp" of tackling the issue by making a "brave decision" about online smut.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously indicated his support for such an opt-in system.

He recently waded into the debate about protecting kids from pornography online by personally stepping up pressure on ISPs to block smut websites by default.

But many major telcos are opposed to such measures, arguing such a move is simply not workable.

It was a point lost on Rantzen, who said:

There are those who protest, who believe that it is our right to watch whatever we want on the internet, and, of course, adults can opt in if that is their choice.

But I believe it’s now time to protect young people from this new danger. Filters and blocks aren’t the only solution, but an opt-in system is a real protection, a positive step forward, for the sake of caring, concerned parents, but, above all, for the sake of our children.

She said video clips and other images that were easily accessible online was leading to a "creeping plague of pornography on the internet".

Rantzen added that her charity had seen a big rise in calls from disturbed youngsters who had encountered smut when surfing the web.

She claimed that ChildLine had heard from many more children "deeply alarmed" by viewing porn, with a 34 per cent increase in calls over the past year.

"We received 641 calls from children who had been exposed to sexually indecent material - more than 50 a month," Rantzen said.

And, in a comment that appeared to echo DM's columnist Amanda Platell's earlier viewpoint on the matter, the charity's founder added: "These children rang because what they had seen was harmful. It’s not to be compared with the old innocent days when teenagers furtively bought copies of Health And Efficiency to look at nudists cavorting in the sun."

Rantzen also said that ChildLine was witnessing a rise in "sexting" among teenagers, with boys putting pressure on girls to send them sexually explicit images of themselves via text.

The government is currently consulting the public on filtering pornography on the net, with a closing date of 6 September.

However, ironically given the subject matter, the process of filing in opinions about this debate via the Department for Education's online form has been hampered due to a serious security flaw that The Register uncovered in June this year.

The Information Commissioner's Office is investigating the cockup, which exposed email addresses, unencrypted passwords and sensitive answers of members of the public who filled in the associated form.

However, El Reg understands that the probe is expected to take months rather than weeks for the ICO to conclude on its findings about the DfE's data-handling shortcomings.

Meanwhile, those interested in adding their voice to the debate can do so by downloading an offline form here. ®

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