Government officials clash over porn regulation

Sonja Tutty

Officials from two government departments disagreed over who should be in charge of the proposed legislation that would stop children from accessing pornographic content online.

According to correspondence originally reported in TheJournal.ie, the proposed plan was to be modelled on the UK’s planned “porn block,” which would require adults to use an official ID to prove their age before accessing porn online.

The UK laws were originally meant to come into effect on June 15th but were initially delayed after the government failed to notify the European Commission of certain aspects of the legislation, before being formally shut down by the British government this week.

Caroline West, a doctoral scholar in sexuality at DCU said that while a block like this is “good in theory,” she doesn’t see it working.

“We don’t want children stumbling across adult content, because it isn’t for them but it’s just not going to work.”

She says that it’s really sex education that we should be focusing on, not porn.

In June, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil about government plans to look into whether similar plans could work here.

“It is a matter of concern to all of us that pornography is now so accessible to young people and that many young people learn about sex through pornography, which is not an accurate representation of what is healthy in life,” said Varadkar.

Much of the discussion over the introduction of legislation which would regulate access to online pornography has included specific reference to Ana Kriegel. A special advisor to Minister Flanagan mentioned Ana’s name in her inquiries into the UK’s plans, saying:

“The Kriegal case has given rise to some debate on issues including (1) child access to pornography (2) online harassment & harmful communication.”

On June 17th of this year, two 14-year-old boys, referred to in the media as Boy A and Boy B, were convicted of murdering Ana at an abandoned house last year.

During the course of the investigation, gardaí seized a number of electronic devices belonging to Boy A, and the jury was shown a number of screenshots of search engine data showing requests by him to access pornographic content online.

However, according to correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Justice’s Cybercrime division insisted that such legislation did not fall within the Department remit, and was instead an issue for the Department of Communication. 

The Cybercrime official claimed that as pornographic material is not illegal, and as the Department for Communication had chaired the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, they should be in charge of handling the legislation. 

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment claim that they “do not have any role in relation to child access to pornography or the UK law in relation to this matter…” 

The Department also claimed that while the issue of children accessing porn was a multifaceted one, which would concern multiple government departments, it was also sometimes a legal one.

Both departments are now taking steps to tackle issues of online safety and pornography that fall within their scope of activity.

Since the UK have formally shelved their proposed “porn-block,” it is not expected that the government will introduce such legislation here.

Author: Sally Madden

Image credit: Sonja Tutty