In his latest desperate attempt to make it look as if he cares about important issues, David Cameron seems set on ushering in an era of internet censorship in the UK. It sometimes feels like these things come in cycles – a liberal item like gay marriage or the equalisation of the age of consent, followed by a reactionary bone thrown to the anti-sex moral crusaders.
This one is, in that sense, the latest in a pretty long line, including the crackdowns already imposed on “extreme pornography” which have seen the police consider charging someone in relation to photographs of a person wearing a gas mask – yes, kids, it might restrict breathing, so it could be illegal – as well as earlier rulings like the Spanner case regarding BDSM. We now have a situation in which the relatives of victims are deemed to have become experts in areas where all they really have to offer is grief and anger, and people who may enjoy things in the bedroom that, while not perhaps to your taste, are nevertheless legal, risk imprisonment, notoriety in the press, and public shame, should they be found to possess a photograph of acts that themselves are perfectly legal.
And yet, Mr Cameron wants to go further. He wants to impose censorship on every internet connection in the country. Worse, he wishes to bully corporations into doing this on his behalf, threatening laws if they don’t do his will.
Images of child abuse are already illegal; it is, in my view, unlikely that a default block on domestic connections will do anything to curtail that, as those who share such images aren’t searching for them via Google. It’s instructional to remember that when you hear talk of people being arrested for “making indecent images of children” they almost certainly have not done that in the sense that a normal person would imagine. They haven’t taken a camera and filmed or photographed a vile act of child abuse – for which, of course, they would more rightly get a long sentence for assault.
What they have done is downloaded something to their computer, likely taken by another person. The courts, the CPS and the police have a cosy agreement that this is tantamount to “making” an image, because a digital copy is created. People can be charged with a crime for which there is a longer sentence available, and it’s good PR in as much as it makes it sound like the police are actually stopping the abusers.
What would really stop them would be restoring the funding that’s been cut from them by this very same government, and investing time and effort not just in tracking down the consumers of vile material, and trumpeting to the press that you’ve taught someone “making kiddie porn”, but catching those who really are doing so, and thereby really doing something concrete to protect real victims.
But, labelling everyone a maker, and taking police cameras on dawn raids with you, certainly gives an impression of doing something useful, doesn’t it? Much like David Cameron’s new policy of bullying companies to implement a flawed solution.
If there is to be censorship – which Cameron wants – we should not let it be established by private letters between ministers and corporations. ISPs should call the government’s bluff, and refuse to implement any of these proposals until they are passed into law – and that law should explicitly list exactly what is not allowed, so that we can all see clearly which search terms, which sex acts, which types of information are being prohibited “for the good of society.”
Unless we do that, we are allowing the sort of censorship that will creep and extend, without any scrutiny. We shouldn’t, in my view, allow any censorship at all – everyone should register for an uncensored internet feed, to ensure the list can’t simply be used as a “register of perverts” open to the scrutiny of private investigators and tabloid hacks.
This is a horrible idea for freedom and democracy, and for any consenting adult in the UK who’s ever considered doing something out of the ordinary in bed. It must be stopped, or mitigated.
I’ve written on this stupidity in the past, and there are three posts that it’s worth referring to on this site:
I suggest, somewhat tongue in cheek, that given the day on which this announcement was made, we should refer to the filtering system by whatever name is given to the royal baby, to ensure that we never forget.