Our government is about to embark on one of the greatest attempts at Internet censorship we have ever seen.
The Prime Minister will announce today that all pornographic material will be henceforth unavailable to UK consumers. Customers will be asked by their ISPs whether they wish to opt-in to viewing pornographic content, and ISPs will be forced to do even more in the fight against content that, to use the Mr. Cameron’s words, “pollutes minds and causes crime.” The possession of pornography depicting rape will be made illegal, closing a current loophole in the law.
Sensible? Proportionate? No. Not even a bit. As has been pointed out by other commentators, it is already illegal to view images of children being abused and Section 63 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 banned the viewing of rape & other extreme pornography. So with these facts in mind, why is this being done? I would suggest the answer is threefold.
First and foremost, the Conservative leadership knows that it has a problem attracting female voters. From the fallout from the now infamous “Calm down dear” jibe to Labour’s Angela Eagles, Mr. Cameron is often portrayed as being out of touch with women and their concerns. So, what could be better than a campaign to protect children from the evils of pornography? Surely that could only endear him to the legions of mothers up and down the land.
Secondly, it is an attempt to make people feel ashamed for indulging in what has been hitherto perfectly legal content. By forcing people to request access to pornography, you make its use a taboo: a social faux pas that must be hidden and kept under lock and key. It is typical of the kind of nudge politics of which this government is so fond and reminds me a little of a quote from the late great Christopher Hitchins, who on visiting the Oxford Union remarked at how his old college bed had clearly been designed with the mindset of “we can’t stop you doing it, but we make it jolly uncomfortable if you do.”
Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, it allows the state to record and monitor the IP addresses being used to access pornography. And in the event of a child-abduction or a sexual assault, how long do you think it would take for the authorities to identify those “undesirables” - those persons with a predilection for the more extreme forms of pornography – in the vicinity? The very notion that a person’s private sexual tastes could become a mitigating factor in a criminal investigation indicates what a slippery slope we are now on.
The truth is, there is plenty of content out there that we might find distasteful or down-right unpleasant. And of course there should be methods which ensure it is not found by younger eyes, but there already are if parents are willing to use them. From child locks to preventing games consoles from playing mature content to online filters for pornography, there are a multitude of options available. All that is required is a bit of gumption and some actual parental responsibility, not an attempt to criminalise or shame those persons whose tastes we don’t share.
So I for one will be signing up to view pornography. Not because I have any interest in it personally, but because the right to view legal material is not one to be hidden behind a cloak of shame or the electoral frailties of the Conservative Party.
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