Want porn? Ask your web provider! Israeli bill seeks to filter ‘offensive’ sites by default

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The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill requiring internet providers to block pornography by default, with lawmakers saying that finding adult material online is no more difficult for children than “buying an ice-cream.”

Under the terms of the proposed bill, users wanting to access pornography online would first have to notify their service providers in writing, by telephone, or via the service provider’s website.

It will be up to the Communication Minister (the serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) to set out specific censorship guidelines for service providers.

If approved by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, the bill would trigger the creation of lists of internet users requesting access to pornographic and other sites “deemed offensive,” the Haaretz reported.

One of the lawmakers who proposed the bill, Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, stated that as things stand, children can freely consume “harsh content” online.

“The damaging influence of watching, and addiction to, pornographic and severe violence has been proven in many studies, with great harm to children. Today, it is easier for a child to consume harsh content on the internet than to buy an ice cream at the local kiosk,” Moalem-Refaeli said, Haaretz reported.

“We must prevent such access by making the default of the internet provider to filter such content, unless the customer has asked to be exposed to it,” she added.

Israeli law currently requires internet service providers to offer specific content-filtering systems that internet users can request to run for free. Although providers must notify their customers of the availability of such services, many parents have no clue about this option.

“The average age that children are exposed to pornographic sites is 8. I don’t think it is right for us to leave things like that,” one of the bill’s biggest advocates, Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, told Channel 2 News, according to the Times of Israel.

Lawmakers from nine of the Knesset’s 10 factions signed the bill. Only members of the Meretz left-wing party refused to back it, Haaretz reported.

Critics argue that the bill limits the freedom of information and is therefore a violation of privacy. Many also raise concerns that attempts to censor “difficult content” would inhibit access to unrelated content, like information on breast cancer and other medical-research material.

But Moalem says the proposed legislation is not meant to limit people’s right to view whatever they want.

“This isn’t Iran,” she noted.

“I am not interested in blocking a campaign for breast cancer awareness, as a woman and a survivor of breast cancer,” she said. “That is not what we are talking about. But during the process of legislation it will become clear what we are talking about,” Moalem added.

Israeli lawmakers have been trying to advance legislation to prevent children from viewing pornography online for nearly a decade. Five similar bills were introduced in the past three Knessets, but none advanced, Haaretz reported, adding that the newly proposed bill is likely to receive a large majority in the parliament thanks to overwhelming support from the governing coalition and opposition parties.