ISOC-IL criticizes a bill proposing to block sexual content online by default: “This is a futile law that will not prevent children from being exposed to pornographic and violent content, causing more harm than good. Who will decide which content should be blocked? It is harsh, undemocratic online censorship. Half of the budget is enough to raise awareness of existing filtering tools that every parent can already install at his or her discretion”
On Monday, November 26, 2018, the Economic Affairs Committee will again discuss the proposed amendment to the Communications Law (Bezeq and Transmissions) – Filtering Online Gambling Sites and Offensive Content submitted by MKs Micky Zohar (Likud) and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (The Jewish Home). The proposed amendment (dubbed The Porn Bill) seeks to limit exposure to pornographic content online by requiring ISPs to block it by default for all internet users in Israel. According to the bill, a user interested in accessing such websites will be required to type a personal code. 60 million ILS has been allocated for technical implementation of the proposal.
The MKs promoting the bill claim they wish to prevent minors from being exposed to pornographic content, but ISOC-IL argues that the proposed amendment will not achieve its goal resulting in a pointless waste of public funds. “Not only is there no actual technological ability to block content on various online platforms, the proposed amendment is at odds with several of The Basic Laws of Israel, such as the Freedom of Occupation Law and the Human Dignity and Liberty Law, and will not stand legal scrutiny,” said attorney MeyTal Greiver-Schwartz, VP Community Relations and Regulation at Israel Internet Association. “This law will enforce harsh online censorship, effectively violating the freedom of expression, privacy, and the fundamental principles of the internet.”
According to Greiver-Schwartz, “This law does nothing but create the illusion among parents that their children are protected, and that the content they are exposed to on the internet is ‘clean’ and appropriate for their age. In practice, it cannot protect children from being exposed to pornographic content, available via popular platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, and others.”
ISOC-IL provided a hypothetical scenario illustrating the infeasibility of the proposed bill: “Let’s say that the law went into effect and the internet at home is blocked using a code, allegedly preventing children from gaining access to pornographic websites,” says Greiver-Schwartz. “That will not prevent them from being exposed – even accidentally – to pornographic content in search engines or receiving a pornographic clip via WhatsApp. And in any case, who determines where we draw the line? Is the video clip of Dana International’s Love Boy an appropriate content for children or does it contain blatant sexual content that should be filtered? On the other hand, should a website dedicated to sex education and counseling about sexual harassment be hidden from children and teenagers?”
According to ISOC-IL, there is no need for legislation that mandates the default blocking of content when every parent can already use freely available content filtering tools based on their values and world views. Any solution imposed by default will cause more harm than good, representing a real threat to the stability of Israel’s internet infrastructure.
ISOC-IL is well aware of the need to protect minors from exposure to harmful content. However, there is no technical method that can completely prevent children from accessing content that is not appropriate for their age, and the only way to face this challenge is through parental involvement, personal responsibility, and guidance.
“Parents can download free filtering tools and block content on home networks and mobile devices,” said Greiver-Schwartz. “But there is no airtight block, and the only way to deal with this situation is through dialogue between parents and their children: Clarifying the advantages – as well as the disadvantages and risks – of the internet, and instructing the children on using the internet in a productive, enjoyable way while dealing with difficulties and offensive content.”
As part of the effort to raise public awareness of existing content filtering tools (both free and paid), ISOC-IL – together with ISPs, and other parties – offers a special resources page featuring relevant information: Content filtering solutions provided by ISPs, and recommendations for parents wishing to discuss online sexual content with their children
“There is no need for an anti-democratic law under the guise of protecting the children or a blocking mechanism that any child chatting on WhatsApp can avoid,” said Greiver-Schwartz. “The State of Israel is about to throw away 60 million ILS of taxpayers money on inventing solutions that are already available for free. If they were investing even half of that in raising awareness of existing solutions and setting standards for filtering software that ISP’s are required to provide for no additional cost, more children would be safe.”