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From The Kernel Archives

Porn filter ‘censorship by the back door’

By Mic Wright

“Are you a consenting adult? Wish to look at pornographic, adult or ‘harmful’ material? No problem. Please tick the pervert box over here. Oh, it’ll just be stored on our system. Nothing to worry about. I mean, it’s not like you hear about security breaches.”

Ah, the beautiful future the Government hopes to impose on us! A world in which adults are obliged to opt-in to see the whole of the internet or find themselves surfing in a “safe zone” imposed by their ISP and helpful ministers.

The coalition is launching a national consultation today on an idea which would, they claim, “give parents more control over material their children view online”. Well, guess what? Parents already have that: it’s called the off switch.

There’s also the option of not putting an unsupervised computer in your child’s bedroom, or installing software to restrict the sites they can access.

My parents imposed a very effective system to stop me surfing for grot when I was a kid. My dad said: “Don’t look at anything you wouldn’t want me to know you’d looked at because I will find out.” That’s good parenting right there.

In fact, most effective parenting is based on a little bit of Big Brother-style intimidation.

The sites that the government proposes to shut out with its new filtering plan don’t only include those hosting sexually explicit material – a difficult category to define at the best of times – but also websites which “promote” suicide, self-harm, gambling or eating disorders.

This is another move that will encourage parents to side-step their responsibilities, shift responsibility for child welfare onto the state and turn the internet into a soft play area for tots. Not all of us have sprogs, and many of us will never have them. Being forced to constantly fight off shouts of “think of the children” is maddening.

The consultation is offering the choice between an automatic filter which will weed out “potentially harmful sites” or a series of safety settings. The second option, dubbed “active choice”, would give individuals the choice of blocking material such as 15-rated films or even social networking sites when they sign up for broadband, buy a computer or get a new phone.

I have experienced how utterly arbitrary the settings of these blocks can be. One of my personal blogs is called Intercourse With Biscuits – hospital slang for “fucking crackers”. It is inaccessible to users of O2 and Vodafone smartphones thanks to internet filters that must be removed before users can access “explicit” sites.

Complaining about the proposals on Twitter, I was met with tweets from parents saying that having kids would alter my perspective. I don’t believe it would. Speaking to friends who have created a little human confirms that.

Censorship fundamentally breaks the web. Parents are responsible for the content their children consume and allowing the government to decide what is acceptable opens up all sorts of horrors. It’s really quite simple.

It is tempting to the nanny state to grant itself powers to deem content “explicit” or “inappropriate” for reasons other than child protection. We scorn the Great Firewall of China, but it seems many in the UK are fine with the notion of applying what amounts to state censorship to the web.

This is an iniquitous move and all of us, parents included, should stand against it for the good of the internet and for freedom of expression. If parents want to filter their children’s internet usage, that is up to them. But expecting adults to have to ask for unfettered internet access is disgraceful.


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