Opinion: Cameron’s porn ban – what does it mean?

 "PC Baan" internet cafe in Seoul, Korea - Some rights reserved by HachimakiDavid Cameron is out to make the world a safer place by tackling what he sees as the problems caused by pornography. We don’t really know the details of the policy yet, but with Cameron doing the rounds on TV and radio today we’ve got a reasonable idea of what he’s got in mind.

Block pornography by default
Web filtering software is very common – most schools and businesses have it installed. It does a passable job of blocking access to undesirable sites whilst allowing others. Inevitably, some sites that you don’t want to block get caught up, but by and large the filters work OK.

Cameron’s concern is that they aren’t being extensively used by parents of younger children, and the suspicion (probably rightly) is that in many cases it’s because parents aren’t tech savvy enough to know they exist or how to implement them.

So this main headline item – that ISPs all implement filtering software for all customers, and that it be turned on by default (with someone in the household having to make a positive decision to turn it off) – is a “nudge” policy.

There are all sorts of problems with the idea. Will it block access to sexual health and sex education sites? Are young children really stumbling across porn on the Internet all the time, and won’t older children just find a way to bypass it? What about porn sites that slip through the net? But it may also have some value – if the filters are good enough.

Blocking searches for illegal content
If someone searches for illegal pornography on Google, Cameron would like that search not to return any web pages.

Search Engines already take out any sites they know to be showing illegal content, so here Cameron is really saying that if someone looks like they’re searching for illegal material, they shouldn’t be given any access to legal sites either. Who decides what an offending search term is? Make it too narrow and people will just avoid those search terms, but widen it and legitimate searches for legal material will be blocked. The big search engines are opposing this, and I can’t see it working in practice.

Make it illegal to possess pornography depicting rape
Cameron would like pornography that depicts rape to be made illegal. It’s possible to write that law, but difficult to see how it would achieve the results he wants.

Rape is already illegal, and so covered under existing legislation. This relates to filming or photographing the acting out of rape for sexual titillation. The problem is that our TV screens and cinemas are full of depictions of rape, murder and mutilation, acted for our entertainment. I guess Cameron’s assumption is that putting a scene in a pornographic film has worse effects on viewers than if you put it in a crime or horror movie. I look forward to the academic studies supporting that hypothesis being presented.

Other measures
A number of other proposals are being brought forward, we’re told, such as having warning pop-ups on search engines when people enter dodgy searches, giving the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre more powers and creating a police database of child porn images to help trace offenders.

Will it work
It will be very positive if funding is increased to those Government organisations working to bring those involved in illegally-created pornography to justice. This material, such as child pornography, which often lurks in the darker corners of the internet, needs to be rooted and and the criminals responsible brought to justice.

We are at the start of the policy-making process on this issue. There is no doubting the genuine and laudable desire to protect children and to stop more people becoming the victims of horrific crimes. But desire alone does not make good law. If we fail to ask whether it will work, how it will work and what the unintended consequences may be, we will be letting down the very people it seeks to help.

* Iain Roberts is the former leader of Stockport Liberal Democrats and Lib Dem Campaign Manager in Greater Manchester Mayoral election and for Cheadle constituency in the General Election

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45 Comments

  • And how long before the opt-in lists get published?
    How long before porn opt-ins show up on CRB checks.
    Just think how the police will misuse this.

    And of course, it will do absolutely nothing to prevent the 95% of child sexual abuse which happens within the family. Children are at far more at risk from their own parents than ‘internet predators’, but we avoid this unfortunate truth at all costs.

    Incidentally, I believe child abusers often use cars to commit their crimes, why isn’t that populist fool Cameron calling for tracking devices on all cars?

  • What’s the liberal democrat position on censoring legal material on the internet?

  • What an utterly unworkable idea.

    (Don’t give him ideas, Colin. I suspect he’ll want to add GPS tracking when the discussion comes back round to road pricing.)

  • jenny barnes 22nd Jul '13 - 4:43pm

    surely it would be easy enough to chip everyone, like they do valuable animals, if you want to track where people are all the time? I’m sure we could add that to the data stored in the NSA’s repository they’re building.
    This is just another policy from the Ministry of Silly Ideas. How much of the Mail On-line’s material would fall foul of it?

