Three reasons we should oppose attempts to block porn


1:56 pm - May 8th 2012

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contribution by Dan Jones

The Daily Mail is, as ever, outraged. The current target of its ire, and a concerted campaign of political pressure, is online pornography.

The house that Dacre built has convinced the government to float the idea of a massive online firewall.

One would have to opt out of the blocking software in order to access anything the government deemed too explicit, ostensibly to protect children from the horrors of the internet.

As is so often the case, The Mail’s anger is selective and ill thought through.

First, the firewall would not permit anyone under the age of 18 to watch porn, but, needless to point out, it is legal to have sex at 16. Indeed, one can join the Army at 16 – an age when someone’s old enough to shoot people, but not watch porn.

An equally flagrant double standard: It’s legal to let children as young as 7 watch people being violently killed in films with 12A certificates, yet an equivalent level of sex would require a far higher rating. Why then, is it only porn that is to be censored – there are far more traumatic things hidden in the darker corners of the internet.

As Unity pointed out on this site last week, there is more than an element of Christian moralising involved.

Second, the result of this tremendously illiberal law being enacted would be internet service providers holding a list of everyone in the UK who watches porn. It’s a safe bet that within a few years, some religious offshoot of Anonymous will have hacked into the ISPs servers and posted those lists online.

By enacting the proposed legislation, the government will be creating a climate of fear around porn, and by extension, sex in general.

Third, Alan Moore noticed that

Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust.

He’s right. Very little good has come from societies that seek to over regulate sexuality. Let’s not become one.

Very soon, the children of the first digital natives will need protecting from the genuinely messed up stuff that’s out there – and they will be.

By their parents, who can regulate internet use far more effectively, and less obtrusively, than the state or a company could ever hope to.


Dan Jones writes about politics, religion and culture. Follow him on Twitter @DanJoness.

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Reader comments


There’s a fourth reason that no one seems to have picked up on yet and that’s that network level porn filtering could open the door to the introduction of copyright levies on broadband access.

See… http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2012/05/08/porn-filtering-a-trojan-horse-for-the-copyright-tax/

There’s also another reason – it won’t work! Those who use Net Nanny software within a work environment or work for an ISP will know that the situation is very hit’n’miss. I’ve had some really daft ones blocked, such as the “Butchers Arms” pub being blocked under the category of “Weapons” … or football sites being blocked under “Gambling” because their excessive gambling adverts caused a trigger on the software to consider it a gambling site rather than an advert-heavy football site. When you’re in control yourself, you can point this out to your local IT administrator. But when the controls are held by BT/Virgin, then you’re having to phone a Premium Rate support line and be held in a queue just for the privilege of you being able to access a webpage that shouldn’t have been blocked – and doubtless for that ISP to have to have some protocol for clearing websites that have been blocked so it won’t happen instantly.

Then bear in mind where families will want to set the bar. What they might want to block for 5 year olds may be entirely different to what they want a 16 year old to see. Some sites are borderline – e.g. how do you class an educational sex education/health website? Thus we will end up in moral debates over individual websites that should or shouldn’t be blocked, and at what age the blocking should be applied.

Nope, if you’re really concerned about this issue, go out and buy some Net Nanny software from your local PC shop, and install it. At that point, you have personal override (either to block or to lift a block) against a particular website and thus can tailor your own level of access for each of your house’s occupants. It’s already there. It doesn’t need Government to interfere. It doesn’t need legislation. If Govt wants to get involved, then merely highlight that such software exists rather than adopt the Big Brother State tactics. After all, isn’t Cameron against all of that?

Fifth – I can nigh on guarantee you there will be negative ramifications for the LGBT community. Perfectly safe websites and forums dealing with sexual identity are almost always categorised as sexual and blocked, which is the last thing we need for questioning teens who need information and support as they mature sexually.

4. Chaise Guevara

Not to mention that this would presumably be done using automated services that would pick up some non-pornographic sites while letting some porn sites (including a lot of foreign-language ones, I suspect) fall through the cracks.

Also, I forsee this policy being weaponised in flame wars. Don’t like an open-source site? Upload something pornographic, report it and watch the site get blacklisted.

Finally, if this was applied properly they’d end up having to either apply double-standards for sites like Facebook, or block them under the rules (porn’s banned by Facebook but they can’t stop you uploading it, so inevitably the site would at some point be reported). Probably they’d go with being inconsistent rather than block social media sites, which would lead to nearly all consumer users opting in.

