UK Government Announces Radical, Nuclear-Option Plan To Prevent Users From Seeing Online Porn

David Cameron United Kingdom

Hidden amongst the royal baby news flooding out of the U.K. at the moment, there’s another, more complicated story: David Cameron’s Conservative government has announced plans that amount, essentially, to a ban on online pornography — and no-one seems quite sure what to make of it.

It’s a wide-ranging plan, but Cameron’s proposals boil down to this:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will, by default, block pornographic search terms and websites. All devices that use the connection will be included in the ban. Internet users who wish to view pornographic terms on their connection will have to actively opt-out of the scheme by contacting their ISP.
  • “Extreme pornography,” which specifically includes pornography that shows simulated rape, will be totally banned.
  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is to draw up a blacklist of “abhorrent” search terms that will be blocked from search term. These terms will also be used in conjunction with central database of images to catch those creating or sharing child pornography.

The plan will begin rolling out by the end of this year.

In essence, the plan is a response to the idea that the spread of online pornography has made society worse, and that new rules must be implemented for a still relatively new technology. Central is the idea that pornography is harmful to children — whether they are children whose future lives are distorted by the discovery of pornography at too young an age, or, worse still, children whose lives are devastated in some way by child pornography.

Speaking to the BBC, Cameron argued that online pornography was “corroding childhood.” It’s a hard premise to argue with. Child pornography is obviously abhorrent, and there seems to be a growing movement of people who consider themselves addicted to online pornography.

However, there’s something about a blanket ban on pornography that seems to most people as going way too far — even liberal newspapers like the Guardian have come out in support of the “wankers,” while other observers point out that pornography depicting violence towards woman does not seem to correlate to real violence towards women.

At least part of the issue is practicality. Alex Hern of the New Statesman points out that pornography is not always easy to define — would the Daily Mail’s website, which has been leading a campaign against online pornography, be banned for its extensive galleries of celebrities with very little clothes on?

At the Telegraph, Mic Wright reasons that most child pornography online exists on the “dark web,” and blocking searches or content in a manner like that described Cameron’s plans may simply be unfeasible, inconveniencing many at great cost but making little impact on those determined to find it.

Internet controls may be common in some parts of the world, but flouting them is also common. Think of the “Great Firewall of China,” perhaps the most well-known example of state censorship in the world — every day thousands and thousands of people get around that wall to do simple things like post to Facebook. It’s hard to imagine people already willing to risk imprisonment for their sexual desires wouldn’t find a way to get around a technological ban.

Reading from the United States — the land of free speech where “big government” initiatives are viewed with serious scepticism — it’s hard to imagine a right wing government (as Cameron’s is) drawing up such a plan.

But Cameron is a different kind of conservative, perhaps more in line with someone like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — someone willing to use state power to make people live their lives in a “better” way — and observers have noted that his position on internet pornography seems similar that of Margaret Thatcher, one of the heroes of modern conservative culture.

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