Why South Africa’s proposed “porn block” is a bad idea

ISPA has outlined why it believes the Law Reform Commission’s proposal to block adult content in South Africa is a bad idea.

The block, which was proposed in a discussion paper by the South African Law Reform Commission, would see Internet pornography blocked by default by electronic communications service providers and device manufacturers or distributors.

Users would then have to opt-in to access adult material and provide proof of their age.

The proposal hopes to protect South African children from being exposed to adult content, but this may bring other problems.

Why it’s a bad idea

ISPA chair André van der Walt said that blocking all local and international adult web content is a bad idea, as it compromises freedom of expression in South Africa.

“We risk being sent down a slippery slope when we are just shaking off the effects of the previous administration’s stealthy attacks on freedom of expression,” said van der Walt.

According to ISPA, blocking all adult content by default is an unimaginative approach, and South Africa should rather look for targeted solutions that “won’t morph into a generalised Internet clampdown when it suits later governments”.

ISPA submitted comments on the Law Reform Commission’s paper, where it highlighted that it has a “long history of constructive engagement with the Film and Publications Board (FPB)” and said it was finalising a memorandum of understanding to formalise this relationship.

ISPA added that it also has been working with the South African Police Service regarding offences relating to child sexual abuse material.

ISPA’s suggestions

In its comments, ISPA provided its own proposals on how to protect children from being exposed to explicit sexual content.

“ISPA’s view is that the blocking of content must be provided for in law and only ordered by an impartial and independent court,” the organisation said.

However, ISPA said its members have generally experienced that technical approaches to content blocking and filtering are simply ineffectual and easily circumvented.

ISPA also said that other interventions, such as the Department of Basic Education’s 2017 guidelines on e-safety, as well as recent curriculum revisions, cover the issue more comprehensively and are likely to be more successful than the Law Reform Commission’s proposal.

“Requiring ISPs to block all adult content by default, to protect children, is a disproportionate interference in the right to freedom of expression and it is simply ineffective,” said van der Walt.

“Blocking or filtering of adult content should be controlled by end-users and, with regard to minor children, those end-users should be the parents who are ultimately ideally-placed to protect their own offspring.”

ISPA said that any blocking or filtering obligations that could be implemented in the future should be aimed at content providers, not intermediaries such as ISPs.

Now read: The big problem with South Africa’s proposed “porn block”

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Why South Africa’s proposed “porn block” is a bad idea