Drool Britannia: Why The UK Anti-Porn Laws Are Ridiculous And It Matters That They’re Overturned

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Think of the children! Like clockwork, anti-porn sentiment has broken out again, this time in the UK. PM David Cameron has announced something he is calling “Default On” access to ISP-wide porn filters that will ensure children, adults, and the aged cannot see the unclothed human form in various states of arousal. This Quixotic effort is in fact worse than Quixotic. After all, the only thing Don Quixote hurt was a bunch of windmills. This legislation, on the other hand, could pave the way for vile Internet censorship laws that could change the way the world works.

First, let us understand what is going on here. To the general public these laws are mere suggestions unless you’re into simulated rape. ISPs have been asked to implement filters that are “default on” which, in Cameron doublespeak, means that they’re available only if the customer enables them when creating an account. They’re calling this “Active-Choice +.” The UK Department of Education had this to say:

The prime minister believes that there is much more that we can all do to improve how we communicate the current position on parental internet controls and that there is a need for a simplified message to reassure parents and the public more generally. Without changing what you will be offering (ie active-choice +), the prime minister would like to be able to refer to your solutions are “default-on” as people will have to make a choice not to have the filters (by unticking the box). Can you consider how to include this language (or similar) in the screens that begin the set-up process? For example, “this connection includes family-friendly filters as default [or as standard] – if you do not want to install this protection please un-tick the box” (obviously not intended to be drafting). Would you be able to commit to including “default-on” or similar language both in the set-up screen and public messaging?

In short, they’re making ISPs offer something they’re probably already offering. Four of the main ISPs are already on board although many ISPs offer filtering packages already. This would only codify the process in law. As a parent I’m all for voluntary web filtering simply because I don’t want the kids to see violence but it is a cop-out As a talking point, then, filtering the Internet makes plenty of sense to the technical and non-technical alike. In a real sense it is an effort fraught with difficulty and problems. The instant your kid can’t search for “breast cancer” is the instant the filter goes off… for good.

After this basic bit of filtering, the laws are jacked up to 11. You can also be arrested for possession of “extreme pornography,” whatever that means, and the UK The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will create a blacklist of “abhorrent” internet search terms that will be used to trigger investigations. Finally, the police will create a large database of child pornography for their own use while searching for pedophiles.

First, no one can be for the spread of child pornography. That is a given. There are laws on the books in most countries ensuring that you can’t view and trade images of children pressed into pornography. This would have little effect on that population except, I suspect, ensuring that some twisted policeman can now browse the constabulary’s kiddie porn database with impunity. I also suspect no one in any legal system has any idea what “extreme pornography” really means and this will lead to a rash of “know it when I see it” type prosecutions and will only tangentially put true sickos behind bars while making life hard for honest, legal fetishists.

Second, this is pure grandstanding masquerading as a response to outrage and will do little to affect the daily lives of children or adults. ISPs may offer free (or paid) filtering services and the same filters will remain on public Internet access points in libraries and schools (unless the kid is smart enough to bypass those and/or stupid enough to look at porn on a library computer). The call for anti-porn in Iceland, for example petered out even as this one is gaining steam. The astute would also note that this sort of juicy, summertime fist-thumping is great for a slow news month and is excellent fodder for redirecting attention away from Cameron’s links to Big Tobacco. It also gives the Daily Mail the opportunity to look relevant as it is the primary media mover in this effort. In short, this makes the UK look stupid.

If this is passed, however, I fear that the disease will spread elsewhere. If the UK, that bastion of right living and solid middle class values, lifts walls against the pornographic aggressor, what is to stop the U.S. from doing the same thing? “Stopped Internet Porn” is an excellent title card for any politician’s election-year advertising and, even if the laws did nothing to stop anything, the Mr. or Mrs. Public will probably have little understanding of the effects that it will seem, for a time, that Internet porn was stopped. Then they’ll check the browser history on the family computer.

We have already given governments broad powers to snoop, steal, and ascertain. When you are not using encrypted chat and email sessions you are essentially shouting your private information into the proverbial crowded room. Do our governments need more access to our data? No. Are there far better ways to catch online predators than trusting an ISP to keep your kids safe? Absolutely. The moment I entrust the governing of my children’s access to the Internet to the government is the moment I no longer deserve to be a parent.

As one reader on that haven of illicit boobshots, Reddit, notes:

As an American it’s important to realize that THIS AFFECTS US TOO. UK is CLOSE allies; this sets a precedent and example for the entire “free” world! We are in just as much danger from suffering a similar fate. Potentially our only saving grace is that most of our politicians happen to be sexual deviants just like the rest of us.

Like the theatre of security, the theatre of anti-pornography lulls the uninformed into a false sense of safety. To filter the Internet is to underestimate its power. After all, it routes around damage.