I was busy reading this and agreeing with some elements and not others and then this:

“It’s a safe bet that within a few years, some religious offshoot of Anonymous will have hacked into the ISPs servers and posted those lists online.”

Where the bloomin’ heck did that come from?

It is a completely spurious, paranoid, unsubstantiated, unesseccary, and ridiculous comment.

At least Unity doesn’t blather on in that manner…..he tends to stick with facts…..

Sheesh, that’s a lesson in how to lose the Christian to the cause…..

@Janivier (Comment 3) – good point – I’ve had personal experience of an LGBT site being blocked at work where it was categorised as porn. Rather ironically, the moderators of the site vigorously enforced a policy of banning even partial nudity, wanting the site to be pretty much a “Facebook/Dating for LGBT people” site. Yet to get it undone, I had to approach our IT administrator to explain why. Not a big problem for me, but I could see why many people might be uncomfortable in doing that.

@Chaise Guevara (Comment 4) – yes that will happen – see my comment about a football site being wrongly categorised as a gambling site because of its heavy advert quotient. Obviously there is some manual tweaking involved with web filtering, but a lot of it is done through automated trawling to initially set up categories. So some websites will be blocked accidentally whilst others won’t.

The other thing I forgot to say in my earlier comments is how robust this ‘blocking’ will be. A certain Torrent website was last week blocked by a Court of Law, and within 24 hours, Twitter was publishing three different methods of “this is how you can access this site”. So the more ingeneous and technically literate people (which coincidentally is often young teenage web geeks!) will work their way round a lot of it anyway.

Fifth – I can nigh on guarantee you there will be negative ramifications for the LGBT community. Perfectly safe websites and forums dealing with sexual identity are almost always categorised as sexual and blocked, which is the last thing we need for questioning teens who need information and support as they mature sexually.

Sadly, our opponents will argue that this is the first thing we need.

@3 I suspect, for some of those pushing for this, that would be a feature, and not a bug.

9. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 Martin

“I’ve had personal experience of an LGBT site being blocked at work where it was categorised as porn.”

Similarly, Amazon got in trouble for listing all LGBT fiction as “adult”, meaning it doesn’t show up in searches unless you have the filters off. No way to know if that was just a silly mistake or an employee with an axe to grind, though out of charity I’ll assume the former.

“Obviously there is some manual tweaking involved with web filtering, but a lot of it is done through automated trawling to initially set up categories. So some websites will be blocked accidentally whilst others won’t.”

Manual tweaking brings its own problems of course, mainly sites living or dying on the whim of the person deciding whether to block them. What counts as “pornographic” is notoriously hard to define and tends to lead to an “I know it when I see it” approach. It won’t just be a “no nipples” rule; you’ll have mods trying to decide whether this is presented in a sexual context or that has artistic merit – subjectivity abounds! And that’s ignoring any possible political misuse of the filters.

@5 It’s hardly a “completely spurious, paranoid, unsubstantiated, unesseccary, and ridiculous comment” to say that a database could be stolen. If the database could embarrass or lead to harassment, then it’s fair to say that people will want to find it and upset some people with its contents.

Actually, who wants to hack into a database when it’s so much easier than that?

Find an image on a blocked porn site. Include it in a page (and hide it). Use JavaScript to check whether the image has loaded or not and send that data back to your server via AJAX. Then all you have to do is send a link to that page to somebody, and it will tell you whether the connection they’re using is subscribed to the porn filter or not.

@5 Bearing in mind the bloke who hacked into BPAS and revealed the details of patients while claiming to be a member of anonymous. Not quite so far fetched in reality, however given that you’ve already flounced off in a huff, I’d guess you were looking for a reason to take umbrage.

People should be able to view what they like, wear what they like (including, for example, hoodies and burqas), say what they like and do what they like – providing they do not immediately harm to anyone else!

If you don’t want your kids to see a rampant Gloucester Old Spot boar licking the genitals of some alleged Russian farm girl – or some ghastly gang rape – then supervise their internet access!

I can see the case for ‘social harm’ – eg a billboard advertisement that (say) linked racist murder with (say) a perfume – but the internet is a matter of individual access and parental control, not a matter of legislation.

>Third, Alan Moore noticed that

>Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust.

While I agree with your basic point, this sort of argument looks more than a little desperate.

15. Dan Factor

Is the Mail aware that maybe its website might be blocked by an opt in porn filter?

16. Dan Factor

What do you think about anti porn radical feminists who back the porn opt in as they believe porn to be degrading to women?

