Do government plans to ban extreme internet pornography go far enough?
Distribution of violent and abusive pornography is illegal in the UK but foreign websites fall out of this legislation, so new laws could ban possession of it in Britain.
Meanwhile research by Computing Which? suggests that some parental software controls are not always effective at protecting children who use the internet, with many blacklisted sites still slipping through.
What can be done to protect children who surf the internet? Can proposals to ban violent pornography be easily enforced?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
It is near impossible to develop a technical solution to what is essentially a social problem. Many security systems already block perfectly harmless images because they simply contain flesh tones. It is the parents' responsibility to monitor what their children view.
Griff, Cardiff, Wales
The actions of one individual should not lead to this sort of ban. It is the old "Grand Theft Auto made me do it" argument. Stop finding scapegoats and take some responsibility. The material in question has been available online for years. Why is now, due to the actions of one individual, that it should be banned? The whole point of the internet is that it is not government controlled. Banning certain content is restricting free speech.
Graham Flett, Dundee, Scotland
Believe it or not, some of this violent stuff is in fact consensual, so where do we draw the line? Are we going to ban the consensual stuff too? What will be banned from being looked at online? As much as I may feel sick by the thought that people enjoy looking at this stuff, the alternative of banning everything we don't like sends even more shivers down my spine.
Nathan James, Liverpool
The internet is a powerful tool and there will always be those who for what ever reason want to show or watch images that may upset others. Censorship would only lead to persons gaining this info from other sites in other countries.
Bert, London, UK
Surely the internet should be about free access to any material. Do the government believe if they ban such images, the desire to view them by certain people will disappear. Absurd!
M Noon, Romford UK
Why is anyone surprised at new censorship laws? The UK is always up for banning things the middle classes don't like, and after the London bombings, they are on full "ban it" mode. In fact, their current rant resembles a "ban everything and make everything we don't like illegal" mode, and it supports the best traditions of the lets-ban-it-and hope-it-goes-away reaction, so familiar to UK parliaments. The "banned" list is long, and gets longer every day. At this rate, soon doing anything at all will be illegal and everyone will be arrested for everything.
M Parker, UK
Extreme violent porn and images is something I believe different countries should work together to stop. It is dangerous, ask any psychologist who treats sexual dysfunctions and they will tell you these problems start with things like peeping on people and as the affected person becomes more and more engrossed with their fantasies they often escalate the level of violence involved. Heavily tightening up on access to dangerous material may well avoid people developing such extreme problems. Any attempt to stop them has to be tried surely.
Ella Swinley-Field, West Yorkshire, England
It is clear to me that non-consensual acts of any kind should be illegal, however if the porn in question is safe, sane and consensual I don't see what the problem is. To argue that it causes people to be violent has been repeatedly proved to be somewhat unfounded and it is possible that if people who want to see this sort of thing cannot then they will be more likely to commit it themselves.
Controlling internet content from foreign sites is a difficult matter comparable to controlling the content of inbound mail or maintaining our borders. As most British residents use a UK ISP, I think that there should be a legal obligation for ISPs to operate a sort of universal firewall. They could all operate the same government supplied or controlled filter which would bar certain sites, certain content and refer other dubious content to a central monitoring agency.
Ian Brown, Derby, UK
We should do everything possible to stop the addiction. We are human beings are we not? Why would any body want to defend their 'rights' to look at violent actions to another human being? What's in their heads? Laws protect us from mainly ourselves and we need them obviously.
These rules should start with the ISPs. It is easy for them to block the newsgroups that contain violent sexual abuse and child pornography, but how many do? Take the option away from web user and they won't view the images, simple as that.
D White, Stafford
Whose definition of "violent and abusive" is going to be used? I seem to remember that lingerie adverts were banned on the London Underground because they were regarded as abusive. Once again this government is using an authoritarian sledgehammer to crack an admittedly distasteful nut.
David Anderson, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Parents should be much more responsible for what their children watch. Security systems and filters are available but how many parents have them turned on? This law is unenforceable given the size of the internet - the only way to do it is to monitor everyone's IP address. Are we willing to allow the government to watch everything we access on the internet?
