Government ministers in Israel have approved a bill that will force internet service providers operating in the region to censor "offensive" websites – including pornography – by default in an attempt to curb the "damaging influence" of such content to underage web users.

Under the current law, internet providers are required to provide content-filtering systems, much like those used by firms in the UK, that customers can turn on without charge. However, the legal changes would flip the switch to require users to instead opt-out of such a system.

Under the proposals, according to the Times of Israel, users who want to be permitted access will be required to notify the internet providers directly. The bill will now head to Israel's Jerusalem-based parliament (Knesset) to start the legislative approval process.

It remains unclear how the system will be regulated and exactly what content will be deemed offensive. However, reports indicate the country's communication minister – currently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – will set out such guidelines.

Spearheaded by Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, the proposals gained cross-party support. Noting the concerns that will inevitably arise from the changes, Moalem said citizens must ultimately have the right to view legal content online but indicated societal changes are needed.

"As parliamentarians and public leaders, we must put up road signs that say 'this is how we think society should behave,'" she said. "The average age that children are exposed to pornographic sites is eight. I don't think it is right for us to leave things like that."

Yet controversial aspects remain. According to Haaretz, a website that covers Israeli and Middle East news, if the bill is approved in its current form it would result in the creation of "lists" of web users who have requested access to adult material such as pornography.

Jonathan Klinger, an attorney with the Digital Rights Movement, told the outlet: "The Ministerial Committee for Legislation today added the State of Israel to a list of countries that censor the internet, joining China, Iran, Turkey and other non-democratic countries.

"Under the guise of protecting children, the state promotes invasion of privacy by creating a database of blacklists of those interested in full-access internet, while creating expensive and inefficient filters [...] that will harm the population."

Yet Moalem has maintained the bill is a welcome step forward to protect vulnerable users online. "Today, it is easier for a child to consume harsh content on the internet than to buy an ice cream at the local kiosk," the politician told Haaretz.

"The damaging influence of watching, and addiction to, pornographic and severe violence has been proven in many studies, with great harm to children," she continued. "We must prevent such access by making the default of the internet provider to filter such content, unless the customer has asked to be exposed to it."