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Health minister warns ISPs: Block suicide websites or face regulation

Norman Lamb calls on 'proper controls' to protect kids

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Telcos face being regulated by the government if they fail to block websites offering advice on suicide, the health minister Norman Lamb has warned.

There are already calls for ISPs to cut off access to content that's inappropriate for children, such as pornography, by default – thus requiring smut oglers to opt in.

This week, the government has launched a campaign in England to help prevent people from committing suicide, especially those considered to be in at-risk groups. Whitehall has also allocated £1.5m for new research into suicide prevention.

Lamb has said that one of the areas of concern was the lack of awareness about websites offering guidance on suicide.

The Department of Health said today that it wanted to work "with the media, and with the internet industry through members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to help parents ensure their children are not accessing harmful suicide-related websites, and to increase the availability and take-up of effective parental controls to reduce access to harmful websites."

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Lamb had bluntly noted ahead of today's strategy that regulation would follow if internet service providers did not step in to offer protection.

He said: "These horrific suicide websites are just one example of the dangerous and disturbing online content which, without proper controls, our children can access almost at any time."

The Register contacted broadband industry lobby group ISPA, which said:

"A previous government review found that the law on encouraging suicide was fit for purpose for the digital age. ISPs will remove content they host that is illegal once notified, but are not always best placed to judge on whether content is illegal or not.

"People searching for suicide websites are often given links to organisations such as the Samaritans to enable people with suicidal thoughts and feelings to communicate and gain support. As the DoH strategy states, the internet is a valuable way to help and engage vulnerable people.

"As part of the government-backed Active Choice agenda, industry is increasingly giving parents and carers the information and tools to decide whether they wish to filter out types of content, including suicide websites. We would encourage government to give its full support to empowering users which we feel is more effective than default blocking of content."

The ISPA also said it was "seeking clarity" from the Department of Health about Lamb's comments.

The lobby group's Secretary General, Nicholas Lansman, has previously said that the broadband market supported so-called active choice, which puts the onus on parents to choose to block content with software provided by most big name telcos. TalkTalk is currently the only large provider in the UK to have implemented network-level anti-malware blockers on its service.

Last Thursday, public consultation on the government's web smut block plan ended. ®

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