DAVID Cameron has threatened to impose tough new laws on internet firms if they fail to blacklist key search terms for extreme pornography by October as part a crackdown unveiled today.
The Prime Minister set out a raft of reforms to protect children from “poisonous” websites that are “corroding childhood”, including introducing family-friendly filters that automatically block pornography unless customers choose to opt-out.
Possessing violent pornography containing simulated rape scenes will be made a crime in England and Wales and videos streamed online in the UK will be subject to the same restrictions as those sold in shops.
In a speech at the NSPCC headquarters in London, the Prime Minister acknowledged the issue of extreme and child pornography is “hard for our society to confront” and “difficult for politicians to talk about”.
“I want to talk about the internet,” he said.”The impact it is having on the innocence of our children. How online pornography is corroding childhood. And how, in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.
“I’m not making this speech because I want to moralise or scaremonger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come. This is, quite simply, about how we protect our children and their innocence.”
Family friendly filters will be the default setting for new broadband customers by the end of the year and only account holders will be able to change them.
Existing customers will be presented with an “unavoidable decision” about installing the filters by the end of the 2014, Mr Cameron added.
“We are not prescribing how the ISPs should contact their customers - it’s up to them to find their own technological solutions. But however they do it, there will be no escaping this decision, no ‘remind me later’ and then it never gets done.
“And they will ensure it is an adult making the choice. If adults don’t want these filters - that’s their decision.”
Experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), which is set to become part of the National Crime Agency, will be given enhanced powers to examine secretive file-sharing networks, and a secure database of banned child porn images gathered by police across the country will be used to trace illegal content and the paedophiles viewing it.
But former Ceop chairman Jim Gamble, who resigned in protest over the merger with the National Crime Agency, warned the Government was not doing enough to deter paedophiles who shared abusive images of children online and claimed abusers would “laugh” at the porn filters.
“This Government has stood still for two years with regard to Ceop,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Ceop’s budget has in real terms decreased. There are 50,000 predators we are told by Ceop downloading images from peer-to-peer, yet from Ceop intelligence only 192 were arrested last year. That’s simply not good enough.
“We have got to get the balance right. The balance is attack the root cause, invest with with new money into child protection teams, victim support and policing on the ground. Let’s create a real deterrent, not a pop-up that paedophiles will laugh at.”
The internet industry has agreed to use the database to proactively scan for, block and remove the images wherever they occur, Mr Cameron said.
But he gave search engines including Google an October deadline to introduce further measures to block access to illegal content by blacklisting searches based on certain phrases, claiming they have a “moral duty” to act.
The Government is “already looking at the legislative options we have to force action”, the Prime Minister added.
“And there’s a further message I have for the search engines. If there are technical obstacles to acting on this, don’t just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to overcome them.
“You’re the people who have worked out how to map almost every inch of the earth from space who have algorithms that make sense of vast quantities of information.
“You’re the people who take pride in doing what they say can’t be done.”
A Google spokesman said: “We have a zero tolerance attitude to child sexual abuse imagery. Whenever we discover it, we respond quickly to remove and report it.
“We recently donated five million dollars (£3.28 million) to help combat this problem and are committed to continuing the dialogue with the Government on these issues.”
Mr Cameron’s announcement was welcomed by women’s groups and academics who had campaigned to close the “rape porn” loophole.
Fiona Elvines, of Rape Crisis South London, said: “The Government today has made a significant step forward in preventing rapists using rape pornography to legitimise and strategise their crimes and, more broadly, in challenging the eroticisation of violence against women and girls.”
Professor Clare McGlynn, of Durham University, said: “The extreme porn law can be swiftly amended to send a clear message that rape should not be a form of sexual entertainment.
“Reform of the extreme porn law represents an important shift in priorities away from consensual activity to challenging the sexualisation of violence against women.”
Holly Dustin, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We are delighted that David Cameron has responded to the call by experts and women’s groups to ban pornographic images of rape that promote and eroticise violence against women.
“The coalition Government has pledged to prevent abuse of women and girls, so tackling a culture that glorifies abuse is critical for achieving this. The next step is working with experts to ensure careful drafting of the law and proper resourcing to ensure the law is enforced fully.”
Christian Berg, chief executive office at NetClean, which works with internet providers and private companies to prevent the exchange of child sexual abuse, said: “Blocking search terms will raise the bar for initial access to this content, but the fact remains that the vast majority of this material is not found on the open, searchable internet. Stronger laws are a great exercise in demonstrating the strength of will behind this campaign, however the core of the solution is technology, and ensuring that the technology available to track, find and disrupt this crime is used effectively worldwide.”