Category Archives: Politics

Censored UK: Where Are We Now?

While we at Sex & Censorship are following – with increasing trepidation – the endless drift towards censorship in the UK, we’re sometimes reminded that many of our supporters can’t keep up with all the news and events. That’s hardly surprising: Britain is currently experiencing wave after wave of moral panic, and it seems that hardly a week goes by without more bad news for free expression. So here is a brief round-up of some of the main issues comprising British censorship at present. I’ve undoubtedly missed stuff: feel free to add it below. Of course, a short blog post can’t hope to explain everything that’s taking place. I’m currently documenting British censorship in a book, Porn Panic: please join our mailing list to be alerted when this is published.

Law

  • The Obscene Publications Act: the grandaddy of all censorship laws, outlawing the distribution of content that might “deprave and corrupt” its audience.
  • Video Recordings Act: since 1984(!) the BBFC (a private organisation) has had the right to censor videos and DVDs, and they seem to have a particular problem with pornography, making UK video among the most censored in Europe.
  • Protection of Children Act: originally designed to criminalise images of child abuse, but sometimes misused, even to harass viewers of legitimate pornography.
  • Dangerous Cartoons Act: yes, you can become a sex offender for possessing a sexual cartoon featuring a character that might appear to be under-age – such as seen in popular Japanese anime cartoons.
  • Extreme Porn Law: three years in jail for possessing images of what the government considers to be “extreme pornography” – even if they are images of yourself participating in consensual sex with your own partner.
  • Rape Porn: a planned extension to the extreme porn law whereby you can be jailed for possessing an image of a sexual act that appears to be non-consensual (whether it is actually consensual or not). Quick, delete those bondage photos!
  • Gagging law: no, it’s not about blowjobs: it’s a serious attack on the rights of political campaigning organisations to speak freely, disguised as a law to regulate lobbying.

Regulation

  • Although they’ve never been mandated by Parliament or the British people to do so, Ofcom have consistently refused to allow hardcore sex on TV: even on adult channels at 3am. Almost all other EU countries, and the US, allow porn to be broadcast.
  • A private body, ATVOD, has taken it upon itself to drive much of the online porn industry out of the country, or out of business, by mandating strict website guidelines that make profitable business effectively impossible. They claim an EU directive gives them this right, although strangely, none of the other 26 EU member states have taken this action, and erotic/sexual material continues to be sold legally elsewhere in Europe without such restrictions.
  • Internet blocking: There were at least two attempts to introduce mandatory Internet censorship laws into Parliament last year; while these both failed, we expect similar laws to have more success in the near future.

ISPs

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  • Mobile networks: since 2004, mobile operators have voluntarily censored Internet access from phones until the owner proves they are over 18. This censorship covers all sorts of material, and many adults as well as teenagers are denied access to much of the Internet from their mobile phones.
  • Broadband filtering: since December, ISPs have voluntarily begun to offer “porn filters” to home-owners, under the pretext of “protecting children”. However, these filters block, not just porn, but dozens of categories of content for entire households, and offer the bill payer a means of restricting Internet access for others in the same household.

Policing Speech

A raft of laws against “malicious communication” and “terrorism” have been used to jail people for speech alone. Increasingly, the important line between expression and action is becoming blurred in the eyes of the UK authorities. These days, writing can be considered terrorism, and jokes tweeted in poor taste can see you dragged into court.

Academia

There is a worrying trend towards increasing censorship within universities, which (one would have hoped) should be beacons of free expression, debate and discussion. For example, several student unions have banned the Sun newspaper, not for its dodgy news or political bias, but for displaying that most terrible thing, the female nipple.

What now?

Censored UK is a reality. We struggle with limited resources to expose these attacks on free expression, and campaign against those who try to push us even further in this direction. If any of this worries or outrages you, please donate to our campaign and help us restore some sanity!

Donate by Paypal, card or Bitcoin
sexandcensorship.org/donate/

Why Are We Protesting on March 15th?

Since the London protest was announced for March 15th, I’ve been asked by some UK pornstars what the event is about. Although Stop Porn Culture (SPC) is well known for its anti-sex campaigning in the US, it is a new introduction to the UK. Their conference next month is aimed at setting up a presence in this country.

SPC is the brainchild of Gail Dines, probably the most prolific anti-sex campaigner around today. She sells a fantasy world in which the all-powerful porn industry is plotting to turn everybody into promiscuous, sex addicted, pornstar wannabes. And she makes a good living from this, having written three books, and regularly featuring in the press and on the speaking circuit.

Dines claims to have studied the porn industry for over 20 years, but a quick read of her work reveals that she neither knows or cares how the industry works. Her job is to scare people into believing that the porn biz is huge and powerful and coming to destroy their children, and then use that fear to build her profile and bank balance. She spreads the usual anti-sex myths – such as porn addiction – and throws in a few of her own, like claiming the porn industry is worth $96 billion, when in reality it might be 2% that size. She is the hero who will take on and destroy the evil Porn Empire. But of course, she needs lots of money to fight this crusade. Although she claims to be a radical, Dines (like so many anti-porn feminists) finds more in common with the religious right than with progressives.

