Shocking EU ruling proposes the removal of porn filters for internet service providers

A campaign has been launched to add additional protection for children from pornographic content. (Photo: Reuters)

Originally published in Christian Today

Porn filters could be scrapped from internet service providers after a ruling from the European Union this week which has been called “shocking” by a Christian lobby charity.

The new rules, voted through in Brussels on Tuesday, will make internet services providers (ISPs) treat all online content “without discrimination, restriction or interference” regardless of the material. The effect of this will be that ISPs such as BT, Sky and Virgin will no longer be allowed to run opt-in filters.

CARE, a Christian public policy charity, has slammed the ruling.

“It is shocking that the EU would show such obvious disregard for the clear benefits of online filters,” said CARE’s CEO Nola Leach.

“This ruling is extremely troubling because it could jeopardise the safety of thousands of children and households across the UK and mean many more children are exposed to online porn.

“You would have thought, in light of the all the reports showing how many children are already accessing porn in the UK and across Europe that the EU would have pursued more sensible options.

“The effects of this could be very damaging and it is therefore vital the Government make it clear how they intend to respond.”

It looks like the EU’s ruling will force the government to break one of its manifesto promises as they explicitly guaranteed they would ensure age filters for pornographic sites.

“We will stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos,” the Conservative’s 2015 election manifesto read.

Downing Street have insisted that a new domestic law could be brought in which would override the EU’s ruling and therefore keep the existing opt-in filters legal.

“This [the new EU law] won’t kick in until the end of 2016,” said a spokesperson.

“This means that if we need to we will bring in our own domestic law to retain the existing filtering systems the ISPs have put in place. In essence nothing will change.”

However analysts have questioned this legality of this approach, indicating it could leave the government in trouble with the European Court of Justice.

“If national legislation is more prohibitive than the [EU] regulation, those rules will be subject to challenge by the ISP industry as inconsistent with the regulation,” a statement from the law firm, Allen & Overy read.

“There is also no room for national regulators to apply a stricter ”national” interpretation of this exception.”

UK ministers attempted to secure an exemption for the UK but failed to do so.

Leach said there was a whiff of complacency in the government’s initial response.

“If the EU ruling does end up threatening children’s safety online, and it certainly looks that way, then the Government must respond more robustly than vague promises of a future domestic Bill,” she said.

“A clear manifesto commitment was made to protect children online and now would seem a good time for the Government to reveal how they intend to keep it in light of this new EU ruling.”

A huge majority backed the Government’s manifesto commitment to regulate all websites providing pornographic content through robust age verification, according to polling for CARE in July 2015.

The EU’s judgement has not only caused outrage among Christians but also among eurosceptic groups infuriated at Brussels’ control over UK laws.

“Time and again we are finding we can’t govern our own country as we see fit,” said Steve Baker, a Tory MP who is co-chairman for the eurosceptic group, Conservatives for Britain.

“This appears to be yet one more example. It would be deeply worrying if children were left at risk as a result.”

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