Legislation focused on obscenity and indecency will not help keep children safe online, say academics

Laws based on traditional notions of obscenity and indecency will not help keep children safe online, an academic has warned.

Existing laws that rely on a standard of “morality” and obscenity have proven ineffective in regulating adult pornography on the Internet. Instead, they should be based on protecting children and keeping them away from adult content online, Professor Abhilash Nair from the University of Exeter Law School told the euCONSENT conference in Athens.

Regulation of legal adult pornography should focus on access rather than content, he told delegates.

Professor Nair said: “Attempting to transpose traditional laws centered on obscenity and indecency of images is simply inappropriate for the internet. Laws that rely on moralizing notions of obscenity and indecency of images will not command the obedience or respect of communities in cyberspace.

“We need to prevent children’s access to adult content. Any regulatory framework that has content controls based on notions of obscenity and indecency, which interferes with the right of adults to consume content, will not succeed in cyberspace.

“The main purpose of the law should be to ensure that children do not access adult content, without impeding the right of adults to access legal pornography. It’s a delicate balance that the law has failed to strike for nearly three decades in cyberspace. This balance can only be achieved through access-oriented regulation, rather than content-oriented regulation.

Professor Nair is currently leading academic research for the European Commission-funded euCONSENT research project, which aims to create an interoperable solution for age verification and parental consent for the protection of children on the Internet.

At the conference, he also warned that the lack of regulation of adult pornography in the United States means that other countries are unlikely to rely on traditional obscenity laws to exercise meaningful control to regulate its access within their local jurisdictions.

Professor Nair’s research suggests that age verification, although envisaged as one of the legitimate measures to protect children online against harmful content in European law, has not been used effectively until present and that children continue to have unrestricted access to pornography, indicating a potential gap in the law.

He said: “Age verification is not a magic bullet for child protection or a substitute for parental/caregiver responsibility. The law provides that other appropriate measures are in place to facilitate parental controls, such as age ratings, age control options or filters, for content that poses a lower risk to children, but harmful content such as pornography calls for stricter measures including age verification. .

“It is also critically important that age verification solutions maintain privacy and are secure so that adults can continue to exercise their rights to consume lawful pornography online.”

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