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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 2:30 pm on 20th October 2016.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy) 2:30 pm, 20th October 2016

Quite a lot of points have been raised, and I seek to address them all. Clause 22 is an important provision containing the powers at the heart of the new regime to enable the age-verification regulator to notify payment service providers and ancillary service providers that a person using their services is providing pornographic material in contravention of clause 15 or making prohibited material available on the internet to persons in the UK.

Amendments 66, 67, 77, 78, 90 and 91 would provide that the requirement to implement age verification does not fall on ISPs and further clarify that ISPs are to be considered ancillary service providers. Amendment 91 would clarify that as well as ISPs, domain name registrars, social media platforms and search engines are all to be considered ancillary service providers for the purposes of clause 22, which makes provision for the meaning of “ancillary service provider”.

This is a fast-moving area, and the BBFC, in its role as regulator, will be able to publish guidelines for the circumstances in which it will treat services provided in the course of business as either enabling or facilitating, as we discussed earlier. Although it will be for the regulator to consider on a case-by-case basis who is an ancillary service provider, it would be surprising if ISPs were not designated as ancillary service providers.

New clause 8 would impose a duty on internet service providers to provide a service that excludes adult-only content unless certain conditions are met. As I understand it, that measure is intended to protect the position of parental filters under net neutrality. However, it is our clear position that parental filters, where they can be turned off by the end user—that is, where they are a matter of user choice—are allowed under the EU regulation. We believe that the current arrangements are working well. They are based on a self-regulatory partnership and they are allowed under the forthcoming EU open internet access regulations.