Tuesday, July 23, 2013

U.K. to impose restrictions on Internet pornography

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You'll excuse the crassness of the tweet I wrote yesterday, posted below. But how is one to respond to Prime Minister Cameron's announcement that the British government intends to impose restrictions on Internet pornography?

Look, I'm not defending (all) Internet porn, and I'm not saying that there's nothing wrong with porn. But the point should be to crack down on illegal porn -- depicting children, criminal violence, etc. -- not to demand that there be filters that customers must turn off if they want to see any adult content. First, this isn't going to stop anything that ought to be stopped. And second, it's about freedom, and the right of people to consume information/entertainment as they please.

Even if you argue that the purpose here is to go after criminal activity, it's clearly the thin end of a dangerous wedge that could see the government and its corporate partners intrude ever deeper into people's private lives -- a slippery slope, if you will.

Consider the problems: Who decides what is and is not appropriate content, or what in this case will only be able to be accessed by turning off the filter (thereby announcing one's intent to anyone paying attention)? It's one thing to try to block obviously horrific content. But that's just at the extreme. The massive gray area is another matter entirely. Furthermore, who decides what "horrific" search terms to blacklist, as Cameron put it? And what are those search terms? Again, there may be a number of obvious candidates, but there's a massive gray area otherwise.

The government, obviously. But do you really want the government telling you what you can and can't see on the Internet, or on television, or wherever? And do you really want the government telling you what search terms you can't use? This is the sort of thing authoritarian states do to restrict access to information. Coming from a supposed liberal democracy like the United Kingdom, it's just as appalling. Those who have fought for freedom and won should know better than to turn the clocks back.

Cameron is concerned that pornography is "corroding childhood." Look, I don't want my children seeing it either, in any form, but censorship is hardly the answer. Criminal activity should obviously be dealt with under the law. But free people should be able to be free, genuinely free, without the government legislating its own narrow idea of morality. Because there's no telling where it might stop.

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