Bill That Would Track Online Porn Consumers Nixed by Israeli Communications Ministry

'No content on the internet should be pre-filtered,' ministry says after bill that requires users to specifically ask for access to porn wins broad support.

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The bill that would have required internet service providers to block pornographic websites and require customers to specifically ask for access to them, will not pass through the Knesset after the Communications Ministry said Monday it opposed the legislation.

The bill, submitted by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), had been approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Moalem-Refaeli promised on Monday to advance an alternative version of the bill, which will only slightly alter the current situation. Her revised bill will not involve any content-filtering by the providers, but would sharpen existing requirements for ISPs to provide filtering programs for free upon request. 

“The obligation of the ISP will be intensified so that [it] will be required to inform the customer by text message and email when they sign up,” reads the new version, which will be put to a vote in the Knesset in the coming days.

The Communications Ministry said, “The position of the ministry was and remains that no content on the internet should be pre-filtered, and that the various ISPs are obligated to inform the customer of the existence of offensive content online and to supply customers with filtering programs for free.”

The original version of Moalem-Refaeli’s bill had broad support and may well have passed if it had been brought to a vote; 26 MKs from most of the Knesset factions had signed onto the bill, including from the opposition parties Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Joint List. Only Meretz MKs had refrained.

But not everyone who supported the original version felt totally comfortable with it. MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) told Haaretz, “The truth is that when I signed it, it was out of a desire to protect children. But I must admit that upon reading it in depth, there were a lot of problems with it.”

Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), who also signed it, still expressed unequivocal support. “As someone who was exposed to the issue in the educational system, I stand totally behind the bill,” he said. He called the possible privacy violation inherent in forcing someone to request access to pornography “proportionate considering the risks to children, not to mention the exploitation of women.”