Anti-porn bill clears first hurdle amid privacy worries
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Anti-porn bill clears first hurdle amid privacy worries

If passed, new legislation would pay internet service providers from public coffers for every customer they convince to sign up to voluntary online filters

Likud MK Miki Zohar attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Miki Zohar attends a Knesset committee meeting on December 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A bill that would give internet service providers public funds for every customer they convince to sign up to an anti-porn and anti-gambling internet filter passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Likud MK Miki Zohar, seeks to minimize the exposure of minors to potentially harmful internet content by incentivizing providers to actively market existing website blocking software to families.

According to the bill’s backers, any software included under the bill’s rules would allow adults unrestricted access to the internet via a password, allowing complete freedom for parents while ensuring a safer online experience for children.

“In the non-virtual world minors are protected and prevented from entering sex stores and gambling centers…. There is monitoring to protect minors,” the bill states. “However, when it comes to the internet, which is a key environment where children now spend a lot of their time…minors are exposed to content which is unsuitable for their age.”

The bill passed its preliminary reading with 49 in favor, 16 against and two abstentions. It must still go through at least two rounds of committee writeups and pass three additional votes in the full Knesset plenum before it becomes law.

The legislation is similar to a bill proposed in November, sponsored by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, which was also advanced this week when it won the approval of cabinet ministers on Sunday in a unanimous vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, giving it coalition backing as it moves to the Knesset.

The Moalem-Refaeli bill would require ISPs to provide filtering software free of charge, as well as inform customers of its availability by text message or email.

Israeli internet consumers already have the right to request filtering software from their ISPs, and neither of the bills under consideration would change the voluntary opt-in nature of the filters.

Even so, critics have warned that the bills’ implementation could in practice incentivize and even require Israeli ISPs to conduct targeted tracking of Israelis’ surfing habits, creating de facto — and easily leaked — “black lists” of consumers of pornography and online gambling.

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