Cameron’s Phoney ‘War on Porn’ is Actually a War on Privacy

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David Cameron has today announced a ‘war on porn’ – asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to automatically filter people’s internet usage, with anything classed as ‘porn’ inaccessible without the user specifically requesting access to it.  Not only is this idea unworkable, but it is entirely cynical.  David Cameron is attempting a bloodless coup of the free internet, inside a paper mache Trojan Horse of Daily Mail headlines.

The War on Porn

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This hideous idea was put together by Claire Perry MP, Cameron’s special advisor on ‘preventing the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood’.  This moral crusade was in response to a campaign by the Daily Mail, which today announced victory in its war on porn.  On the same page The Mail featured pictures of 17 year old model Kendall Jenner urging readers to check out her ‘model figure in an aqua bikini’.  Readers were also treated to the cleavage of Kourtney Kardashian alongside the headline ‘No Sudden Movements! Kourtney Kardashian shows her body confidence in daring low cut Swimsuit – she knows how to show off her assets’. Cute.

Nevertheless, the government seized on the Mail campaign and began to pressure Internet Service Providers to operate a ‘default on’ porn filter.  This means that in future, anyone setting up their Broadband connection will have to actively request access to porn, as the filter will be the default.

There were a couple of embarrassing hiccups along the way as a letter from government to the Internet Service Providers was leaked.  It turns out the Internet Service Providers were marketing the new filters around customer choice, but the glory hungry government requested the language of the ISP announcements changed to appear more punitive, allowing them to claim victory in their phoney war.

Until now, the Obscene Publications Act has governed what it is legal and illegal to publish.  However, Cameron has declared that those images which are not currently illegal, yet are considered beyond the pale by the moral majority, become prosecutable.  For example, images of simulated rape, where consent has been given in advance, will now become illegal to possess, or share.

Excellent. All very noble.

The War on All of Us

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There are a number of issues which make this policy somewhere between a joke, and a terrifying regressive step for civil liberties. Speaking to the BBC, one source at an ISP gave his reasons:

“It sounds like a good idea until you think it through…There are three reasons why it doesn’t work. First it may be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers. Then there’s the fact that no filter is perfect, and finally kids are smart enough to find their way around them.”

A source at another company saw another reason why “default on” might be a bad idea: “It makes parents complacent – if you tell them the filter is switched on by default, they get a false sense of security. We want parents to make informed choices about the way their children use the internet.”

These reasons focus around workability.  But there are other reasons besides workability that need to be addressed.

Firstly, there is the case against the nanny state.  The government has cut the budget for Legal Aid, is forcing disabled, sick and mentally ill people off their social security and selling off our schools and hospitals to private interests at a gallop.

If the government argues that the state has no role in these core elements of our society – why on earth would they think the state has a role in telling people whether they can watch porn or not, or in deciding what is and is not porn?  It just doesn’t make sense.

Secondly, privacy and freedom.  How will data on who requests porn or not be stored and used?  Does anyone requesting no porn filter become somehow suspect?  Will it become lawful for someone to be have their internet usage monitored where they have requested the filter removed, the act itself becoming a red flag?

Worse than all this, the move sets a precedent.  The state is now telling people what they can and cannot view on the internet – outside the confines of the law.  It might well be legal, but it is not state sanctioned.

It will mean a permissive relationship between government and ISP – government asks, ISP does.

It also leads to some technical infrastructure changes that will mean internet usage being more easily controlled and monitored in future.

Newsflash: David Cameron doesn’t care about protecting children from online predators.  If he did, his government would not have cut the budget for the very section of the police force dedicated to doing just this – by a whole 10% last year.  No.  This is about control.  But many will remain silent on the matter – who can argue against ending child abuse photos online?

Wake Up and Smell the Censorship

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Just a few short years ago, the idea that repressive countries across the world restricted the internet access of their citizens was the scorn of the ‘civilised west’. But those days are gone.  The revelations of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveal just how closely and arbitrarily our internet communications are being monitored – and how feeble our protections from such abuses of power truly are.

But even in this status quo, the government has to do the watching.  With this new model, the government can set up the state sanctioned ‘safe’ internet – and focus its time on those apparently breaking out into the longer grass.

This might seem like an overreaction – but given employers are already hiring and firing based on a person’s social media activity – with some even making employment contingent upon surrendering passwords to personal social media accounts for monitoring – one suspects it is little more than the thin end of the wedge.

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18 thoughts on “Cameron’s Phoney ‘War on Porn’ is Actually a War on Privacy

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  4. Just as we in the US are having to consider encrypting everything we do on line, it’s time for people in the UK to do the same, the use of anonymous web search engines, and email for your serious work, should be the order of the day. All the ten foil hat guys had it right, governments by their very nature will always fall into evil unless we keep a very tight watch on them, and then try to justify it under the most filmiest means. Just a thought given what is going on with the disclosures on both sides of the Atlantic, this may be a Giant Red Herring to more us off the real picture, not saying he will not try for this, just it needs watching.

  5. Yet another detestable infringement of privacy, by the Catholic Chur… errr… Conservative Party. The thing about sociopathic people, who unfortunately are attracted to and excel as career politicans, religion founders/propagators and fat businessmen, is that they feel the right, since they feel themselves entitled to power, to tell other people how to live their lives under the guise of “family values.” This is utterly predictable and has been seen time and again in history.