  • So what David Cameron’s done is he’s been presented with the review of the evidence which calls for a revolution in relationship and sex education and he’s gone “Talk about healthy relationships to children?! Gah! No! Let’s try to restrict access to things instead.”
    http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/press_release/content_505

    I really think our MPs should be drawing attention back to the children’s commissioner’s findings and recommendations. Let’s tenderise some stiff upper lips.

  • It means nothing, I head him on woman’s hour and he clearly has no idea how the web works.

  • David Evans 22nd Jul '13 - 6:11pm

    It means he’s found an bandwagon where he can do a lot of electioneering at no risk to him, but at great risk to us. Dog whistle politics at its worst.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jul '13 - 7:37pm

    I think that parents, teachers and the NSPCC are concerned at the routine access of sexual and exploitative images by children not just on their laptops but through their very powerful phones.

    It is routine it seems these days, to give a child a phone with the internet capability. It is a must-have accessory for children as young as primary age.

    If a parent doesn’t think carefully through the implications of putting this device in the hands of a minor, it is hardly surprising that children see things that beggar belief. The dirty mag of previous generations pales into insignificance.

    As a society, I don’t think we can leave the protection of children from viewing such material to chance or to the discretion of parents alone.

    I don’t agree with Cameron most of the time but he is right to try to do something about this growing problem.

  • I noticed that Cameron in his speech played his “As a parent” card, as he increasingly does.
    So, as a widower living alone, why should I need to ask permission to view legal internet content?

    I have no issue with the other action taken against the nasty extremities of the internet, by the way.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 22nd Jul '13 - 9:24pm

    There is already a piece of equipment in the home to stop children accessing porn on the internet, it’s called a parent.

  • Andrew Martin 22nd Jul '13 - 9:32pm

    Helen, the internet on many (if not all?) phones now automatically filters out many sites, including ,unsurprisingly, ones which really should not be censored. That argument is probably a red herring.

  • Max Wilkinson 22nd Jul '13 - 9:37pm

    Why should people be forced to sign onto a state list in order to consume legal material?

    The line between legal pornography and illegal material, like that which depicts child abuse and rape, seems to have been blurred to the extent that those taking part in the public debate draw little or no distinction. I don’t understand why.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jul '13 - 9:54pm

    Graham Martin-Royle: ” There is already a piece of equipment in the home to stop children accessing porn on the internet, it’s called a parent.”

    I’m sorry to write that this parental guidance is not available to quite a lot of children. Some parents are just not as responsible or perhaps as well-informed as Liberal Democrat parents might be.

    Hence the real and growing problem. We really have to take our heads out of the sand on this one.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jul '13 - 9:57pm

    I don’t see why we can’t target the illegal porn sites rather than a blanket attack on everyone’s privacy.

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Jul '13 - 10:13pm

    Most of the comments so far read like something from Private Eye’s “From the Messageboards” column.

    What has been proposed is not “censorship of legal material”; nor are there plans for a government-maintained list of porn subscribers. All Cameron is proposing (so far as legal porn is concerned) is an on-line equivalent of the kind of restrictions we’ve always had on physically sold porn – restrictions which I don’t remember ever hearing anybody seriously argue were an unreasonable infringement on personal liberty. Cue the usual special pleading from Internet-obsessives.

    Iain Roberts has written a thoughtful piece here and I agree with most of his conclusions. This is a debate that should have been had around 15 years ago, when the full potential of the Internet was obvious to all. If the government ends up imposing restrictions that the industry does not like, then perhaps the industry should reflect on its utter ineffectiveness at addressing these problems itself despite having plenty of opportunity to do so.

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Jul '13 - 11:05pm

    I have three questions to those who support this stupid policy

    *Did the porn that the two killers Cameron referenced cause them to kill the little girls, would they have killed if they didn’t have access to that porn?
    *Did the killers use google to get hold of the porn they viewed?
    *Will these filters actually stop young people accessing porn, will they not just go to their friends whose parents have switched off the filter?