@16 I believe they’re sufficiently countered by ‘pro-sex’ liberal feminists.

I was recently denied access to a blogging site when connected to a wifi hotspot because it happened to have the category of ‘adult/mature’ hidden somewhere within the site.

These things NEVER work because perfectly innocent sites get caught up in the net.

And of course, once such censorship has begun, where does it end?!

“What do you think about anti porn radical feminists who back the porn opt in as they believe porn to be degrading to women?”

The objectionable nature of material is not sufficient reason to block its distribution. I believe Conservative election literature to be immensely harmful, but I don’t think it should censored.

He’s right.

He is?

And which sexually progessive cultures were these?

21. Just Visiting

There are a couple of irrational points being made here – Nikki hits them both most succinctly:

> These things NEVER work because perfectly innocent sites get caught up in the net.

Some innocent people may be sentenced for a crime they did not do – should we give up on law and order?

> And of course, once such censorship has begun, where does it end?!

Once we start having laws against rape we so often end up with one person’s word against another, and arguing the nature of consent and convictions for attempted rape – where does it end? Or laws about child abuse that end up with parents in danger of being spied on in their own homes, and having their children taken away from them in error – where will it end?

22. So Much For Subtlety

I strongly doubt any 16 year old is allowed to shoot anyone in the British Army.

Besides, what double standard? Sex and violence are not the same. Why should they be treated the same way? If there are more traumatic things on the internet, why, that’s simple, they should be censored too, no?

As Unity pointed out on this site last week, there is more than an element of Christian moralising involved.

Which does not make it wrong.

If you’re worried about someone hacking the list of names, the government’s plans to put all our health records on line must petrify you. Does it?

By enacting the proposed legislation, the government will be creating a climate of fear around porn, and by extension, sex in general.

Which will, no doubt, greatly increase everyone’s interest and enjoyment thereof.

Third, Alan Moore noticed that

Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust.

Whatever else you can say Nazi Germany was not sexually restrictive. Nor was Stalinist Russia which killed vastly more people. On the other hand the French Enlightment took place in a cultural that banned divorce and punished homosexuals with death. That seems to be a vote for sexually restrictive cultures to me.

He’s right. Very little good has come from societies that seek to over regulate sexuality. Let’s not become one.

Sure. Catholic Italy gave us the Renaissance, while modern Britain has given us the Spice Girls. Let’s celebrate!

By their parents, who can regulate internet use far more effectively, and less obtrusively, than the state or a company could ever hope to.

Well no, they can’t. We all know they can’t.

23. Reduced Salt

@22

“Whatever else you can say Nazi Germany was not sexually restrictive”

WRONGO.

Sorry SMFS, but I feel compelled to call you out on all your bullshit :D Nazi Germany, as is well known, sent homosexuals to death camps and increased the writ of the infamously homophobic Paragraph 175. Learn 2 history!

24. So Much For Subtlety

23. Reduced Salt

Sorry SMFS, but I feel compelled to call you out on all your bullshit Nazi Germany, as is well known, sent homosexuals to death camps and increased the writ of the infamously homophobic Paragraph 175. Learn 2 history!

Some homosexuals. Apart from those, you know, holding high government office.

Besides, that is just one aspect of German life. A regime that sets up camps so that SS soldiers can have children with women who cannot otherwise find a husband is not sexually repressive. A regime that provide brothels for concentration camp inmates is not sexually repressive. A regime that condemns Christian values and asserts the higher value of girls giving themselves to racially superior men is not sexually repressive.

You shouldn’t let this turn into a pro/anti porn debate with points 1 and 3

It should be opposed as another attempt by government to restrict what we can view, and to record who is viewing what. As pointed out here and elsewhere, that opens the door to many other surveillance, free speech and civil liberties problems.

The right claim to be against government interference, regulating what people and businesses do, and big databases of who does what. We should be taking on these issues, not whether 16 year olds should be watching porn because their parents haven’t used the tools which are already available to them.

26. So Much For Subtlety

25. James

The right claim to be against government interference, regulating what people and businesses do, and big databases of who does what. We should be taking on these issues, not whether 16 year olds should be watching porn because their parents haven’t used the tools which are already available to them.

We have already sold that pass – the government already blocks child porn. This is just an extension. But how can you discuss what they want to do without discussing what they want to block? We can debate this as an ideal abstract concept, but most people accept the idea that some things need to be blocked and that the government does in fact block them. Thus we need to discuss the specifics.