    As a Classics student, I could refer for example to the sociopath Augustus, previously Octavian, a psychopath and sociopath who, as a young man blinded someone with his bare hands, and then through back-stabbing, proscriptions (a polite term for political executions in Ancient Rome) and bloody warfare became the first emperor of Ancient Rome, destroying the semi-democratic Republic – emperor, I should add, in all but name (he didn’t want to offend the elite, as Julius Caesar did to his demise). His rule saw a ruthless programme of “restoring family values”, punishing married couples for not having children, punishing women severely for adultery and divorce, punishing what were deemed deviant sexual practices etc etc. Of course, his aim, was not only to present himself as a “saviour of morality” but also to make people forget that he was a ruthless, thoroughly corrupt and evil man, thanks to which he gained ultimate and total power over the Roman body politic.

    My point in this story is that sociopaths, by which I mean people who are incapable of empathy and thus have nothing to stop them from abusing their power at every opportunity (while faking “goodness” and charm when required by social expectations) are, traditionally, proponents of family, so-called moral, values, and this point was driven home to me by survivalist writer Stefan Verstappen, whose book “The Art of Urban Survival” is full of hard-headed advice on, in this case, the predators that truly exist in “civilized” society and who leave destruction and suffering in their wake – for him, sociopaths in power means more surveillance, divide and conquer tactics (read: stigmatization and scapegoating of minority groups), a general move towards a police state, a persecution of dissidents – read, intellectuals and anyone basically capable of showing these sociopaths up for who and what they are – and, as I said, a veneer of “morality” and “family values”. In short, once one gets to grip with sociopathy and its ripple effect on society and the turning of otherwise non-sociopaths into secondary sociopaths (adjusting, as one does, to the law of the junge), then one understands the psychology and actually very predictable tactics of people who get themselves into extreme positions of power, and why democracy, such as the Weimar Republic in Germany before the rise of National Socialism, is so vulnerable to being manipulated, exploited and transformed into hard-core totalitarianism.

    • Scratch a Guy yelling about,”Family Values”, and nine times out of ten you will find a Pervert, if Cameron is so sure of his standing let him first propose that all of the members of the LibDem/Con government open their own web searches up for scrutiny.

  6. This initiative doesn’t introduce any privacy issues that don’t already exist. Some ISPs (notably mobile providers) do this already voluntarily, and if the police want to know if you’ve watched porn online, they check to see if you own a computer. If the police want to know what *type* of porn you watch online, they get a warrant and your ISP tells them. Big Brother’s already watching, folks, there’s nothing to see here.

    • The “nothing to see here, move on” argument is very revealing. If all the mechanisms already exist, what does this change add? The answer is simple: you now have to ask for permission to do something you can legally do anyway.

      The “nothing to see here, move on” argument ignores that Mobile Networks provide information within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act framework. This change adds a layer of criminalising not asking permission. There is a lot to see here. Since when did people over the age of 18 (those who are old enough to enter into contract with an ISP) need to ask permission to see sexual material?

      Unpopular and dangerous though the idea is: there is no child protection issue at all. There is a moral panic being whipped up. The same kind of moral panic that was whipped up around Jamie Bulger – whose death gave the “justification” for blanketing the country with millions of CCTV cameras. CCTV prevents nothing and, indeed, provides a lot of the pornography that is circulated on the internet. There is a lot to see here: CCTV spends the overwhelming majority of its time monitoring people who are doing nothing wrong. Yet, like default on filtering, asking permission to do something you are allowed to do (such as pointing out moral panics surrounding child murders) is being used to portray people as being somehow, vaguely, not quite put your finger on it, almost, I will remember in a minute, on the tip of my tongue… criminal.

  7. It’s censorship through and through. You’re right, it has nothing to do with protecting children, and everything to do with control and monitoring by the Far Right. Censorship in any way is more disgusting than most porn (excluding any child pornography, of course).

  8. As soon as the announcement was made I first laughed – a day or so earlier there was an item about the internet at westminster being used to access porn and I thought that’ll piss of some mp’s. Then I had the same thought as you – this will surely make it easier for them to identify anyone who wants access to porn and is therefore a privacy issue. But everyone will be jumping on the propaganda bandwagon in support as the last thing they will want is to be seen advocating porn and not seeing the real reasons they are doing this – eroding privacy and control of the internet.

    btw welcome back

  9. Really glad you decided to blog on this topic above any other today, it’s extremely important.

    In case you’re not aware of him, I’d like to bring the superb Paul Bernal to your attention, he has 10 questions for Cameron on this issue and they really do need answering: http://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/10-questions-about-camerons-new-porn-blocking/

    I’m not generally inclined to e-petitions (doubt effectiveness of “clicktivism” etc) but worth knowing there is one of those government ones up here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746 Doubt it’ll do much good but they can provide interesting barometer of public opinion. As do the comments on BBC article (which is otherwise fawning, incontrovertible drivel). Judging by number of comments and looking at the one’s which have been heavily “upvoted” maybe, just maybe people won’t take this lying down: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23401076

  10. there was an interesting comment in the Independent …there could be the scenario of a sex crime locally …they find that he or even yes she ! has no filters on his internet ….probably watched the occasional daft , contrived , grainy , low res porn film on a tube site …and gets carted off to the Police station when plod does door to door enquires ……..they’d probably be harmless people …whilst some craftier criminal type has the heat taken off them

    That’s why I don’t trust these spivvy devious types as far as I can throw them …the devil is always in the detail with the Tories …if they were born the wrong side of the tracks , the Bullingdon Boys would be down the cop shop or in front of the beak from time to time as an occupational hazard for selling knock off / counterfeit gear in the Dog and Hammer

  11. I can smell the BS from way on this side of the Atlantic, for the,”Children”, my horses patoot. Any time a politician starts taking about morality, place one hand on your wallet, and the other one on you pistol. Another reason for anonymous web servers.

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