  • richardheathcote 22nd Jul '13 - 11:28pm

    @Helen Tedcastle
    “Some parents are just not as responsible or perhaps as well-informed as Liberal Democrat parents might be”

    What makes you think parents who vote Labour or Conservative are not responsible. I always thought Lib Dems where beyond tribilism

    Its hard to preach Lib Dem parenting values when you have had people such as Huhne with his extra marital activities a few others spring to mind also.

    as regards this policy it stinks and is not very liberal

  • Barry George 23rd Jul '13 - 12:41am

    “Some parents are just not as responsible or perhaps as well-informed as Liberal Democrat parents might be”

    eek !

    Maybe that should be the next target on the slippery road to China… Lets ban searches on Google for anything that is not conducive with Liberal Democrate ideology. It’s for their own good. In fact we should make non Lib Dems opt in to not being sterilised , just in case they think of having children.

    Btw, If you want to know how to bypass currently banned web sites such as pirate bay….. Just ask the nearest 12 year old.

    A pointless erosion of liberty.

  • It doesn’t seem very popular, judging by the comments on the BBC news article.
    Ewan Hoyle is right – the Children’s Commissioner recommended seven steps, including better education, not futile attempts to block the internet. Thanks for posting this, Ewan. Some people here would do well to read it.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jul '13 - 8:32am

    @ A Social liberal: A two-fold approach is need to tackle pornography: support and resources for the Police to tackle the truly depraved criminals operating in dark regions of cyberspace; the routine and accessible pornography available at the click of a switch online.

    How is protecting children from viewing pornographic images infringing personal liberty? There used to be a ‘top shelf’ when I was a child, so I didn’t have to view degrading images of members of my own gender. We live in a different age and we need to act to protect young children. If that infringes some liberties of middle aged men, so be it.

  • nuclear cockroach 23rd Jul '13 - 9:47am

    How long before Cameron and his support from the Daily Mail’s Mary Whitehouse Brigade have banned Lady Chaterley’s Lover again? Of course the Mail using half of its pages to portray underaged wannabees in various stages of undress is merely a facet responsible journalism.

    Pah.

  • What Helen Tadcastle says.

    Honestly, can the rest of you get this in proportion please? This is not censorship, it is not the government trying to keep a list of deviants, but it is simply having an opt-in option to adult content rather than an opt-out option. The top-shelf analogy is a good one. From a technological point of view it is straightforward to implement as well (despite the self appointed experts on how the internet works proclaiming otherwise). It won’t of course prevent the determined from getting hold of material, but then again neither does the top-shelf. It will make it much less straightforward to get hold of such material. A good proportion of pornography is based around violence anyway – it doesn’t show people engaging in reciprocating pleasure but depicts acts of violence. There is also the issue of non-sexual violent images and movies readily available to children on the internet. I await the libertarians telling me how children should be able to download videos of people being beheaded because it’s good for their education.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jul '13 - 10:43am

    @ Richard Heathcote and Barry George: My comment was specific to the person I was writing to, in response to his original comment. Of course Liberal Democrat parents as a block are neither more nor less competent than members of other parties.

    My point was that we cannot assume (unlike the person writing) that all parents are responsible and will filter their children’s computers.

  • Andrew Colman 23rd Jul '13 - 10:59am

    I remember during my schooldays fellow teenagers boasting about how many X rated movies they had seen or how many pints of lager they drank last night. Make something forbidden and adult and kids will strive to get it, its part of human nature.

    I don’t think this policy is really about porn (Tories really are not that stupid). Its about Murdoch and his chums retaining control of the media , therefore its a very worrying development.

    I have no problem with internet providers offering filters to parents to filter out porn etc, but state regulation no. The Lib Dems should veto this populist wooden horse designed ultimately to censor freedom of speech.

  • Listening to David Camerons speech he has no idea how the internet works. people will just use proxy websites to access the porn, and i also think that this policy will not last very long as it invades people privacy.

  • I find it difficult to get worked up about the opt in/opt out issue.

