Criticizing Anti-porn Bill, Netanyahu Expresses Concern About Censoring Internet

In contrast to earlier version, new bill would have providers ask users whether they want to block porn sites. 'Who will determine which content is permitted and which is forbidden?' Netanyahu asks

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out on Sunday against a bill that seeks to protect minors from harmful online content, dubbed the anti-porn bill.

The bill, initiated by Likud’s Miki Zohar, requires internet service providers to block access to porn websites as the default. To enter such a site, one would have to key in a code.

“I’m concerned about laws that are designed to censor social networks and the internet. We don’t want children to be exposed to damaging content, but my concern is that the internet – where there is no government regulation – will be subject to such regulation," Netanyahu said at a meeting of Likud cabinet members.

>> Editorial: A dangerous, senseless law ■ Analysis: Israel's anti-porn bill isn’t designed to protect children but to shame parents

"Who will determine which content is permitted and which is forbidden? Who will determine its interpretation?” Netanyahu asked, adding that he would meet Zohar and examine ways to overcome his concerns. “One has to be very cautious about bringing a regulator into this area,” Netanyahu said.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refali (Habayit Hayehudi), who co-initiated the bill, responded to Netanyahu on Army Radio. “When he hears what we are proposing, he’ll change his mind,” she said. Zohar added that the “final version is excellent and I’m sure Netanyahu will support it. The aim is solely to protect minors, letting adults decide for themselves. There is nothing better for the country’s children and for ensuring our society’s future in terms of preventing sexual harassment and the objectification of women,” said Zohar.

Last week, Zohar and Moalem-Refaeli softened the bill’s version. In contrast to the earlier version, the new one does not block websites as the default option, and will require approval by users. The previous version had been criticized by Knesset members and people in the high-tech industry, who believe the measure was disproportionate.

According to the bill’s final version, internet providers will ask users if they wish to block content partially (through an access code), fully, or not at all. If the user does not respond to the internet provider’s question three times, the sites will be blocked until the user requests to clear them. Users will be asked every three months whether they want porn sites blocked and providers will be paid 50 agurot ($0.13) a year for each customer agreeing to block these sites. Providers will be obligated to erase information about user habits, after concerns were raised about the formation of porn databases.

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