Paul Robinson, Grimsby, England
I see it will be an offence to 'download' such images. Well, this will mean anybody accidentally clicking a link to such an image will be guilty of doing so; Ministers ought to be technically qualified when introducing new rules on things they know nothing about. Also I hope this isn't the start of government controlled censorship on the free internet.
Nick, Portsmouth, England
Protect the children? This is the responsibility of the parents! If you don't know enough to stop your children accessing unsuitable material, keep them off the internet entirely. A computer isn't a babysitter, nor is it the responsibility of the online community to look after your children.
Christy, Newcastle, UK
This Government seem to want to ban everything they don't agree with. Banning this material is the wrong way to go in any event. ISP's should be forced to accept a global code of conduct and take responsibility for the sites they host.
Paul S, Essex
If they can't enforce it properly against paedophiles, what hope is there of enforcing it against those downloading adult porn? Porn is as old as art. Is this not just an excuse for the state to trace what we are looking at, and with internet phone calls on the way, a way for the government to eavesdrop without a warrant?
John, Oldham, UK
If women are abused in the making of the images it is only right they should be banned.
The sort of person who goes out and strangles someone because they saw it in porn is the same sort of person who would go out and punch somebody because they had been watching a boxing match. We should concentrate instead on promoting strength of character, and a good moral code. How will people learn to make up their minds themselves if every important choice is made for them?
So people never had thoughts about violent sex before the internet? Take away the internet, take away films, take away TV, take away books, and I dare suggest that people will still have such thoughts.
Lee, Hebburn, England
We are on a very slippery slope here. One man's obscenity is another's sexual preference. As a gay man, some find my sexual practices obscene and depraved. How long before someone like me is prosecuted for looking at, what they deem to be okay, but many might find depraved. I remember the S&M trails of the 80's when people were jailed for consensual S&M sex.
I worked for 12 years in the Crown Prosecution Service. Before we decided to prosecute under the Obscene Publications Act, we had to watch the videos for evident violence or pain. Despite material being depraved and sickening, juries were reluctant to convict, possibly on the basis that what consenting adults watch or do is a matter for them. I think the new proposals are doomed to share the same fate. It's easy for politicians to accede to the demands of grieving and suffering victims' families, but that is not a good basis for creating law. Should people act out their fantasies there are plenty of laws in existence to prosecute them, we don't need new ones.
David Watson, Edinburgh
If we all sit each day watching pretty flowers growing in the wind and ban all films, music, internet, books, radio and telephones there will still be a lunatic who goes out and kills half a village banning everything bad will not change this. There will always be killers and bad people out there, blaming technology will not raise the dead or stop future deaths - it is just a scapegoat as always. What is actually needed is care for those who are unstable and tougher penalties for those who kill.
Andrew Lindop, Wales UK
There has been and always will be dangers for our children. The answer is not to destroy the existence of these dangers, that is impossible. Parents hold the responsibility for protecting their children from what they deem inappropriate. Simple things, like limiting time on the internet, or placing the computer in a common hallway or room where you can keep your eye on them easily are a few of the options available. Parents should look at this as a problem to be dealt with in the home, not the legislature.
Thomas, Washington DC, USA
I agree with Dr Chris Evans that no material (featuring consenting adults only) should be banned and people should be able to make up their own minds. If children are accessing adult material anyway, then their parents/guardians aren't keeping an eye on them enough, which they should be. Why should it be up to the law to "protect" children when their parents can and should be?
Mandi, Cardiff, Wales
If this pornography depicts sexual activity between non-consenting adults then the offenders should be prosecuted in their own country. However, simply looking at images should never under any circumstances be considered a criminal offence. This all sounds to me like an Orwellian nightmare vision of mass police surveillance and sexual thought crime?.
Nick, Birmingham, UK
I watched some pretty graphic scenes of mutilation and murder of women on BBC1's compelling "Messiah IV" last night. If I'd taped it does that mean I could go to jail for 3 years? These proposals are poorly thought out and another move towards creating a repressive politically-correct society.
