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Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18

Part of Digital Economy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 20th October 2016.

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New clause 8—Duty to provide a service that excludes adult-only content—

“(1) This section applies to internet service providers who supply an internet access service to subscribers.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “subscribers” includes—

(a) domestic subscribers;

(b) schools; and

(c) organisations that allow a person to use an internet access service in a public place.

For the purposes of the conditions in subsections (3) and (4), if the subscriber is a school or organisation a responsible person within the school or organisation shall be regarded as the subscriber.

(3) A provider to whom subsection (1) applies must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult-only content unless all of the conditions listed in subsection (4) have been fulfilled.

(4) The conditions are—

(a) the subscriber “opts in” to subscribe to a service that includes online adult-only content;

(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and

(c) the provider of the service has an age verification scheme which meets the standards set out by OFCOM in subsection (4) and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over before a user is able to access adult-only content.

(5) It shall be the duty of OFCOM, to set, and from time to time to review and revise, standards for the—

(a) filtering of adult content in line with the standards set out in Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003;

(b) age verification policies to be used under subsection (4) before an user is able to access adult content; and

(c) filtering of content by age or subject category by providers of internet access services.

(6) The standards set out by OFCOM under subsection (5) must be contained in one of more codes.

(7) Before setting standards under subsection (5), OFCOM must publish, in such a manner as they think fit, a draft of the proposed code containing those standards.

(8) After publishing the draft code and before setting the standards, OFCOM must consult relevant persons and organisations.

(9) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish procedures for the handling and resolution of complaints in a timely manner about the observance of standards set under subsection (5), including complaints about incorrect filtering of content.

(10) OFCOM may designate any body corporate to carry out its duties under this section in whole or in part.

(11) OFCOM may not designate a body under subsection (10) unless, as respects that designation, they are satisfied that the body—

(a) is a fit and proper body to be designated;

(b) has consented to being designated;

(c) has access to financial resources that are adequate to ensure the effective performance of its functions under this section; and

(d) is sufficiently independent of providers of internet access services.

(12) It shall be a defence to any claims, whether civil or criminal, for a provider to whom subsection (1) applies to prove that at the relevant time they were—

(a) following the standards and code set out in subsection (5),; and

(b) acting in good faith.

(13) Nothing in this section prevents any providers to whom subsection (1) applies from providing additional levels of filtering of content.

(14) In this section—

“adult-only content” means material that contains offensive and harmful material from which persons under the age of 18 are protected;

“age verification scheme” is a scheme to establish the age of the subscriber;

“internet access service” and “internet service provider” have the same meaning as in section 124N of the Communications Act 2003 (interpretation);

“material from which persons under the age of 18 are protected” means material specified in the OFCOM standards under section 2;

“OFCOM” has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Communications Act 2003;

“offensive and harmful material” has the same meaning as in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 (general duties of OFCOM); and

“subscriber” means a person who receives the service under an agreement between the person and the provider of the service.”.

This new clause places a statutory requirement on internet service providers to limit access to adult content by persons under 18. It would give Ofcom a role in determining the age verification scheme and how material should be filtered. It would ensure that ISPs were able to continue providing family friendly filtering once the net neutrality rules come into force in December 2016.