By Stephen Hoffman
Yesterday I received an email from the Prime Minister, as I’m sure thousands of other Conservative party members did, extolling the virtues of his latest policy. Were I to believe the hyperbole, I would have thought Cameron had declared peace in our time.
The truth was a little more prosaic than that. David Cameron to appease the journalists and editors of the Daily Mail has tried to make the internet in the UK a place where households would have to opt out of automatic porn filters, rather than the current system where they are allowed to opt in to filters.
Superficially this may seem a good policy, but the reality is this policy reeks of the worst excesses of the interfering, overbearing, and controlling nanny state. First of all, if consenting adults would like to watch porn, they shouldn’t be stopped from doing so. They are doing nothing wrong, it’s a lifestyle choice and nobody else’s business.
We may not like that people watch it, but it is their individual choice and the state should have no role in stopping people viewing it, unless it’s child porn. Padraig Reidy, of the Index on Censorship, explains this perfectly stating “people should not have to opt out of filters. If we have an opt out filter we have a kind of default censorship in place.”
Furthermore, pornography in most forms is adult fantasy. Moreover, considering that one in four internet searches are for pornography, pornography can no longer be presented as ‘deviant’. The 25% of the population who may be looking at porn are generally well-adjusted individuals.
It will not fight back against child porn, which is a scourge that existing laws can deal with. Indeed, those organisations who fight strongly against paedophilia do not think a laser like focus on porn is the best way to help abused children.
Many will say that my argument ignores the fact that we should do all we can to protect children but in fact the opposite is true. Currently responsible parents can ensure through opting in to pornographic filters that their children do not watch porn. They also have the chance to discuss openly with you sexual education and pornography.
It therefore comes down to parental responsibility. Through forcing an opt out system on parents the state is trying to become our parent. The state should not be in the business of parenting, as this diminishes personal and parental responsibility.
As Sebastian Payne points out in an insightful article for the Spectator, trying regulate the internet in ways the current proposals outline, is nearby impossible. The only way we could do is if we regulated the internet to the extent China and Iran do – two countries with some of the most illiberal records towards human rights possible.
As someone who believes strongly in internet freedom as a way of promoting individual freedom, this is not a path I would not want to go down. I urge Cameron to think again and deposit this ill-thought-out and knee-jerk populist policy in the bin. This is one issue where perfect U-Turn should be performed.
As a keen student of history, I know that prohibition – whether it is of alcohol, drugs, food or sex – rarely works. What it does is drive products underground into the hands of criminals where it is less regulated and more dangerous. In effect, these proposals will make pornography less safe, relegating it to places in the internet black holes.
Additionally, the automatic porn filters are likely to be wieldy and block even innocent searches. For instance, Terrence Higgins Trust is banned by some internet service providers because it contains some illicit information about sexual health advice. You could also have a situation where birdwatchers will be looking up blue tits and the search be automatically blocked.
I also find it somewhat Orwellian that the proposals want Ofcom to drive a more family-friendly web. It is not the job of a regulator or the state to try and force what their views of family-friendly are on the rest of us. It is not their job to try and control the internet to what they see fit, due to the crimes of a minority. Just as with minimum pricing of alcohol, this policy will punish the majority for the sins of an extreme minority.
As a Conservative who strongly believes in liberty, I urge Cameron to think again. Otherwise an Orwellian state of affairs on the internet will be created.