Friday, 26 July 2013

David Cameron and porn

Our glorious Prime Minister has been thinking about porn
So this past week David Cameron has announced plans to do two things. The first of these is to completely block ‘rape porn’ on the internet by getting search engines to show no results for certain search terms. The second of these is to introduce a nationwide porn filter which will be switched on for everyone by default and which adults will have to actively opt out of if they don’t want the filter on.

That said, the porn filter will apparently have several exemptions. For example, online Page 3 pictures from the Sun will be fine according to Cameron - begging the question of how exactly they’re going to be able to define exactly how much nudity turns a picture from “family friendly newspaper material” to “sick, deviant, hardcore porn”. Of course, I’m sure the Page 3 exemption has nothing at all to do with the fact that the paper is a favourite of many Tory MPs.

Now, the background to all of this is that David Cameron has been under lots of pressure and lobbying by “family” groups to do something to tackle porn and by women’s groups to close a loophole where it’s illegal to possess paper pornography of realistic depictions of rape but not illegal to possess the same material digitally. But I imagine an unspoken aspect of it is that he’s just royally pissed off homophobic  Conservatives by legalising same-sex marriage and this attack on pornography is a way to get them to settle down a bit.

Now closing the loophole on rape porn is something I agree with in principle. I certainly think that genuine depictions of rape, or things deliberately designed to seem like rape, should be illegal. Rape is illegal so having rape porn should be illegal - just like having sex with animals is illegal and having porn of sex with animals is illegal.

The only problem with this though, is that some people, particularly people in the BDSM (Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism - think Fifty Shades of Grey) community, happen to enjoy consensual sexual roleplay of rape and so, depending on the details of the proposal, this could criminalise BDSM porn and, by extension, a bunch of people who are doing nothing worse than playing some kinky sex games in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

So for me, the ban on rape porn is something I’d very much rather wait to see the details on before I come to judgement on it.

The actual porn filter, however, is something I very much oppose - and which most Lib Dem rank and file members are likely to oppose as well on principle.

The principle which makes us object is basically that freedom (such as the freedom to search the internet without it being filtered) is something that you should have by default and if you lose that freedom it should only be because you’ve either actively decided to give it up or because you’re doing something that harms other people. So the fact that the porn filter is an opt out system rather than an opt in system contravenes that principle.

But personally I also have several practical objections to the filter in addition to principled ones. And, for the sake of being brief, I’ll just quickly list them (a better, fuller article on the practical problems, written by a friend of mine, can be found here):
  1. These kind of filters block things they shouldn’t - for example, they often block LGBT+ information resources, including, in some cases, suicide prevention websites, as being “adult material” despite the fact that a lot of young people struggling with their sexuality might need to read them
  2. They give parents a false sense of security - all it takes to bypass a filter like this is a simple web proxy which kids are bound to end up using to access porn while their parents think that everything’s fine and dandy
  3. They distract from better solutions - the best ways to keep kids from accessing porn is for parents to switch on child safety features on computers, monitor and restrict their kids’ internet usage and to keep the computer in a public space in the house; the danger of a porn filter is that it might discourage parents from bothering to use these other techniques
  4. They place a huge amount of power in unaccountable hands - the proposal at present is for Chinese company Huawei to run the web filter and it will be they who decide exactly what gets banned or not which means that if your website is incorrectly blacklisted then there’s nothing you can do about it.
All of these together are why I think this porn filter is a very bad, very impractical and very illiberal idea. If parents are that bothered about porn they should take it upon themselves to safeguard their children - they shouldn’t be able to force their views on everyone else.

One person described this as being like having a person who’s scared of the dark and, instead of buying a nightlight, campaigning for the entire country to have their lights left on by default in order to stop this person being scared by the dark. And this is a sentiment I can definitely agree with.

Of course, given that both Labour and the Conservatives are very much in favour of this kind of state interference and meddling in people’s private lives I wouldn’t be surprised if the proposals all go ahead - the Lib Dems might intervene to water down certain elements of them but I doubt it's something Lib Dem MPs are willing to start a big battle over.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks George, good info.

    As you know, I tend to want to stay out of political discussions because its generally messy and confusing and best left to people with a better understanding, but things have begun to annoy me more and more. We spend years having a go at China for their internet restrictions, only to buy them up and apply them ourselves. Its absolute bullshit!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately the sad truth is that just about anyone under the age of 25 probably knows more about technology than most MPs.

      Yup, it's bullshit but the government (all governments) get away with it because not enough people who know better kick up a fuss about it.

      Delete
  2. I don't think can emphasise often enough that parents, not the government, must be responsible for their children's computer usage, as much as they are for knowing where their children are and what they are doing. Computers for children in family rooms, not bedrooms with spot checks from parents is needed.

    I know that most 12 year olds have smart phone and can access internet on the school bus. But even trying to block porn on there would be pointless. Most kids are savvy enough to find ways around blocks.

    And (as you say) then the difficulty of blocking things that should never be blocked...

    Is this a slippery slope? Porn filters, violence filters...what next? And as you point out it could be run from the other side of the world at the same time as some government minister repeats Brown's 'British Jobs for British Workers' mantra and tries to disguise it as something other than racism.

    I am beginning to not recognise the country I live in.

    As I've said before, thank god I'm not living in England. £25 for a misdiagnosis from your harassed and overpaid GP; water sold at a profit, and idiots like Cameron interfering with every little bit of your life, while living standards drop like a stone for everyone expect the aristos and royals, is not my kind of country.

    Still, you'll be happy Willie named his first born after you George.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My public library has an unacceptable material filter for its public access computers.

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    AL Daily provides links to a huge range of publications and news reports every day. I assume that some keywords in some of the headlines triggered the banning routines.

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