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04 February 2014

Government internet safety flawed, says CARE

Government internet safety flawed, says CARE

The Government's approach to child internet safety is dangerously ineffective and leaves many children exposed, according to Alliance member, CARE.

CARE's new poll, produced with ComRes, shows that the current approach to child internet safety is fundamentally flawed because it relies on an email system of notification to parents after a computer's filters have already been disabled.

The findings expose the weakness of the system behind the Prime Minister's adult content default filters. One in six (16 per cent) of all parents with children under the age of 18 say they would be unlikely to read an email from their internet service provider (ISP).

Potentially 2 million parents not checking a warning email could be leaving their children with access to explicit content, despite the Prime Minister's promises to the contrary.

The research also found that one in three people would not read an email from their ISP immediately and 15 per cent of parents say they are likely to leave it unread in their inbox for at least a week after receiving it.

CARE's chief executive, Nola Leach, said: "The main internet providers have taken the cheapest approach to the filter system by relying on an email notification to parents after filters have already been disabled. Common sense suggests that this is not a watertight system.

"Before filter settings can be changed, parents should have to provide identification to prevent children simply circumventing the system. Our evidence suggests that as a result of this system, children could be freely accessing harmful and explicit websites."

CARE supports an alternative approach proposed by Baroness Howe, which would make the system use age verification as the lynchpin, instead. Account holders would have to supply proof of age before filters could be altered, meaning children could not disable filters themselves and rely on the delay of their parents action to read the email and reinstate them.

CARE maintains that the age-verification system online is already working effectively to protect children from gambling websites and mirrors the legal restrictions placed on children when attempting to access age-restricted goods and services offline, such as 18-rated films,alcohol or cigarettes at the shops. 

The charity, which focuses on public policy, backs Baroness Howe's Online Safety Bill which would leave the Prime Minister's voluntary approach of self-regulation behind and enforce compliance with regard to child internet safety measures, including age-verified filtering, from all ISPs. 

Nola Leach added:"Great progress has been made in getting internet providers to take some responsibility for the content they offer children access to. But much more needs to be done. We cannot rely on a voluntary code which does not cover the whole market. We need the law to change to fully protect all children online to the same extent that they are protected offline."