Godfrey Bartlett, Essex, UK.
Some say that new laws are needed to protect children, but really the whole discussion is about personal responsibility and nothing else. I have two children and I have a Mac browser with strict parental controls that I enforce with passwords. Why can't other parents do the same? You only have to look at British crime statistics to see how little influence parents have over their children.
This may be over-simplifying things a bit but can't we just shut down the web sites at source? OK, so they might be overseas but can't we pressurise the relevant government to shut them down? Would this be a more effective use of time and money than chasing people who've seen the sites? If the sites aren't there, nobody can see them.
Robert, Sussex, UK
Why do parents assume it is somebody else's responsibility to protect their children online? The Internet is not a toy and certainly not a babysitter. The new law is a joke. "Oh, I er, stumbled upon this cache of violent porn!" Quite.
Trev Green, Penzance, UK
I fully agree with Trev Green, Penzance, UK. Too many people stick a PC in their children's room and allow them totally unsupervised access to the internet. If you're worried about what they might view, then keep the PC in the living room and watch what they're doing on it instead of watching the TV. Even better - don't save your internet access password on the PC that way no one can log onto the internet via your PC without your knowledge. Banning this material won't help, as it'll just make more people seek it out. Forbidden fruit and all that you know?
Iain, Airdrie, Scotland
And this will be enforced how, exactly? Constant monitoring of every Internet connection? I think not. As the availability of firearms in this country has shown, banning things does not make those things inaccessible. The sickos will always find a way to get their hands on this material.
The way to 'protect children' from pornography is to educate instead of placing nanny state bans on taboo subjects such as this. I believe that banning things can make them even more desirable, people will be curious to see what they are being shielded from. I also fail to see how this can be policed properly, what may seem extreme to one person may appear quite timid to another.
Trying to regulate the net is like trying to empty the sea with a bucket - it can't and shouldn't be done - the whole concept of censorship goes against everything that makes the internet what it is - a democratic and unrestricted information forum for the whole planet, free of political and moral interference. Why should my liberty be restricted because some parents can't or won't control what their kids do online?
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK
Nobody has a problem with the fact that you are not allowed to publish, and as such access in the UK, this sort of imagery in print or on video so I can't see how anyone could have a complaint about accessing it through the internet. I for one will be happy to see the new laws brought in. While I am in full support of the proposed laws I can't help but feel that the justification is tenuous after all if this sort of imagery creates a 'monkey see monkey do effect' why is it not exactly the same with violent Hollywood films?
Despicable as this sort of material is, I fail to understand how the police are supposed to enforce the law, give that most people minded to download it will do so in the privacy of their own homes. Presently there is a law regarding the use of hand-held mobile phones whilst driving. This offence kills hundred more per year than internet pornography, yet the police seemingly have neither the time, nor the inclination to enforce the law there. Do we have our priorities right?
Andrew Taylor, Nottingham, UK
How can anyone argue in favour of having this filth available where there is the remotest chance of anyone under 90 years of age accessing it? The present laws against child pornography need extending to cover adult porn as well. I am sure that some people will try to say that it is their 'Human Right' to download this dangerous and degrading filth.
Chris, Telford, UK
Another law to enforce? The police have enough trouble enforcing the current ones, only to see all of their hard work go to waste as judges hand out ridiculously lenient sentences. The government needs to stop this current trend of throwing new laws at every new problem that arises and concentrate on catching those that commit crime and ensuring that they are suitably punished. Watching a recent Crimewatch 'solved' and seeing violent offender after violent offender being given sentences of between 4 and 6 years is truly sickening.
Andy B, Newport, UK
For the last five years I have run a junior sports Web site and it has been a constant battle to try to keep our users (120,000 kids and parents every year) safe online. We recently spent £2k having a bespoke security system designed and built after part of the site was hacked. If the new law gives us a stick to beat people who try to distribute porn by hacking sites like ours (they must posses it to infest our site with it) this will be a good law. I know that free speech is important to our way of life, but not when the target of these scumbag hackers are our kids!
Rick Hough, Knutsford, Cheshire