    On the other hand, I don’t know why people aren’t more worked up about the proposal to block some web searches, rather than simply excluding illegal material from search engines. Blocking web searches seems like a very slippery slope.

  • Geoffrey Payne 23rd Jul '13 - 1:14pm

    There has been a political consensus in this country that films be classified according to what is suitable for children. No one has put a motion to Lib Dem conference saying this should be scrapped. No Lib Dem MP or peer has said it should be scrapped. So why the fierce opposition to the policies currently being proposed?
    Should young children be allowed to watch hard core pornography? Not all children can rely on their parents to be responsible to protect them from watching this material. Not all parents who want to be responsible find it easy to protect their children from what is on the Internet. Why should both suffer to protect the of a huge industry that exploits women and has links to crime?
    If only pornography could show men and women enjoying having sex with each other. Instead it shows loveless sex between people who are desperate and will do anything for money no matter how humiliating it is for them. How much harm this causes is very hard to test scientifically, just as it is hard to show how little harm it causes. So I think the precautionary principle is the right one.

  • David Allen 23rd Jul '13 - 1:25pm

    What Steve says. Sure, Cameron is hugely overselling his idea, which, like most brilliant ideas from politicians, isn’t going to make anything like as much difference as the politician would like to pretend. However, Cameron’s detractors can’t have it both ways. If it’s going to be so easy to opt back in and access the porn, then it’s not censorship, or state regulation, or a “fundamental” (good word!) attack on civil liberties.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Jul '13 - 3:39pm

    @Stuart Mitchell
    ” This is a debate that should have been had around 15 years ago, when the full potential of the Internet was obvious to all. If the government ends up imposing restrictions that the industry does not like, then perhaps the industry should reflect on its utter ineffectiveness at addressing these problems itself despite having plenty of opportunity to do so.”

    Yeah, that’d be a really valid comment… if the industry hadn’t voluntarily addressed the Nasty Things On The Web Problem in 1996 by establishing the Internet Watch Foundation. In fact the industry has been proactive on this whole thing ever since the early days and has been quietly removing as much of the really nasty stuff as possible from Britain’s internet ever since, only occasionally making little mistakes such as that one time they mistook an album cover for hardcore kiddie porn and inadvertently censored Wikipedia. The industry puts a lot of work into this stuff. It is hampered by the fact that, unlike Cameron, it has to actively work with real technology and user populations, but by and large the industry does a pretty decent job.

    “All Cameron is proposing (so far as legal porn is concerned) is an on-line equivalent of the kind of restrictions we’ve always had on physically sold porn – restrictions which I don’t remember ever hearing anybody seriously argue were an unreasonable infringement on personal liberty. ”

    So far as I am aware there is no requirement for people who buy physically sold porn to add themselves to any list at all. Walk into the shop, pass the appearing-to-be-an-adult check, pick up the dvd and hand over the cash – no central records kept. If anything, an on-line equivalent of that kind of restriction would be a decentralised system allowing the buyer to demonstrate anonymously that they are of legal age to view or purchase porn. Which would be great, as it could also be used for other services with an age limit, like Facebook and Youtube, that little kids shouldn’t be messing with either.

    People are talking about porn as though it is a monolithic thing, the one single corrupting influence on the internet, but there’s a whole lot of other stuff that isn’t remotely okay for five-year-olds; violence, fantasy, disturbing audiovisual material including news and historical information, political speech. Some of the audiovisual material on archive.org, for example, though of great historical importance, is absolutely not stuff you’d want little kids to come across unsupervised. Like any library, most of it isn’t child-safe. If parents are lulled into believing that their little darling is safely clicking unsupervised through the web then such an intiative is counterproductive. The Web, porn-censored or not, is not Disney. It is a public space and sometimes frightening. Parents need to get involved: create a whitelist and put Disney on it. If they don’t know how? They should find out, or seek help from their ISP or PC World, or alternatively give up on letting small children use the web unsupervised and give them a colouring-book instead.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jul '13 - 3:53pm

    So why the fierce opposition to the policies currently being proposed?

