Plans to set up an online age verification scheme in the United Kingdom to limit access to pornography is not possible, according to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country.


Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at the ISP Timico, told BBC News that it is "technically not possible" to block all online pornography because of its sheer volume.

"You end up with a system that's either hugely expensive and a losing battle because there are millions of these sites or it's just not effective," he said. "The cost of putting these systems in place outweigh the benefits, to my mind."

Critics of the proposed pornography ban say it's one more step in an effort by governments around the world to seize control of the Internet. They say the system would inevitably be used to restrict access to non-pornographic websites.

"If we take this step it will not take very long to end up with an internet that's a walled garden of sites the governments is happy for you to see," Davies said.

Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers Association (IPSA), said that ISPs currently block illegal content such as child pornography, but that blocking lawful pornography "is less clear cut" and "will lead to the blocking of access to legitimate content."

"IPSA firmly believes that controls on children's access to the internet should be managed by parents and carers with the tools ISPs provide, rather than being imposed top-down," Lansman added.

Under the proposed plan, which appears to have the backing of Britain's major Internet service providers, the government would provide ISPs a list of objectionable websites, which the ISPs would automatically block. An Internet surfer would then have to "opt in" to be allowed to see the content.

"This is a very serious matter," Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said. "I think it is very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children. I'm hoping they will get their acts together so that we don't have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years."

Vaizey said it's a useful step in preventing the premature sexualization of children. He cited a report earlier this year that showed three in 10 British children aged 10 had seen pornography online.

Vaizey is expected to meet with ISPs, including BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, to discuss the ban.

"Our objective was not to do what the politicians want us but to do what is right for our customers," Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk's executive director of strategy and regulation, told The Sunday Times. "If other companies aren't going to do it of their own volition, then maybe they should be leant on."

"This is not about pornography, it is about generalized censorship through the back door," Mr Killock, chair of the Open Rights Group, told BBC News.

"This is the wrong way to go," he said. "If the government controlled a web blacklist, you can bet that WikiLeaks would be on it."