Government Supports Internet Censorship Bill

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation yesterday approved a proposed bill that would only allow access to adult-content Internet sites for users who agree in advance to identify themselves. They will likely be required to state year of birth and I.D. number, and access would would be denied to any surfers who did not specifically sign up to receive it.

These restrictions are similar to those now imposed on portals for adult content for cellular phones, and would apply also to sites with violent content and with gambling activities. The filtering is to be provided free of charge.

The proposed Internet censorship legislation is a private bill sponsored by MK Amnon Cohen of Shas, which was amended by the Communications Ministry - which is headed by his fellow party member, Ariel Atias.

The amended bill was brought up for committee approval at the insistence of the Justice Ministry.

The original bill required biometric identification using fingerprints, but this stipulation was removed from the approved version. However, Internet Service Providers (ISP) will be required - according to the proposed law ) to ask all new customers if they are interested in the free content-filtering service. If they choose to have full Internet access, then they will have to identify themselves as being an adult over 18.

Existing customers will be contacted within 60 days of the bill's approval, and will have to decide whether they are interested in accessing sex and pornographic sites. Customers who do not agree to access such sites will then be connected to a limited service that denies it.

The proposed bill give the communications minister authority to establish procedures for identifying customers, in order to allow them to view pornographic sites. Possibilities include using I.D. cards and numbers, or credit cards.

Many MKs are worried that the requirement for identification and written registration to view such content will lead to the creation of a database of such customers, and the leakage of such information could cause harm to the customers.

Cohen's original proposal restricting access by physical means was approved a few months ago by the Knesset in its first reading. It would have required means such as a smart card or a fingerprint reader to allow access to pornography.

According to Cohen, about 60 percent of youth aged 9-18 have already viewed pornography on the Internet, even though most had not intended to view such material and only reached the sites by accident.

According to Cohen's figures, 44 percent of parents did not know that their children were exposed to pornographic content on the Internet.

Violation of the new law would bring a heavy fine for the ISP. The original proposal to impose criminal sanctions for violations met with extremely strong resistance in government ministries, and Cohen is now negotiating what sanctions will apply. The latest proposal is a NIS 322,000 fine for violations.