    Firstly, forget about the url filtering bit. Block that from your mind for the moment. The big thing we’re left with is a proposal to criminalise possession in line with the flawed Scottish model, where nobody knows what’s legal and lots of things are inexcusably banned. That’s deserving of fierce opposition. It is a fundamental attack on civil liberties.

    Now, on the whole url filtering mess, the article that you need to read is this one:

    Porn blocking – a survivor’s perspective

    This is from somebody who was sexually abused as a child, and what they think about all these proposals to “protect” children. She does not pull any punches.

  • Jessica Ottowell 23rd Jul '13 - 4:37pm

    I really think we need to force this off the table, this is not what we are all about and while this isn’t our idea, we are running the risk of the foul stench from this tainting our image.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Jul '13 - 7:00pm

    @daft ha’p’orth
    “Yeah, that’d be a really valid comment… if the industry hadn’t voluntarily addressed the Nasty Things On The Web Problem in 1996 by establishing the Internet Watch Foundation.”

    Hilarious. The IWF was set up as a direct response to threats from the police and government to prosecute ISPs for publishing paedophile material, yet you’re trying to make it sound like they did it “voluntarily” out of the goodness of their heart. The IWF may have been sufficient in 1996 but in case you haven’t noticed, the Internet has moved on since then.

    As for your anxiety about people appearing on a “list” of porn customers – my advice to them would be to man up and stop being embarrassed about buying porn. Unless you live in a shack in the woods and practise self sufficiency, you voluntarily add your name to these kinds of “lists” all the time anyway.

    @Andrew Suffield
    Do you really expect anybody to take seriously an article which claims that romantic comedies are worse than rape porn at giving viewers a distorted image of women? Being a victim of abuse does not make one immune from spouting nonsense.

  • I have a better idea than yet another intrusive government “let us know what you`ve been doing” list.
    Why not take all that money that they are going to waste on installing filtering software that probably won`t work into every single ISP in the country, and then employing a team of incredibly expensive engineers to figure out why it doesn`t work, and which won`t stop a single demented pervert from accessing child porn, which is already a widely known social taboo, and invest it in police sting operations to put the pedo`s in jail instead. this policy won`t stop child pornography any more than the drug laws stop heroin addiction. we need to persecute the offenders, not the whole of society.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Jul '13 - 10:52pm

    @Stuart Mitchell
    There was a lot of Mary-Whitehouse politics in those days too. And technologists were indeed demonised by the ignorant, as indeed they are today.

    But whether or not you prefer to view all ISPs as essentially evil porno-fancier kiddie-porn pushers, the equivalence you draw between the proposed action and the current offline status quo is still incorrect. They are not even remotely similar. And the depornified internet still won’t be a safe place for unsupervised kids, sorry.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jul '13 - 11:50pm

    Do you really expect anybody to take seriously […]

    Yes, I expect you to take this completely seriously and pay attention to the people who actually know what they are talking about. Nobody ever looked at a picture of child abuse and thought “oh, I should go and do that”. That is ludicrous and farcical. But a culture pervaded with twisted, unrealistic attitudes and expectations, and a deliberate attempt to keep children ignorant so they don’t know how to do anything about it? That causes abuse.

  • Andrew Suffield: yes, your cited abuse victim argues that what really need to be changed are mainstream attitudes. That’s a tenable point of view. If she had gone on to say that porn blocking was unimportant, or irrelevant, I would have understood. But instead, she actually seems to be virulently opposed to it, and she doesn’t say why. People who don’t argue a case, don’t make the case.

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th Jul '13 - 8:55am

    @Andrew
    I did take her seriously – up to the point I read her article and realised she was talking drivel, the bit about Richard Curtis being worse than rape porn being the real giveaway.

    ‘Nobody ever looked at a picture of child abuse and thought “oh, I should go and do that”.’

    What would you like to happen then – legalisation of child porn? Removal of the IWF blacklist? If not, why not?

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th Jul '13 - 9:00am

    daft h’a’porth
    “the equivalence you draw between the proposed action and the current offline status quo is still incorrect.”

