Johannesburg — THE Internet Service Providers' Association of SA (ISPA) has opposed proposals to block adult web content, a move that authorities believe will not protect local children.
ISPA believes the orders by the Law Reform Commission of South Africa (LRC) on the ISPs as "an exceptionally bad solution to the problem of minors accessing adult content in a country with a history of a muzzled media coupled with recent attacks on freedom of expression."
"We risk being sent down a slippery slope when we are just shaking off the effects of the previous administration's stealthy attacks on freedom of expression," said André van der Walt, ISPA chairperson.
ISPA believes the blocking all adult content by default to protect children was an "unimaginative" approach when little else has been properly explored.
The organisation is advocating for targeted solutions it believes would not morph into a generalised internet clampdown by latter governments.
ISPA earlier this year submitted comments on the LRC Discussion Paper 149 - Sexual Offences: Pornography and Children where it referred to its long history of constructive engagement with the Film and Publications Board (FPB).
It is finalising a memorandum of understanding to formalise and deepen this relationship.
ISPA also referenced its work with the SA Police Service (SAPS), particularly with regard to offenses relating to child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and which falls within the bounds of existing applicable law.
With regard to the latter, minors in South Africa are currently defined as being under 18 years of age.
ISPA believes interventions like the Department of Basic Education's 2017 guidelines on e-safety, as well as recent curriculum revisions, cover various aspects of online safety in a more holistic manner and would probably be more effective in ensuring child online safety.
"Requiring ISPs to block all adult content by default, to protect children, is a disproportionate interference in the right to freedom of expression and it is simply ineffective," van der Walt said.
He said moreover, blocking could only ever be permitted with regard to content that is unlawful.
"Adult content is not unlawful in South Africa," the official said.
"Blocking or filtering of adult content should be controlled by end-users and, with regard to minor children, those end-users should be the parents who are ultimately ideally-placed to protect their own offspring."
ISPA is a recognised industry representative body representing the interests of about 200 internet service and access provider members.