Like all supporters of censorship, Dines hates free speech, and her favourite tactic is to shut down debate. Last year, she attempted to get the industry XBIZ EU event shut down by calling for a boycott of Radisson hotels if they hosted it. Her letter to Radisson, like so much of what she writes, is a work of comic genius, and worth a read.

She attempted similar disruption to our protest of her event, leading her supporters to bombard our event page – which they did. Women who opposed them were attacked especially strongly. Although some supporters asked me to block the haters, I chose instead to support their right to free speech, and responded as follows:

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
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Dear Gail Dines and Stop Porn Culture:

Your coordinated spamming of this event page has been noted. Our response is as follows:

1) We note that we have rattled your cage; we must be doing something right.

2) Unlike you anti-porn fundamentalists, we believe in free expression, and have not acted to block you. We know that pro-porn people are not afforded this right by Stop Porn Culture or Gail Dines. We claim the moral high ground.

3) Although you claim to be on the side of “exploited” women in porn, we know that in reality, you attack them and refuse them a voice. We, on the other hand, represent the women and men who choose to fuck for a living. You will be hearing from them on March 15 in London.

As well as Dines, the conference will feature well known British anti-sex voices, including the journalist Julie Bindel and speakers from Object, which campaigns against everything from strip clubs to lads’ mags.

The purpose of the conference is to attack sexual expression in all of its forms, and to advance the censorship agenda. And the conference will deny the basic rights of women who choose to be pornstars, strippers and sex workers, which is why they will be protesting outside.

The ‘Feminists’ That Cried Wolf

Stripper Edie Lamort writes about snobbish and prudish attacks on strip clubs made in the name of feminism.

This Friday 28th February, Labour MP Diana Johnson, will be reading her proposals for a new bill on Sex Entertainment Venues (SEVs) for the second time in the House of Commons. She is the MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull and the striptease venues near her are Honey Trap and Purple Door. Her bill aims to increase regulations of Sexual Encounter Venues (SEVs) despite these being very heavily regulated anyway. Currently a council can consult with the public on SEVs and ask if it wishes to see a nil policy introduced. Effectively banning striptease in that particular borough. However this is not mandatory and this new legislation seeks to make it mandatory for all councils to go through this procedure, whether they believe it relevant or not.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
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Along with being an admirer of extremist lobby group Object she states: “As well as the specific concerns about the links between the sex entertainment industry and coercion and human trafficking, there is a widespread view that lap-dancing clubs can contribute in a negative way to the general character of an area and detract from the residents’ quality of life, especially if the clubs are located in residential areas or near schools.”

This is the usual line given and is not supported by any evidence. In terms of human trafficking; the very idea of allowing legal licensed venues is to prevent such things. You have to show your passport to the club to prove that you can legitimately work in the UK therefore making it impossible for undocumented or trafficked persons to get a job. Copies of passports must be held by the club as they can be checked by the local council at any time.

Tied up in the ‘concerns’ about coercion is the patronising attitude that good girls couldn’t possibly choose such a job and those who do must be damaged, drug addicts and therefore coerced.

In terms of them contributing negatively to the character of the area one thing I hear frequently, when attending debates on the subject, is the phrase ‘I had no idea these places existed in my borough, but they must be banned.’ So if they had no idea they existed then they weren’t causing that much trouble in the first place. There have also been very strict regulations on the kind of signage and advertising clubs can do for many years now. No club is allowed to display obscene or overt advertising or flyer passers by.

Finally clubs are not usually open during school hours and children do not attend school in the nighttime. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good moral panic?

She also uses quotes from three concerned local residents who do not like striptease venues. They say they fear the customers of such clubs and feel vulnerable. As much as their fears are real to them we must ask if they are founded. Is this fear real or imagined?

The three residents quoted by Diana Johnson may not like the dancers and dislike the customers. They may find us all slutty and trashy for dancing naked but I find their snobbery distasteful. They are welcome to their opinion but I and many others are also entitled to our freedom. The argument of finding customers of strip pubs rowdy and unpleasant could also be used against football supporters, clubbers or rock fans going to a gig.

A few weeks ago, in the club I work in, we had a group of girls in celebrating a birthday. They were great fun, respectful to all and are most welcome to come again. These women were not afraid of dancers or customers. Not all women are quaking with fear because of striptease.

The Stripping the Illusion blog recently put in a freedom of information request to the Kingston-Upon-Hull City Council to see if they too were of the same mind as the three upset residents.

“Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Information Request – 000304/14

With regard to your Freedom of Information request received on 7 February 2014, please find our response below.

