As the Digital Economy Bill moves to Report Stage in the House of Commons, ISPA, the voice of the UK Internet industry, believes forcing ISPs to block adult sites that do not age verify has the potential to significantly harm the digital economy.

The UK Internet industry takes online safety very seriously. From rolling out free and easy-to-use parental controls to education and awareness campaigns and the creation of the Internet Watch Foundation to tackle child abuse images, the UK is rightly viewed as a leader in this area. This is why we supported the Government’s original age verification policy, for targeting the most appropriate part of the Internet value chain, namely the adult sites and the financial services that underpin them, addressing the problem at source.

Our members are investing significantly in their networks to ensure the UK has the Internet services our economy and society needs now and in the future. The inclusion of web blocking powers with little thought or consultation risks undermining plans to boost investment in networks.

The Government previously said web blocking is a policy that is “disproportionate”, that technical measures can be easily circumvented and legal content could be blocked my mistake, so we are concerned and disappointed it has gone down this path. This change in direction has been agreed without any consultation, with no assessment of costs nor is there any certainty that it will comply with judicial rulings on interference with fundamental rights. Before moving forward, we are calling on the Government to:

• Clearly assess and quantify the impact of the new policy on the digital economy, particularly regarding competition, innovation and investment
• Fully assess and be mindful of any unintended consequences, such as the potential to undermine the existing success of the self-regulatory model that has developed over twenty years to tackle child abuse content online
• Develop an appropriate and robust regulatory system

ISPA Chair James Blessing warned MPs on the damage the Bill could cause, saying: “the Digital Economy Bill is all about ensuing the UK continues to be a digital world leader, including in relation to internet safety. This is why ISPA supported the Government’s original age verification policy for addressing the problem of underage access of adult sites at source. Instead of rushing through this significant policy change, we are calling on government to pause and have a substantive discussion on how any legal and regulatory change will impact the UK’s dynamic digital economy and the expectations and rights of UK Internet users.”