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August 31, 2016

Will The EU Stop the UK From Blocking Porn?

LONDON—As those who have been following the UK government's conservative position regarding sexually explicit content on the internet know, recently resigned British Prime Minister David Cameron had wanted all of the UK's internet service providers (ISPs) to censor their customers' access to the material, requiring instead that they affirmatively "opt in" in order to receive the sexual content. Now, it turns out, that plan may run afoul of the European Union's (EU) own internet rules. At present, the EU's internet regulations allow ISPs to censor content for just three reasons: to comply with the laws of the nation seeking to block the content; to make it easier to handle traffic flowing through the particular ISP; or for "security reasons." The UK's problem is that it fits none of those criteria. There is no national law in the UK against watching sexual content; the ISPs aren't having trouble with their traffic; and there's nothing about watching porn that affects national security. Of course, of late, UK newspapers and other news sources have been filled with stories about kids at a reformatory getting access to web porn, and several shrill voices have been raised about how porn is somehow deadly to erections—but it's all still legal. Which isn't to say that some ISPs haven't been kowtowing to the calls for censorship already. Service providers EE, Sky, TalkTalk and BT are some of the ISPs which have already introduced porn-blocking software for their customers, taking the position that as long as it's handled at the consumer level, such blocking doesn't run afoul of the EU regs. However, the EU's telecommunications regulator Berec, based in Brussels, doesn't see it that way. "With regard to some of the suggestions made by stakeholders about traffic management features that could be requested or controlled by end-users, Berec notes that the regulation does not consider that end-user consent enables ISPs to engage in such practices at the network level," the regulator stated in a "guidance" issued yesterday. "End-users may independently choose to apply equivalent features, for example via their terminal equipment or more generally on the applications running at the terminal equipment, but Berec considers that management of such features at the network level would not be consistent with the regulation." However, the UK's Department for Culture, Media & Sport doesn't see it that way. "Family-friendly filters are permitted under the EU net neutrality regulation," a department spokesperson said. "The regulations give end-users the right to access information and content of their choice, and enabling/disabling filters exercises this choice." On the other hand, UK communications regulator Ofcom took a more middle-of-the-road view. "Ofcom will monitor compliance with the new rules, and look into any complaints received," an Ofcom spokesperson told Russia TV. "We will consider any potential breaches as they arise in accordance with our interpretation of the regulation, and drawing upon the Berec guidelines to inform our approach."

 
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