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Israel is considering a measure to force people who watch porn online to ask for permission

A child climbs onto a giant mockup laptop keyboard during a promotion event at a shopping centre in Beijing
Reuters/Thomas Peter
Protecting the children or stifling freedom?
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In the near future, people in Israel who want to watch porn might have to seek permission first.

On Oct. 30, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously green-lit a bill that would force internet companies to censor pornography by default. The committee approved the measure in a bid to clamp down on rampant underage access to adult content online, the Times of Israel reported.

“Today it is easier for a child to consume harsh content on the internet than to buy an ice cream at the local kiosk,” said Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, the bill’s chief sponsor, according to Haaretz. Although the country’s law already mandates that internet service providers put in content-filtering systems upon a customer’s request, proponents of the bill argue that many parents are not aware of the option.

With the latest bill, censorship of offensive material will become an opt-out feature rather than an opt-in one. This means that instead of having to ask providers to bar access to select sites, they will be blocked to begin with. To access the blocked sites, people will submit requests to their service provider in writing, over the phone, or through the provider’s website.

Critics argue that the Israeli government is joining the ranks of Iran and China by keeping records of users who request unlimited access to the internet. Forcing people to admit that they want unfettered access to porn sites is a blatant violation of privacy, they say.

Another concern is that educational images and videos might be blocked as well. For instance, information on breast cancer might be misunderstood as pornographic content—Facebook’s made that mistake already. However, Moalem has maintained that the guidelines will assure that educational and age-appropriate content will not be disrupted. “This is not Iran,” she said, alluding to the country’s theocratic government, which purged over 500 porn, art, and news websites, and offered netizens high-speed national internet that can only access local sites unless granted special permission from state authorities.

Despite the backlash, Israel’s new rules aren’t unprecedented—Britain has similar porn filters in place. Even there, an age-verification measure is getting people worried about ending up in a monitored government database.

The bill is now with the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, where the Communications Minister—a post currently held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—will draft specific guidelines. Figuring out how to effectively filter content will be difficult. For instance, Israeli law can only dictate how local sites tag their content.

The day after the Oct. 30 vote, lawmakers started pushing back on the proposed controls. They are considering amending the bill to eliminate automatic filtering of offensive web content. Instead, they want to up the responsibility on ISPs to better inform people about available filtering options.

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