UK Goes Mad With New Opt-In To Porn Policy

censorshipsucksThe conservative government in the UK has announced that all households in the UK will have to officially opt-in to allowing porn by notifying their ISPs of their intention. The Guardian reports:

In the most dramatic step by the government to crack down on the “corroding” influence of pornography on childhood, the prime minister will say that all internet users will be contacted by their service providers and given an “unavoidable choice” on whether to use filters.

The changes will be introduced by the end of next year. As a first step, customers who set up new broadband accounts or switch providers would have to actively disable the filters by the end of this year.

I’ve only been vaguely following these filter attempts by the UK government because, well, we’ve already been there, done that here in Australia. The Labor government spent years trying to introduce a porn filter here and have only just this year given it up as unfeasible. That’s on top of all the freedom of speech and human rights issues it raises.

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But the British are very determined, it seems. The government and pro-censorship forces doing all the standard things:using the spectre of child porn to ban consensual adult porn, ramping up moral panic about the horrors of “extreme pornography” without actually defining what they mean by “extreme”. And of course, letting us know they’re only doing it to protect the children. Won’t somebody think of the children!

The “opt-in to porn model” invites the following questions:

  • Who makes the list of porn to be filtered?
  • Who decides what constitutes “porn”? Who decides what constitutes “extreme porn”? What are the definitions?
  • Is the list public or kept secret?
  • What about LGBT content, sex education, discussions of sex?
  • What about sites that accidentally/wrongly end up on the list? Is there an appeals process?
  • What about the fact that millions of new URLs and gigabytes of adult content are freshly produced every single day?
  • What about the fact that adults may wish to view adult content in houses where there are children?
  • What about the millions of households that have no children?
  • What about the fact that it’s actually the job of parents, not the government, to make decisions about what content is appropriate for their children to see?
  • What about privacy and the right of adults to view porn without having to notify their ISP and the government about it?

That’s just the issues that I can think of off the top of my head. Obviously the UK government doesn’t give a toss about any of those things, so long as the Daily Mail and the pearl clutching prudes are mollified.

Part of me wants to dismiss the whole thing – Australia’s filtering experiment has shown that it’s a ridiculous expensive waste of time and money that ultimately won’t work. How long is it going to take the UK to work this out?

I must admit, I find myself wondering what will happen if ISPs DO ask people if they want porn. People aren’t as nervous about discussing porn use anymore. Will we see a majority of Britons come out in favour of it? And if so, will this change the anti-porn attitude that prevails because politicians think they are representing a “silent majority”?

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4 Replies to “UK Goes Mad With New Opt-In To Porn Policy”

  1. I can’t disagree with a word that you’ve written. Many nails hit on the head here. If this half-arsed scheme ever gets implemented, however, it will affect you. Can you imagine that the idiots will leave MSNAUGHTY.COM off their banned list?
    Incidentally, the Daily Mail is RUN BY pearl-clutching prudes of both sexes.

    1. Since it’s very vague as to exactly what they’re banning, it’s hard to say. But if it’s a general filtering of all porn to protect “the children” then msnaughty.com and pretty much all of my sites will be banned. Which naturally sucks – I get a lot of my audience from the UK.
      The thing is, it just won’t work. And I suspect that it’s going to take the UK government a long time to work it out. Took ours 5 long years and a budget deficit for them to finally kill off the sad remains of it. But they were proposing exactly the same thing at the beginning. Once the UK encounters the practical realities of it, the policy will start morphing and changing.

  2. The current Australian situation is kind of awful. While it’s true that Labor claimed they were dropping the whole thing, they did open the door to the misuse of section 313 of the Telecommunications Act. It now seems that any government department can issue blocking requests to ISPs, and ISPs can decide whether they’ll agree with the request or not. No oversight, and no transparency. ASIC was discovered to be the reason several sites, including an online Melbourne University were unreachable on some ISPs. There is no recourse, other than public outrage, if your site happens to be ‘accidentally’ blocked in this way. Add to that the INTERPOL list, and I don’t think the Australian situation is good.

    The public opposition to filtering has pretty much died once Labor officially dropped the policy, so we’re going to be stuck with this no-man’s land ‘solution’ for quite some time.

  3. My expectation is that insofar as it works people will opt out of it at the first sign that things are being blocked, unless the block is deliberately obfuscated to prevent people realising that that is what is happening. So if you get a “page blocked, click here to contact your ISP and get it unblocked” I’d expect 90%+ opt-out the first time they see the page. But if it’s a 404 or host not reachable error, I expect people will not realise there’s a block until media coverage of mis-blocking alerts them to the problem.

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