We must speed up to protect children from online porn – expert

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ACTION to protect children from pornography and other online threats must be accelerated to keep up with advances in technology, a Government adviser warned yesterday.

Tanya Byron called for "less talk … more action" on issues such as parental controls on mobile phones, and warned youngsters could now access adult sites with "extraordinary ease".

The TV child psychologist said the creation of Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and a national safety strategy had made the UK a world leader in tackling the issue.

But, in a progress report two years since she first suggested the body – a coalition of Government, charities and industry – Professor Byron said it must "speed up to stay ahead".

She also criticised a lack of sufficient consultation with young people and parents and urged the Government to push through new rules on video game classification before the election.

Launching her report alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a gathering of UKCCIS members at 10 Downing Street, she said its establishment had been "a huge success".

"We have achieved a lot but there is a lot more to be done. The big take-out message from my report is we have got to speed up to stay ahead," she cautioned.

"In the two years since I published my first review, a lot has changed – we have a huge number of under-aged children on social networking sites; we know that there are location-based devices; we know that there is an extraordinary ease of access to pornography for children and young people.

"Speeding up, we need to see a code of practice for companies and providers, we need to really think about parental controls for mobile phones that can access the internet.

"Less talk and a little more action, a little more delivery would be a good thing." She urged UKCCIS to "listen better" to young people and families, clarify whether it was there to advise or deliver, better anticipate future developments and devise a better business plan.

Measures to outlaw video game sales to underage buyers and to clarify the classification system are included in the Digital Economy Bill, which has been approved by the Lords but not yet by the Commons.

With the general election expected on 6 May, there are fears that the legislation could fail to make it on to the statute book before Parliament is dissolved.

Asking Schools Secretary Ed Balls to pass on a message to the Prime Minister, she said: "Could you tell him not to announce an election until the Bill goes through?"

Mr Brown said: "We must ensure that this virtual world is safe for our children, just as we try to ensure that the real world is.

"But it is right that we seek the best balance between protecting our children and giving them the freedom they need to build their independence and confidence – and to make the most of all the benefits technology has to offer.

"And I'm very proud that Britain is now the only country in the world to have a comprehensive internet safety strategy."