I don’t see the problem with a buy-in scheme where you have to want porn and go and look for it before you get it. Isn’t this the same as those that want girlie magazines placed on the top shelf in brown paper bags?

@24 Homosexuals holding high office in Nazi Germany? Care to name some examples, preferably from after the night of the long knives.

@SMFS

“but most people accept the idea that some things need to be blocked and that the government does in fact block them.”

The Government may block them as sites, per se, but it does not block access to such material. Try this in your browser:

http://www.giganews.com/?gclid=CILel83N8q8CFUZ76wodAzhtXA

I am sure you could find the unsettling to the truly stomach churning here for the price quoted on the site.

The net is damn near impossible to censor, for this reason, and those already commented on above. I would also advise SMFS to consider the child porn ‘wonderland’ case years ago. AFAIK those caught were not those debased enough to look, but the proportion of those who were stupid enough to pay with their own credit cards.

29. Albert Spangler

Wouldn’t it be funny if the Daily Mail got censored as a result… It’s still a silly idea.

@ SMFS

the government already blocks child porn. This is just an extension.

So how is it that we regularly hear of people arrested for downloading it?

The point is that no prohibition of anything can work on the internet as it is currently structured (in terms of one person being able to communicate with others).

The only way it could work is if international laws were enforced to restructure the whole thing into a “read only” system where users had no interaction with each other except in a strictly controlled environment.

We would then have the old corporate wet dream of the “information super highway”- something like an online Sky TV.

31. Dan Factor

@17 and 19. I pretty much agree. I just wanted to see what people thought.

32. So Much For Subtlety

27. Cylux

Homosexuals holding high office in Nazi Germany? Care to name some examples, preferably from after the night of the long knives.

So you are in agreement that there were homosexuals high in the Nazi Party before the Night of the Long Knives? How do you feel about Johann Hari’s claim that all the post-War Neo-Nazi parties are cliques of homosexuals?

pagar

So how is it that we regularly hear of people arrested for downloading it?

Rape is against the law too. Oddly people are regularly arrested for it. Does that mean the government should accept it as inevitable and give up all efforts to try to prevent it?

The point is that no prohibition of anything can work on the internet as it is currently structured (in terms of one person being able to communicate with others).

Then there is no point worrying about the government’s proposals. As they will not work. That doesn’t seem to be the consensus around here does it?

33. Robin Levett

@SMFS #32:

Homosexuals holding high office in Nazi Germany? Care to name some examples, preferably from after the night of the long knives.

So you are in agreement that there were homosexuals high in the Nazi Party before the Night of the Long Knives?

There were, apparently; but they were killed on the Night of the Long Knives; in July/August 1934, 18 months into a 12½ year regime. Is that really support for your claim that Nazi Germany wasn’t “sexually repressive”?

Your original claim, by the way was that there were homosexuals holding high office in Nazi Germany; Roehm did not hold such office – hence, presumably, your change from “Nazi Germany” to “Nazi Party”.

34. Callum Lane

Dan Jones’ case seems somewhat incoherent, there again I suspect that so is the Daily Mail’s…

Point 1:
The first argument focuses on age. The law permits or prohibits certain activites until certain ages are reached. Western liberal society as a whole accepts these restrictions on liberty, but quibbles over the precise ages concerned. While some things are condemned outright (murder) some things are not (sex). The issue with is therefore either age related or activity related. With sex it is age related (society does not condemn sex outright in every circumstance). Society determines that sex at certain ages is wrong. The article’s counter-argument focused on perceived inconsistencies across different activities, without realising that there is no inconsistency as it was comparing apples and pears. The argument should be about why that activity is perceived as permissible at that age level and why.

Point 2: All societies censor behaviour and information. The government sets speed limits – I see no fear of driving. I do not see a viable direct correlation from the legislation to a climate of fear over sex.

Point 3:

All societies have regulated sexual mores. Much depends on what is regarded as ‘sexually progressive’. The ancient Greeks had sexual practices that most would today regard as repugnant – were they progressive? They gave us literature, art and philosophy, but practiced widespread infanticide and slavery. What is the difference between a progressive and regressive sexual culture? The issue is not one of sexual culture, but rather hinges on a societies moral culture. Is morality absolute or relativist? In a sexually progressive culture are we saying that anything goes between anyone as long as they are freely consenting? I think most would balk at the implications of that.

Some parents can regulate their children’s access to porn, some cannot (or will not). But it seems to me that we are arguing over behaviour before we have decided on morality, and it should be the other way round. Decide what is right and wrong (and why) then look at behaviour.


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