Alert: Tories Promise Chinese-Style Internet Censorship

For about five years, I’ve tracked state plans to introduce mandatory Internet censorship under the guise of “protecting children from pornography”, and for the past 18 months or so, I’ve documented these activities on this blog. This drive to censorship has been backed by carefully orchestrated scaremongering about children being “harmed” by pornography by an alliance of government regulators, religious moralists and anti-sex feminists. Most recently (and disturbingly) the child-protection charity NSPCC joined the party, with a deeply unscientific piece of market research.

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Today, the Tories confirm that they will, indeed, enforce blocking of web content, if they win the election. To summarise the steps leading up to this:

  1. In 2010, a new regulator, ATVOD, was created to regulate UK video-on-demand providers. ATVOD has focused almost all its efforts on closing down UK-based porn businesses that don’t comply with extremely stringent age-verification controls.
  2. ATVOD has devoted its own resources to lobbying for more powers for itself, complaining that no other country has implemented the same controls, and thus UK citizens are still able to access pornography overseas (or in other words, they’re complaining that no other government has the same prudish and panic-prone view of pornography as ours).
  3. In December 2014, a new law was introduced, banning online pornography that exceeds the BBFC’s strict R18 rating. Sadly, many pro-porn campaigners got distracted by controls on squirting and BDSM, and missed the bigger picture – as I wrote in December, “well over 99% of the world’s [adult] websites are now technically illegal here in the UK”.
  4. The last, inevitable step is to introduce mandatory website blocking of the vast majority of adult content worldwide that does not comply with the UK’s puritanical regulations.

This new law would empower an “independent regulator” (almost certainly ATVOD) to ensure that non-compliant material will be blocked. The result would be the blocking of millions of sites to ALL UK citizens. Although this march to censorship has been done in the name of child protection, there will be no official way for UK adults to access porn outside of the UK (although technical workarounds such as Tor will be easy enough to implement).

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Based on the experience so far with the optional “porn filter” (which blocks far more than pornography), we can be certain that this new mass-blocking of websites will encompass far more than porn. Indeed, the government has already signalled a desire to block “extremist” sites – whatever they might be, and media corporations have long lobbied for blocking of pirated content. If implemented, this law puts the power of Internet censorship into the hands of a non-governmental body, and certainly marks the end of an open Internet for UK citizens.

Shamefully, these plans have been backed by certain porn companies, both British and American, which see a commercial advantage to the blocking of their competitors.

Finally, the end-game of the Porn Panic has arrived: now the task of building a broad movement for free speech begins. This was never about pornography.

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30 thoughts on “Alert: Tories Promise Chinese-Style Internet Censorship”

  1. This reminds me of the panics about children watching video nasties in the 1980s and the first bulletin board porn during the 90s. There’s nothing new about (certain aspects of ) the media being blamed for our social evils even if there’s no conclusive proof. Even if you censor porn sites, there will be those on The Net willing to subvert it (just look at all the blogs and forums with scanned porn).

  2. This is being hailed as a victory by the Daily Mail but it will be a victory for The Guardian and their readers too.

    It will be a vote winner with both sections of the middle classes, the middle class right and left who both hate sexual expression.

  3. This smacks of paranoia tbh. Don’t get me wrong, it is, of course, prudent to protect children from things that may cause them harm, but the protecting children from harm argument must never be used as an excuse to censor free speech, which I suspect may be happening here. Besides, there are already a number of programs (CyberPatrol and NetNanny to name but two) which parents can download in order to prevent their little ones viewing anything inappropriate.

    1. I don’t see the point of protecting children from porn per se, since nobody can produce any hard evidence that it has a direct link to any adverse behaviour.

      1. There was a report given to US president Richard Nixon back in 1970 called the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography that showed there was no evidence for pornography doing any harm to society or the youth. Specifically, “there was insufficient evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials played a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior.” Nixon chose to reject that report despite what it said so that he can go underway with his own anti-pornography campaign.

        Of course politicians don’t listen to the evidence that porn don’t link to any adverse behavior.

        1. I recall Hugh Hefner mentioning the Meese Commission, which occurred in much harsher political climate of the Reagan administration. Inevitably, it was very biased. At the same time, I believe the Canadian government commissioned the Frazer report, which primarily wanted to examine the effect of legalising prostitution but gave a favourable view on porn, though some feared its conclusions could be misinterpreted.

  4. Even if the intention was to ‘protect children’ (it’s not and is clearly a bid to control the Internet, albeit completely absurd) what is proposed will have the opposite effect. As noted the most obvious response to censrship of the Net is to go down the TOR or P2P route, which will expose young Net users to hazards that are invisible to parents, ISPs and eveyone else.

    Most of the porn viewed online is free – all that will happen pre the Tory proposal becoming Law is that a vast amount of this free stuff will be cloud stored and then shared at leisure. That’ll prompt the increased use of content scanners and teenagers being prosecuted for distributing porn, getting themselves on the SOR for life. A great way to protect the kids. And 16 & 17 year olds who can legally have sex are to be banned from actually seeing videos of other people doing it.

  5. Porn addiction: 10% of 12-13 year olds worried about habits – BBC News

    So I wrote to them;

    A report on the dangers of porn to children, what could be simpler for a journalist to report on?

    After all porn is by definition bad. Like drugs lots of people have tried them, but no one will defend drug dealing.

    So in Sima Kotecha’s report no surprise that no alternative voice was sought to challenge a report that had set out to find statistics to get upset about.

    So did the reporter question the “shocking” statistics that 12-13 year olds watch porn? Seeing that 12-13 is when puberty is happening it maybe not unusual for them to be interested in sex, to be exploring their bodies and masturbating.

    When children said they were worried about becoming addicted to sex, how was the question asked?
    How many were worried what would happen if they were sexually repressed? Or was that question not asked?

    Do the authors of the report think that masturbation is wrong? Or just porn?

    Is masturbation ok as long as it done reading the bible?

    What should children be looking at when they masturbate if not pornography?

    If porn is so bad why does not the Church, State, schools, NSPCC produce erotic material that can get the kids “off” but in a way that they approve of?

    After all these bodies have had a monopoly of the subject of sex for 2000 years why did they not produce that wholesome erotic material then instead of just banning everything?

    Does the NSPCC think that it is OK that young people can have sex at 16 but if they film it is a crime and the go on the sex offenders register?

    Does the reporter and the witnesses have a religious viewpoint? Are bringing their non rational hatred of sex to the table dressed up as pseudo science and medicine?

    How has sexual repression worked out for the Catholic Church and Muslim countries throughout the world?

    What damage to children has been proved in documented peer reviewed medical research? Not cherry picked anecdotes spoon fed to gullible journalists by organisations with an agenda.

    So a pretty lazy shoddy piece of journalism – radio 4 is supposed to be intelligent radio – please challenge this puff reporting.

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