Shas bill to censor Web passes 1st reading

Bill would require users to request full access to pornography; critics: It's Saudi-style censorship.

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
A bill that would force Internet providers to block sites that contain pornography, gambling and extreme violence passed a first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.The bill is the latest in a line of attempts by Shas to make use of its upgraded influence within the coalition since the departure of Israel Beiteinu.
Shas is also pushing a bill that would expand rabbinic courts' jurisdiction in divorce and monetary matters. In addition, Shas has demanded a boost in child allowances, which would benefit haredi families.
The Internet porn bill - authored by MK Amnon Cohen (Shas), strongly supported by Communications Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) and spiritually endorsed by party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - would require Internet users to specifically request full access to pornography. Those requesting such access would have to prove they were adults.
"Instead of parents having to actively block their children from viewing hard-core pornography and violence, pornography enthusiasts will have to be active and make a single phone call," said Cohen, the bill's initiator.
It is unclear whether those requesting full access would be blacklisted.In the absence of such a request, the default option would block thousands of Web sites. A committee made up of members of the Education, Justice and Communications ministries would decide which sites to block.Although Knesset legal advisers have said that it is unlikely Cohen's bill could be defended in the High Court of Justice, due to Attias' refusal to provide a list of the "harmful" sites to be blocked, the coalition has thrown its support behind the bill.
Attias rebuffed critics who compared the bill to censorship policies in Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
"The law will transform us into a type of Iran by giving the minister the authority to decide that the Shas Council of Torah Sages will determine the sites to be rejected and blocked - without any supervision or monitoring of its considerations by the Knesset," MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said.
"We live in a democracy," said Attias in an interview with Army Radio. "Anybody who wants full Internet access can get it. We are just trying to protect our children from the sex and violence available on the Internet."
Attias, citing a recent survey, said 60 percent of minors admitted they had been exposed to porn on the Internet. Some 40% admitted they had given personal information to strangers over the Internet, and 47% said their computers were located inside their bedrooms, where parents had limited ability to monitor their surfing habits.
"These data are disturbing, and we decided to do something about it," said Attias.
The bill has to go back to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, then back to the plenum for final approval, a process that could take months.Assuming the coalition stays together, the bill is expected to pass, since it enjoys support from more conservative opposition parties such as Israel Beiteinu and Likud. These parties support the bill because it is perceived as protecting wholesome family values.
MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said he was "totally opposed" to the bill."It is another example of Shas's primitive approach to scientific developments. There are rabbis who are still living 2,000 years ago," he said.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) claimed that Shas's bill was an unjustified transfer of responsibility from parents to central government.
"If parents don't want their children to view certain Internet sites, they should intervene and stop them," Henin said.
He added that the bill gave the misleading impression that the Internet would be made safe, when in reality the most dangerous Internet features were chatrooms, which would remain uncensored.
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child, said he opposed the bill.
"I warned minister Attias that the present wording of the bill would cause a scare among liberal-minded Israelis who do not want the state to tell them what to do," Kadman said.
"I propose that Internet suppliers be obligated to provide parents with a variety of Internet filters free of charge. And if the parents choose to block content, they can do so in accordance with their sensibilities," he said. "But I oppose a centrally controlled censorship of the Internet."