Adult content filtering regulation

See Online age verification for proposals to enforce age verification on sites

Adult content filtering regulation may be proposed in the UK requiring ISPs to block access to adult content unless a subscriber specifically opts-out of such filtering. For existing practice see Content filtering by UK ISPs.

Existing service regulation

Video-on-demand, including UK-based internet services, are jointly regulated by ATVOD and Ofcom under the power of the Communications Act 2003 since 2010. They have enforcement actions against several providers of adult content including "Playboy TV" and "Strictly Broadband".

See: Ofcom 'video on demand' services

Reports and consultations

Bailey Report 2011

Claire Perry Report 2012

On April 18 2012, Claire Perry MP released her Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection report recommending network-level filtering.[1] [2] [3]

Department for Education consultation 2012

Parental internet controls consultation, 2012-06-28 - 2012-09-06

Public consultation responses


Daily Mail announcement

  • Further changes announced to government policy via the Daily Mail; Claire Perry MP appointed as adviser to David Cameron [4]

Voluntary network-level filtering

The four largest UK ISPs agreed to voluntarily introduce network level adult content filtering by the end of 2013.

A government response to a petition (which incorrectly referred to legislation, rather that the back room deal) said:

The Government is aware of concerns that filters may lead to over-blocking. A UK Council for Child Internet Safety working group will look at this issue specifically and will report back to the Ministerial chairs. If a consumer or a website owner feels that a site has been wrongly or unfairly blocked, they can seek redress directly with the relevant internet service provider (ISP).

An online campaign, Internet Matters, was jointly launched by the four ISPs in May 2014.

Ofcom report on internet safety measures

In November 2013, DCMS requested that Ofcom make reports on internet safety measures and ISP commitments to parental controls.

News coverage of the second report focused around the seemingly low take-up of adult filtering.[5] Take up of the filters for new customers were BT 5%, Sky 8%, Virgin 4% and TalkTalk 36%. (The report details various caveats for discrepancies, TalkTalk for example uses a default-on approach to filtering.)

An Ofcom report published in 2019[6] found that

Among parents of 5-15s who are aware of content filters, half say they opt not to use them because they prefer to use other mediation strategies (like supervision, having rules or talking to their child) or because they trust their child to be sensible (48%).


Written questions

2012-07-02, Stephen Phillips MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what steps his Department is taking to improve the safety of children using the internet. [7]

2012-11-13, Tim Loughton MP

To ask the Secretary of State for Education (1) when he expects to announce the results of the consultation on the Opt-in Approach to harmful content on the internet; (2) when he expects to inform members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety about the future of the Government's plans for extending active choice in the light of the consultation in respect of Opt-in. [8]

2013-03-20, Edward Timpson MP responding to Diane Abbott MP

[...] Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, the Government is working with ISPs to go further and put in place systems that will actively encourage all customers to switch on parental controls if children are in the household and will be using the internet. We are also asking ISPs to put in place checks to ensure that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18.[9]


Proposed legislation

Browser age-verification

According to an interview[13] with Claire Perry MP the "plan is for a filter that checks the age of the child browsing, rather than her original call for all users to opt-in to accessing adult content on their computer, which a government consultation rejected. All public wifi will have an automatic block on adult material."

This may be a mis-communication of a request that ISPs verify the age of anyone attempting to modify the "opt-in" setting on a network. ("We are also asking ISPs to put in place checks to ensure that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18."[14]) or a reference to calls for some websites (such as those with adult content) to be legally obliged to perform online age verification.

EU legal status

A leaked draft document[15] from the European Parliament suggests that EU directives would not allow the "default on" (aka Active Choice) model of site filtering but instead require prior consent.

d) subject to a prior explicit consent of the end-users concerned,
(i) prevent the transmission of unsolicited communications within the meaning of Article 13 of Directive 2002/58/EC or
(ii) implement parental control measures.
The end-user shall be given the possibility to withdraw this consent at any time.

Conservative campaign

On 2013-07-22 David Cameron MP launched a Conservative campaign Protecting Our Children to promote the adoption of network adult filters by ISPs.


See also


  1. ISPs torch's smut-blocking master plan, The Register, 2012-04-19
  2. Cameron hardens stance on UK web filth block, The Register, 2012-05-24
  3. ISPA statement on Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection, 2012-04-18
  4. Victory for the Mail! Children WILL be protected from online porn after Cameron orders automatic block on sites (2012-12-19)
  5. New broadband users shun UK porn filters, Ofcom finds, BBC News, 2014-07-23
  6. Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2018, Ofcom, 2019-01-29
  10. Controversial UK Communications Bill White Paper Expected Later in 2013, ISPReview, 2013-01-24
  11. Hansard, 2014-11-26
  12. Consumer Rights Bill — Report (3rd Day) — 26 Nov 2014 at 20:17
  13. Claire Perry interview: Leaving internet on at night is as reckless as leaving the front door unlocked, Spectator, 2013-01-25
  15. EU's ongoing attempt to kill Net Neutrality forever, LQDN, 2015-05-20