Ministers have stepped back from forcing telecommunications companies to filter websites for online pornography after parents rejected the idea in a government-sponsored consultation.
A report released by the department for education and the home
office instead said that internet service providers will be asked to advise and steer parents towards making an active choice by offering software that blocks out pornography and self-harming sites.
The decision follows a 10-week public
consultation process. David Cameron had indicated as recently as last month that he wanted firms to follow the lead of TalkTalk, which was the first big name internet service provider to introduce network-level filtering of websites for its customers.
The report, released with little fanfare, said:
It is... clear that in accepting that responsibility, parents want to be in control, and that it would be easier for them to use the online safety tools available
to them if they could learn more about those tools.
They also want information about internet safety risks and what to do about them. There was no great appetite among parents for the introduction of default filtering of the
internet by their ISP: only 35% of the parents who responded favoured that approach.
In fact the figures for all those that responded to the consultation showed:
14% in favour of default ISP blocking
85% opposed to default ISP blocking
The campaign for greater curbs against online porn had been led by the Tory MP Claire Perry, and was followed up by the Daily Mail.
The industry pointed out that Perry's plans were unworkable.
The Government will now go to work with the
UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to help parents with the knowledge and tools required to provide flexible and workable parental control.
The question of what exactly constitutes pornography, as always, is problematic no matter where such laws might be implemented. Sex is sex is sex, you say? People pay to
watch fully-clothed women do unspeakable things to bowls of jelly specifically for the purposes of sexual arousal. The I know it when I see it obscenity argument, aka the Hicklin Test, is indicative of the sort of thinking that usually surrounds
such issues. Would we have to appoint a Pornfinder General?
What about your own naughty photos? Would they be banned too?
People would rightly be concerned about the status of private entertainment.
Would partners taking naughty pictures of each other for their private consumption be prosecuted? Or is it only paying for it that's considered problematic? In that case what about the people in Iceland who pay to advertise on swinger's websites or go to
fetish club nights? Britain's culture of swinging, dogging, and fetish clubs is leaps and bounds beyond Iceland's, by the way. How can you tell the difference between images produced for free and images produced for pay, or who the intended audience is?
And who gets prosecuted?
How do you delete people's hard drive?
Finally there is the reality of porn consumption in countries like Iceland and Britain that have had longstanding access to internet
porn: people who view porn online don't just stream it, they save it. Would it be possible to eliminate the porn already in the country? Of course not. Would it be feasible to stop people from being able to share it through peer-to-peer applications,
email attachments, and the myriad other ways of transferring files? Unlikely. Is any government prepared to institute and pay for a system by which all of the country's electronic traffic passes through some checking bottleneck?
People can and did exchange contraband information long before the advent of the internet. They always will. And if so, be prepared for early-90s computing skills re-emerging - you know, back in the pre-World Wide Web days when internet porn collectors used to share and decode files. Simply applying some iteration of a
pink block filter wouldn't stop this.
Extract: Even Russia Today has published an article about the stupidity of porn blocking
A former MI5 agent Annie Machon warns, this could be a slippery slope to even more censorship from the government.
RT: If Iceland introduces this ban, what effect would that have on the rest of the world?
AM: I think it is unlikely that they will introduce it. But if they do, then I think it is very quickly going to be seen as failed. As I said people will find a way to tunnel around it, they will be up against the innovation of the
porn industry. So, it would probably be a failed experiment within a year or two. But I think if a western country seen to be doing this it will be a justification for other more totalitarian regimes to say Well, you know, Iceland's doing this. So we
can do it, too. And of course it might well encourage ill thought out policies in other western democracies.
RT: Critics have been pointing out that censorship technology is linked to surveillance technology. If Iceland gives
the green light to this ban, can we be sure it will be just about child protection?
AM: We absolutely can't. As soon as you start allowing certain technologies to be input onto the internet to stop and censor certain information
they will be misused by police, by intelligence agencies and as soon as we are aware that the internet is being censored and we might be being watched or monitored all times, then we start to self-censor as well. We will not download books or information
as freely as we might in case it might be deemed radical or subversive and we are going on some domestic extremists hit-list. And then, of course, we self-censor what we say on the internet as well. So, it will be very quick to slide in some sort of
Orwellian big brother dystopia.