New proposal to block access to online adult content in South Africa

 ·15 May 2019

The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has published a new discussion paper on sexual offences in the country, seeking to review the laws surrounding adult material and how children are exposed to it.

The lengthy 436-page document covers everything from how easy it is to access adult content in South Africa, to how children are affected by it, and how exposure may be reduced.

The paper also makes a number of legal recommendations as to how South Africa’s laws can be changed to better protect children from sexual content – particularly through the internet and digital channels.

Blocking all adult content as a default

One of the biggest proposed changes is a new ‘default setting’ on any and all devices for anyone wishing to access the internet in South Africa, which automatically blocks adult content.

In theory, this would stop children from being exposed to adult content, while allowing for anyone wishing to access adult content to gain access to it through verifying their age in some way.

However, bypassing the block would result in a criminal offence.

“The Commission provisionally recommends that legislation should comprehensively criminalise all acts of exposing children to pornography and content not suitable for children, in whatever manner, including through advertisement and enticement or by making use of misleading techniques,” it said.

“The commission endorses the continued criminalisation of child sexual abuse material and its classification as illegal.

“Consequently the provisional recommendation is to ensure that all devices (new and second hand) be issued with or returned to a default setting that blocks inappropriate content, with an opt-in possibility depending on proof of age of the buyer/user as being 18 and older.”

The commission said that this recommendation will serve to protect both the child and the provider – though regulations will still be required to provide for effective implementation.

Under these proposed changes any person, device manufacturer or internet provider who does one of the following, will be guilty of a criminal offence:

  • Unlawfully and intentionally provides a child with or allows a child to engage with any form of technology or device including a mobile phone, that is capable of accessing the internet, social media or other digital content, without ensuring that the default setting blocks access to child sexual abuse material or pornography;
  • Uninstalls the default setting;
  • Uninstalls the default setting blocking access to pornography without valid identification proving that the requester is a user over the age of 18.

Following the discussion paper, the Commission said it will publish a report containing its final recommendations and proposal for law reform by way of draft legislation, if necessary.

The report will take the public response to and input gleaned from public and expert workshops on the discussion paper into account in arriving at its final recommendations.

The report (with draft legislation, if necessary) will be submitted to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services for his consideration.

UK laws 

The commission’s proposal is strikingly similar to new regulations which will soon  be introduced in the UK on 15 July.

The Verge reports that under the UK’s new system, commercial pornography sites will be forced to check and verify the age of visitors from the UK.

Sites that fail to comply could be blocked by Internet Service Providers. Visitors to sites will be able to verify their age using documents like passports, driver’s licenses, or credit cards. So-called ‘porn passes’ will also be sold in shops for £4.99 ($6.50).

The block has been repeatedly criticised by privacy campaigners, academics, and the adult entertainment industry, which note that, even taken on its own terms, the block will be woefully inadequate.

Users will be able to easily bypass the block using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which routes internet traffic through a different country, for example.

Meanwhile, many social media sites that contain ample pornographic material, like Twitter, Reddit, and Imgur, will not be blocked at all.

You can read the full SALRC report below:

SALRC Report by BusinessTech on Scribd

Read: ‘Internet censorship bill’ set to be signed into law by Ramaphosa

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