Online Pornography – A moral panic


The Digital Economy Bill spans a number of issues, not all of them strictly related other than that they all, to varying extents, are to do with `digital’ matters. It represents a bold attempt by Government to bring legislation up to date with the rapidly changing cyber landscape, but as such, runs the risk of becoming rapidly obsolete as new technologies are introduced. Overall, the Bill has the characteristics of an emergency patch, designed to cover perceived statutory gaps, rather than a systematic programme to enable the UK Government to truly harness the opportunities, and mitigate the risks, offered by the digital revolution.

This report examines the issues introduced by Part 3 of the Bill, namely the issue of online pornography and the Government’s plan to implement compulsory age-verification, in the declared hope of `keeping children safe online’, with powers created to censor non-compliant websites, by preventing them from being accessed in the UK. The report looks at the facts surrounding the supposed mischief the legislation seeks to correct; the effectiveness of the legislation in actually correcting it; and at the collateral effects which are likely to arise.

There is a lot to go on. The Bill falls short in a number of respects: the evidence relied on as support for the proposals is woefully inadequate; insufficient account is taken of privacy and security in the age-verification framework; censorship measures are likely to have a disproportionate effect on sexual minorities; expenses will have to be incurred, and met by either the taxpayer or private enterprise; and few of the measures contemplated are likely to have a decisive effect on the ills they seek to correct.

No other liberal democracy has censorship laws as draconian as those proposed. And in the face of growing clamour to regulate the Internet more intensely, it is essential that the Government does not succumb to moral panics, but rather proceeds with caution, bearing in mind the key Conservative values of individual liberty, small government, and the market economy. This legislation is inimical to all of those values, and requires a radical rethink.

Read our full paper here: Online Pornography: A Moral Panic