UK Politics

Labour says coalition being 'strung along' by internet firms

Ministers must "get a grip" on internet policy to prevent children from seeing online pornography and stop the sharing of abusive images, Labour has said.

In a Commons debate, shadow minister Helen Goodman said current voluntary controls were failing and ministers had been "strung along" by internet firms.

She called for "safe search" filters, rigorous age verification software and clear on-screen warnings for parents.

Ministers said considerable progress had been made but more could be done.

The prime minister has said the "time for excuses is over" after the killers of April Jones and Tia Sharp were found to have viewed abusive images online before murdering their victims.

'Take responsibility'

Research by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre found there was a link between viewing indecent images of children online and "contact" child sexual offences.

Labour says little has been achieved since a 2011 review by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mother's Union, into the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood.

He recommended that parents should be able to buy computers, devices or internet services with adult content already blocked, rather than having to impose controls themselves.

Ms Goodman told MPs that Labour would support new laws if the government was to bring them forward.

"After three years and two secretaries of state, the government still seems to think a voluntary approach will work," she said.

"Don't they know when they are being strung along, or don't they care?"

"How many more years must we wait? How many child deaths is it going to take to shock this government into action? It is time the government stopped hoping everything will turn out for the best and started taking responsibility."

Her colleague Diane Abbott said boys as young as eight were seeing hardcore porn on the internet.

Advances in technology were "totally outrunning parents' understanding" of how to protect their children, she said, and industry could not be allowed to "dictate the pace of change".

'One click'

In response, Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said the government was committed to taking "every possible step" to prevent the production of abusive images and their distribution via the internet.

"We have to work together on this," he said. "We need to recognise working together means using industry, law enforcement, the charitable sector and I would have to say I think we have made considerable progress."

Less than 1% of online child pornography was now hosted in the UK compared with 18% before 1996, he added, showing the effectiveness of blocking technology.

"It stops people from inadvertently viewing these images and it stops paedophiles from arguing they came across these images accidentally," he said.

Parents would have a "one click" protection system available by the end of this year but he acknowledged there was further action needed on age inappropriate content.

Google donation

Culture Secretary Maria Miller is due to meet representatives from Google and other leading internet firms in No 10 next Monday amid claims by campaigners that they have been dragging their feet.

Google said on Wednesday that it had donated £1m to a charity responsible for policing criminal content online.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which runs a confidential hotline for reporting online child abuse, said the money would help to pay for specialists confronting the most "horrendous content" on the internet.

"This contribution will significantly boost our work to meet our vision of eliminating online child sexual abuse content," Susie Hargreaves, the charity's chief executive said.

The web search firm said it had "a zero-tolerance policy" towards child sexual abuse content and it was working with the charity to block access to searches for such material.

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