Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Ofcom porn access figures revealed

One member of staff at Ofcom has been dismissed in the last five years for computer misuse.

Staff at the media regulator Ofcom have made more than 4,000 "attempts" to access pornographic material online in the last three months, official figures show.

The watchdog has recorded 4,234 such bids since June 12 - a figure it claims is consistent with its role in protecting children from harmful material.

But a think-tank has questioned the figure and urged the regulator to impose "stiff penalties" where employees are found to have broken rules.

One member of staff at Ofcom has been dismissed in the last five years for computer misuse which constituted a "serious breach" of the regulator's policies, according to its records. Another employee has been issued with a final written warning for downloading a film.

Ofcom said neither of these cases related to adult material.

But it said its IT systems captured a diverse range of content of " varying degrees of sexual explicitness," which could range from The Sun's topless page three pin-ups to "explicit pornographic content".

However it said "attempts" to access adult content may also be recorded when an employee looks at something seemingly innocent and a pop-up or advertisement appears "originating from somewhere else". It said one web-page could also generate several "attempts", meaning figures may be inflated.

"In addition some websites are blocked due to them containing certain key words related to 'adult' content - even though the website itself is not an 'adult' website - therefore some of the apparent attempts to access 'adult' material may be a result of a slightly over-zealous security algorithm, than a colleague trying to access 'adult' content," it stated.

Steven George-Hilley, director of technology at the Parliament Street think-tank which obtained the figures, said the data raised questions for the watchdog.

"Clearly Ofcom needs to get to grips with this problem to ensure staff know not to try and access explicit content online," he said.

"As a taxpayer-funded regulator of offensive content, there should be stiff penalties in place for employees who breach corporation guidelines."

A spokesman for the regulator said: "Ofcom has a statutory duty to protect children from adult content. This requires staff in a range of departments to legitimately access online adult material. The number of times staff have accessed online adult content is consistent with meeting this duty.

"For example, Ofcom's duty to secure broadcasting standards requires us to access and review online content that is promoted on adult TV channels, to ensure compliance with relevant rules.

"Our duty regarding TV delivered over the internet requires us to access online adult content to assess the adequacy of the restrictions to protect children viewing such material.

"Ofcom is on the board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which aims to protect children from access to pornography. We have also been working to ensure that children are protected from pornographic material accessed from mobile devices.

"It is also important to note that Ofcom's web filtering programme captures images of nudity, such as someone wearing a swimsuit or page three, as well as pornographic content."

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