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Knesset to form committee to filter internet content
Economics Committee amends original website filtering bill, nixes automatic block of any explicit content sites; opts for public committee to decide on what is, isn't appropriate online content for children

The Knesset's Economics Committee decided Monday to form a new regulating body in Israel: A public committee which would be tasked with deciding what kind of online content should be considered offensive and what is and isn't appropriate online content for children.


The decision, made as part of the committee's discussion on the amendments to Israel's website filtering bill, dubbed "motion 892," also called for internet providers to make the necessary filtering components available for their clients, so that they may block "any sites which feature materials deemed inappropriate for minors' viewing."


The website filtering bill, which passed its first Knesset reading in February, has sparked major objections, mainly from those claiming that its sole purpose was, in fact, to censor internet use.


The original bill gave the communication minister the authority to decide which websites would be blocked, and further made blocking explicit content websites the default choice for any internet user who did not state otherwise. 


Those two sections, considered highly controversial, were amended: The communications minister will have no say in which websites are blocked, and the decision will be left solely to the user's discretion; and internet users would have to notify their service-providers whether or not they wish it to block any websites in advance and will not be denied the content automatically. However new users will have to state whether they are interested in the service or not.


The Knesset's Economics Committee's legal counsel, Etti Bendler, noted during the meeting that some of the original sections included in the bill would not stand up to constitutional scrutiny, and were in fact in breach of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation.


"What we have before us now is an amended bill, which I believe can stand up to legal scrutiny," said Bendler.


'Bill sends Israel 50 years back'

Despite the changes made to the original bill, those opposing it still believe they could challenge it in court. Attorney Ron Gazit told the committee that "The bill doesn’t hold water. It's a law which anticipates the future. If the default is for internet providers to require subscribers to tell them upfront if they do or don’t want to be able to watch porn, or else they have no choice but to refuse to provide the service; then this default it fundamentally wrong.


"The Israeli Bar Association strongly believes that with the exception of several virtually illegal manifestations, such as content pertaining to terror or pedophilia, which should be banned, any other action is wrong.


"This isn't the State's responsibility, it's the parents'," added Gazit. "Parents have to be allowed to make the choice, therefore the service providers have to make the filtering measures available for them to use in the way they see fit. That's how it's done all over the world."


Prof. Yehiel Limor, of the Israeli Press Council reiterated the sentiment: "The IPC has decided to categorically object to this bill, since it is disproportional and hinders freedom of speech… This bill takes up back 50 years, to the day of government censorship on movies and plays. It's unheard of."


Communications Minister Ariel Atias, was angered by the assumption that people would have to identify themselves as porn-consumers if they want to be able to register for internet services: "They will be no black lists. We can’t do that; it's both illegal and unconstitutional. There is only one reality – we want and need to protect the children.


"Even today, anyone who wants access to explicit material on their cell phone has to confirm they are 18-and-over. It's not available to children."


Those opposing the bill, he added, are not likely to change their minds: "I respect those who object to the bill, but they have to keep their objections relevant. We've amended the bill and they still object to the same things."


The new committee is expected to have seven members. Three representatives from the Communications, Education and Justice ministries as well as four public-elected ones. However, the committee's procedures, as well as the extent of its authority, have yet to be determined.


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