Ed Vaizey assumes chief role for Brit Porn Police -

Ed Vaizey is as confused about child safety online as the rest of us. Following on from his controversial net neutrality speech, he has this week been discussing child safety online.  During roundtables with ISPs he has discussed options available, "made progress", but admits the mobile internet is a difficult area to enforce. 

While most mobile networks have a default block on content that is for over 18s when surfing from a phone, such as gambling or pornography, Vaizey admits that technology such as Bluetooth, used for transferring files from phone to phone, is tough to police. Besides, how exactly do the networks confirm ages on phones - and what is to stop an age confirmed phone transferring downloaded material to one that is not? Nothing, really.

Vaizey says he and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety  (UKCCIS) are working on ways to monitor material, but "it is not possible to tackle content that is shared via bluetooth, for example, on a phone-to-phone basis." A quango that escaped the cull, the UKCCIS is "so important," says Vaizey, for figuring out how to keep kids safe online.

But what is online safety? Is it underage kids swapping porno on their phones as a modern, technologically savvy alternative to swapping jazz rags at school? Or is it really about keeping them safe, in this instance, rather than typically boyish (or girlish) curiousity? Either way, ISPs must continue to take responsibility.

Vaizey says: "According to one school of thought, ISPs are there simply to channel the content to homes, and should not interfere with what goes down their pipes. It is often said that asking them to do so would be the equivalent of asking Royal Mail to open every envelope and parcel and have a look at the contents. I also believe that we should not over-regulate the internet, and that self-regulation should be the first stop before we consider Government regulation or legislation. 

"However, I think it should be put on the record that ISPs can play a role, and, indeed, have played a very effective role in combating child abuse content online."

Vaizey, although naturally concerned about illegal imagery and child abuse, continued to say that the internet must be monitored for ordinary sex.

Fellow Conservative MP, for Worthing West, Peter Bottomley queried: "The debate is concentrating on the issue that matters most, which is extreme pornography. We are not concerned about nudity or ordinary sex. Most of us have a naked body, and very few of us inherited celibacy from our parents. Can the Minister say whether the six ISPs who are currently providing the channels in question are the organisations who came to his meeting, and if they were not, will he have them in as well please?"

To which Vaizey replied: "To a certain extent, talking about ordinary sex. We are talking about preventing children from having access to inappropriate content, and how we can work with ISPs to make it that little bit more difficult for them to do so."

Whatever the answer, it's not an obvious one. And will anyone, especially in this digital age, truly be able to shield young eyes from a curiosity of this "pornography" they've heard about? Vaizey, the UKCCIS and ISPs are trying to figure out a way to do just that.