22 July 2013 - 9:36am | posted by | 7 comments

Why David Cameron wants ISPs to ask, "Do you want Porn with that?"

Mark Leiser looks at the problems David Cameron's plans for blocking online porn will face ahead of the today's announcement on the proposal.

David Cameron has turned the fight against online porn into a poor example of technological governance by puritanical means. By asking the country’s largest ISPs to help him in spreading an awareness campaign for parents and demanding a filtering system where the starting point is “default-on”, he is effectively asking the public not to participate in an activity that millions of the British public do every day.

The debate about online porn has been shot to the forefront of public debate after searches of April Jones’s murderers computer showed pictures of children being abused and several searches for torture images were found. The news prompted the Daily Mail and others to demand for solutions from ISPs to tackle violent sexual imagery that is available in cyberspace.

Some of the mainstream press have been campaigning for a new system of Internet porn delivery – one where the default settings for being able to view these types of images are on. Default-on is a system whereby internet service providers block access to pornographic images as standard, unless the customer opts out of the filters. As a result of the default-on setting, offensive and harmful material would be blocked by companies like BT, Virgin, and Sky unless the customer phones up and asks, presumably rather awkwardly, to have the filters turned off. The problem is that the material might be 'offensive and harmful’ to Mr Cameron, might also be completely legal.

Creative Review: 

The technological measures Downing Street are asking for involve filters to be installed at ISPs, blocking images from being displayed on your browser. Technologists will tell you that no filtering system is perfect, and any Internet savvy system will find a way around the filters installed. They reveal what law academics T.J. Mcintyre and Colin Scott describe as a ‘deeper problem’ with filtering: they are ‘a very efficient mechanism for implementing rules, but not so good when it comes to standards’.

Internet providers like BT and Virgin Media actively cooperates in the Internet Watch Foundation’s program. BT stated, “‘[t]hrough our involvement with the Internet Watch Foundation, BT receives a daily list of child abuse sites which are then blocked, preventing customers from accidentally accessing them.”

In the UK, the IWF has been asking for wider remit to search for and remove web addresses where illegal and violent images are found. Using a system called Cleanfeed, it looks at individual web addresses rather than domain names. If the address is shown to be one to be worth of being blocked, then access to the webpage is blocked by the ISP. This filtering system blocks addresses and locations on the Internet, but it is a meaningless system when it comes to file-sharing systems and peer-to-peer networks – which are routinely used for sharing legal and illegal pornography.

If the default-on setting remains, then on one level David Cameron is taking the UK in the same direction as the United Arab Emirates who also have a “default-on setting”. Theirs just can’t be turned off. One of the results of that policy in the UAE is a burgeoning black market for porn on DVD and pen drives. Porn finds a way. Filtering is a stupid solution to a problem only part of society thinks is a problem. As I stated in a previous post, there is no proof that there is a connection between offensive porn and real-world criminality.

Some would argue, that April Jones’s murderer would have still killed her even if there had been an "opt-in" filtering system in place. What will happen the next time a young girl gets murdered and it turns out that he had phoned his broadband ISP and asked for the porn filters to be removed? What will the government come up with then? A permanent Default On setting like the UAE?

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Comments

22 Jul 2013 - 10:35
jorub11986's picture

This issue is not amount consenting adults, its about protecting children which we have failed to do for many years now. There is stacks of evidence about what watching porn does to kids, any kind of porn. Every parent and teacher I know has horror stories. Its needs to be illegal for kids to have any kind of access, as it is for under 18s with any other kind of inappropriate materials. Either you have opt out mechanisms in place or you have a system where adults enter passport or credit card details to see any kind of porn online. Nothing is 100% proof but our kids deserve our protection. Its a movement that is bing taken on many governments around the world and the porn industry overruling public opinion has had its day.

22 Jul 2013 - 15:05
steve82313's picture

@jorub11986 Hang on a second....Enter your passport details? What!!?

22 Jul 2013 - 13:19
mleiser's picture

But a filter on your computer and monitor what your kids watch. Be a parent - just don't mandate the State to tell me,. a grown man what I can and can't watch. Oh- and your kids can have sex at 16 - but that can't view it? Something wrong with your thought processes.

24 Jul 2013 - 17:51
Danny Herbert's picture

@mleiser Hmm. Kids can have sex at 16, sure. A good idea for them to learn about it by watching hardcore porn though? after all, real sex isn't really like that. (ooh, maybe for you perhaps?) Suggesting kids should access heavy porn when starting out is the direct equivalent of giving a kid driving lessons and the Fast and Furious box set lol.

22 Jul 2013 - 19:44
eiggi's picture

What about if the legal age that people can view some pornography (more like female friendly stuff) is lowered to, say 14

23 Jul 2013 - 00:27
rwsst16298's picture

Are we really being run by such naive people? It is the responsibility of parents to protect their children from what is on the web, not the nanny state and it puritanical leaders. Obviously Eton didn't do a very good job of educating them about reality, and they haven't a clue about technology. The pedlars of child porn operate outside the normal constraints of the internet, and ISPs already, or they would soon be caught and dealt with. All this knee jerk action would do is annoy the real, grown up, adult population, who don't want some idiot in Whitehall telling them what they can do on the free web! It will be totally unworkable, it will undo the work that is already being done and will make it a lot harder to control the circulation of child porn, as they will just go deeper into their already murky world!

24 Jul 2013 - 17:47
Danny Herbert's picture

IMO liberalising access to anything tends to increase usage and level of usage. EG seem to recall a massive surge in skunk use during the category-C drug classification of 'cannabis'. EG. Social effects of low-price and universally available alcohol, in contrast to 1970s/1980s where there was more restriction. Dianne Abbott talked recently about the 'pornification' of the UK, and I think she had a point – a 20-year process of normalisation of consumption of softcore/hardcore images has occurred and now needs to be put into reverse. When people talk about personal freedoms in an absolute way I see it as indicative of a blinkered desire to do what they want as an individual and to deal only with any consequences directly to themselves. Ironically, for such people, who then complain about the nanny state threatening to tell them what to do, it is that exact same state on which they are relying to deal with unintended consequences of unrestricted personal freedoms. In the case of the pornography industry, it is surely well-documented by now that it funds organised crime and that (by proliferating away from what we might call normal sex towards more "specialised" areas such as under age/'teenage' imagery and coercion/rape/torture) it creates victims of abuse.

Personally, I have no problem at all with someone like Gianna Michaels operating her own website and selling her own stuff in which she is clearly a consensual participant. The issue is: the liberal search environment that allows us to find such material also allows completely irresponsible operators to flourish. All of this material should be the subject of an opt-in that requires some sort of security-cleared consent. Right now, the idea that parents are supposed to control what their children do on the Internet under current browsing conditions is a complete farce as anyone who's tried to manage content on an iPad, or keep track of the whereabouts of a mobile phone 24 7, knows.

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