Cameron’s Online Porn Crackdown

Jul 24 2013 @ 12:00pm

Cameron And Theresa May Visit Hertfordshire After Results Show A Reduction In Crime In The UK

On Monday, while Brits were enthralled with the new royal baby, the prime minister unveiled a sweeping anti-porn campaign requiring citizens to tell their ISPs if they want to look at dirty pictures. Oliver Wright reports:

Under his proposals, by the end of next year all households will have to “opt out” of automatic porn filters, which would come as standard with internet broadband and cover all devices in a house. Possession of the most extreme forms of adult pornography will become an offence, while online content will have the same restrictions as DVDs sold in sex shops. To tackle child abuse images, search engines have been told they will have to redact results from specific searches, while anyone accessing websites shut down by the police for containing such images will see a message warning them that what they were doing was illegal.

Cracking down on child porn is critical of course, but there are a lot of problems with the PM’s plan. For one, not even Cameron seems to know what it entails:

Mr Cameron said he did not “believe” written pornography, such as erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, would be blocked under the plans. But he added: “It will depend on how the filters work.” … He then added: “I’m not saying we’ve thought of everything and there will be many problems down the line as we deal with this, but we’re trying to crunch through these problems and work out what you can do and can’t do.”

Loz Blain highlights the potential for abuse:

The very fact that your web will effectively be censored unless you specifically ask your provider for access to porn raises all sorts of issues. For starters, the famous British gutter press will be delighted to reveal the names of famous people who have asked for the filter to be disabled. Somewhere, there will be a very useful list of people who are porn users, and one day it will leak.

And many of them, if the past is any guide, will be the most uptight Tory MPs. What’s more, some parts of the plan seem designed to apply to the web of yesteryear. For example, Cameron said that Google has a “moral duty” to “blacklist” certain words. David Nosowitz pounces:

This is absurdly, insultingly presumptuous. A prime minister is demanding a foreign corporation kowtow to his demands and implement a childishly naive proposal based on his own showy morality. …

Many of the illegal corners of the internet aren’t indexed by Google, anyway. Try searching for child porn right now; you won’t find any. Try searching for an online store that’ll mail you heroin. You won’t find that, either. But both exist, and you will find news stories or forums about both that can lead you there. Discussion of illegal activities isn’t illegal, but makes any indexing restriction on Google pretty much worthless.

A former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center, Jim Gamble, raised the same point:

Gamble said Mr. Cameron’s plan to tackle child abuse images by removing results from search engines like Google would be “laughed at” by pedophiles. “There are 50,000 predators … downloading abusive images on peer-to-peer, not from Google,” he said. “Yet from CEOP intelligence only 192 were arrested last year. That’s simply not good enough. We’ve got to attack the root cause, invest with new money, real investment in child protection teams, victim support and policing on the ground. Let’s create a real deterrent. Not a pop-up that pedophiles will laugh at.”

And of course civil libertarians aren’t thrilled:

Jim Killock, from the Open Rights Group, said Cameron’s plan was not only bound to fail but also sets a dangerous precedent of government intervention when it comes to freedom of expression and access to information. “I’m not sure censorship is ever the answer,” he said. “It’s a shocking attempt to claim the moral high ground. … I don’t think he fully understands what he is proposing.”

Meanwhile, Leo Mirani hasn’t missed the irony that a British tabloid is one of the initiative’s few supporters:

[Cameron] may be trying to appease the highly influential right-wing British newspaper, The Daily Mail, which has been running a campaign against online porn for months. The prime minister released his speech to the paper a day in advance. In its coverage of the speech, the paper quotes Cameron as saying, “The Daily Mail has campaigned hard to make internet search engine filters ‘default on.’ Today they can declare that campaign a success.” Yet the Daily Mail has built the world’s most trafficked news website largely on the basis of pictures of celebrities in various stages of undress. Considering the unpredictable and overly enthusiastic nature of filtering algorithms, it is not inconceivable that the Daily Mail may find itself a victim of its own success.

Well, that would be too delicious an irony, wouldn’t it?

(Photo: PC Kris Seward shows the Prime Minister David Cameron the mobile device as he visits community police in Hertfordshire on July 17, 2013 in Cheshunt, England. Cameron was observing the their new crime prevention initiatives, including targeted CCTV and a new PC based mobile device. By Paul Rogers – WPA Pool/Getty Images)