    I disagree – what you are saying is simply special pleading. If somebody is watching a rape porn video on their TV set, it should make no difference whether it’s coming from a DVD or an Internet stream.

  • AlanPlatypus 24th Jul '13 - 10:03am

    It’s good to see that, one or two people aside, the consensus here is one of retaining civil liberties and increasing education. It’s times like this, when we have a contentious issue, that we see just how liberal some people are.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Jul '13 - 1:49pm

    @Stuart Mitchell:

    If somebody is watching a rape porn video on their TV set, it should make no difference whether it’s coming from a DVD or an Internet stream.

    It doesn’t. It’s already illegal regardless of the medium.

  • Filtering does not work. At best it stops inadvertent access, but the ease in which it can be circumvented makes it a futile exercise. Not to mention lulling parents and carers into thinking that because their ISP filters then all is well in their cosy rose tinted spectacles, home. Meanwhile little johnny and Mary are upstairs watching who knows what because a simple google search teaches them to bypass via a proxy site, the banned content.

    This is an interesting view – https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/07/great-wall-of-cameron

  • Shaun Leonard 29th Jul '13 - 11:33am

    This isn’t a policy any kind of Liberal party should be supporting. Nor is it wanted by the people of this country. A currently running petition on the government “e-petitions” web site has reached 30000 signings since this was announced. It is the MOST supported petition right now, by a ratio of at least 5:1 compared with next popular one.

    If you take the trouble to read the online public responses by Daily Mail and Guardian readers to their articles on this subject, it is perfectly clear that the overwhelming majority of people don’t want this. Few seem to want it, apart from Mr Cameron, Mrs Perry and newspaper journalists. Well I am sorry but we should not have rule by Journalists or newspaper editors. This is a democracy, or it is supposed to be one. I believe politicians who railroad this policy through will pay a price in support from the public when it comes to election time.

    Recent consultations on this which were undertaken to decide policy on this matter, revealed a maximum of only 35% of parents wanted this and significantly fewer none parents. So why is this still running ? There is also concern that politicians simply have not done their homework, do not understand the limits of internet censorship, or indeed the internet itself, and do not realise that people simply don’t want this. There has also been quite a few myths, untruths and possible downright lies regarding how many children look at this material, and how harmful it actually is. The concerned politician should therefore do his OWN homework, and make his OWN conclusion. There are quite a lot of online articles on the matter. Possibly significantly fewer, will be available if one is using a filtered connection!

    Encourage ISPs to provide filtered connections by all means. Those who need them, can turn them on. Please leave the rest of us alone. There are significantly more important concerns right now. Maintaining our freedom from censorship is one of them, and this is the concern of people right now. Mission creep and slippery slope is in the minds of everyone (and there are a LOT of people right now) concerned about this. Concern especially that politicians wouldn’t ever leave it at that, even if they did get their way.

  • If pornography is banned then there will be a massive increase in prostitution as the men who watch porn due to confidence issues with women or just a lack of female contact in their lives will have to seek that elsewhere. Pornography is the lesser of two evils.

  • philip.walton 25th Mar '14 - 2:51pm

    As I understand it one can keep a film containing the most horrific of rape scenes as long as it has BBFC certification an the whole film is stored intact…and I know of some horrendous examples!

    Clips from the film are seen as without the artistic merit of the whole film and keeping these can be deemed pornographic and prosecutable.

    Hard drive memory is very cheap and downloading whole films is now quick. So a person downloads a whole film with BBFC certification and knows the start and stop times of the rape scenes s/he wants to see which is now a very quick process. I need go no further with this. PEOPLE WHO FRAME SUCH STUPID LAWS CAN RUIN OTHERS LIVES WITH POINTLESS PROSECUTION!!!! Also there seems to be absolutely NO scientifically provable correlation between viewing porn and committing sex crimes…so where no crime has been committed in the production of the film there should be no victim at all.
    This is NOT to do with public protection, it is to do with easy vote catching at the expense of a minority of citizens with unusual sexual proclivities. I used to go to Whitby Goth festivals, and it was amazing how some acquaintances thought the whole thing somehow perversely obscene.

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