‘I am making an enquiry under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, and I would grateful if you would provide me the following information:-

• Details of premises within the city currently licenced for striptease (either under the Police and Crime Act 2009, or the Licensing Act 2003);

• Details of any premises which were licenced for striptease (under the Licensing Act 2003) over the last ten years, i.e. from February 2004;

• Records of any official complaints made against the above premises, either to Kingston-upon-Hull City Council or Humberside Police.’

The only two premises that have been licensed for striptease are Fantasy Bar (now the Honey Trap) and Purple Door. There have been no official complaints made against either of these premises.

We hope that you will be satisfied with our response and should you require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact us.”

It is very easy to criticise and condemn something you don’t understand but the main question here is do we want to live in the prison of other people’s fears? Fears that are not your own but simply those of a tiny yet vocal minority. Whilst their fear is of significance to them we cannot let them dictate to the more courageous majority and have the richness of our lives censored or limited.

This does not only affect dancing venues. If we continue to put the opinions of the local busybody, someone with a grudge or perhaps the interests of a property developer over and above the enjoyment of the rest of society we will all be poorer. This nimbyism doesn’t stop at strip clubs. More and more the objections of a tiny minority of residents are causing venues and arts projects to close.

The Wapping Project in East London is closing due to the complaints of three awkward residents. It will now be turned into ‘luxury’ flats. The George Tavern music venue in Stepney is threatened due to a development of ‘luxury’ flats. The Coliseum is closing, all the clubs by London Bridge have been closed and the Raymond Revue Bar was closed in the disgraceful Soho land grab just before Christmas.

This all amounts to nothing more than a conservative attack on communities and the arts. Hundreds of pubs and venues are closing up and down the country every week. Mostly to make way for ‘luxury’ flats that are bought off plan by foreign investors. Whole areas are being cleansed and sold, not just Soho, but also the Elephant and Castle redevelopment.

Do we wish to live in society full of unaffordable ‘luxury’ flats, in a cultural wasteland, or do we want to keep music, dance (including pole dance) and the arts as part of our lives? A friend of mine who has been a successful club promoter for over two decades now, gave a wry smile recently and said, ‘I don’t know why they are planning a 24 tube service in 2015. At this rate there will be no more clubs in central London to go to.’

Not only is this bill part of ‘the feminism that cried wolf’ syndrome, taking offence to everything, but it’s also the feminism that is the handmaid of property developers.

Another question this raises for me is why are ‘feminists’ such cowards and why do they seek to blame others all the time for their issues? I know the world is not perfect but my formative years were during the 90s where everyone went a bit hippy. People went travelling and ‘found themselves’, people did Yoga, meditation and therapies of all kinds. Essentially people took responsibility for themselves. They therapied themselves silly, sometimes with charlatan gurus admittedly, but the over all philosophy of the time was, ‘if you have personal issues you can deal with them, gain power over them and be happier.’ A flotation tank and some crystals do not solve all problems but this was an overall healthier mentality than today’s finger pointing.

Now people do not look to themselves to see why they are afraid or if their fears have any foundation, they instead they accuse the other. They point the finger and say ‘it must be banned’. Whether the narrative is ‘porn makes me feel bad’, ‘men who’ve looked at other women may gaze lustfully at me’ or even ‘she’s prettier than me, I feel bad, it’s her fault’. They need to ask themselves questions first before blaming the other. It’s not always someone else’s fault and it’s very important we get the balance right.

Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates recently attacked Helen Grant MP when she dared to suggest girls who don’t like traditional sports should try other types. A reasonable suggestion in my opinion and as someone who enjoys ‘feminine’ dance as well as ‘masculine’ British Military Fitness I appreciate the differences and the benefits of varied forms of exercise. Apparently teenagers can be awkward and say they don’t want to mess their hair. Err ….. well of course and hasn’t this always been the case? I don’t think difficult teenagers are a modern phenomena. This is just another way that people abdicate personal responsibility by pointing the finger at external factors.

Are today’s young women really so feeble minded? I know my nieces aren’t. I’m sure our athletes or cheerleaders aren’t, I know my pole dancing friends aren’t. This modern strand of feminism really is in danger of being the feminism that cried wolf and simply makes a mockery out of a once honorable movement. Laura Bates and Everyday Sexism being a good example of this. Some of the stories published on the website are of actual sexism and some even of criminal acts, these are valid complaints. However there are a great deal that are simply small-minded whining and these will only serve to damage the movement.

Whether it be your local pole dance venue, your local music venue or arts project; these should be saved and not closed down on the whims and complaints of a tiny handful of residents. This bill should set a threshold, a minimum number of complaints, before a successful business can be closed. These complaints should also be backed up by police evidence. Thus preventing the local busybody from ruining everyone else’s fun.

Diane Johnson MP is using hashtag #peoplepoweronstripclubs‬‬‬ if you wish to join the debate.

Letter to MPs on Criminalising “Rape Porn”

This week, the following letter was sent to a number of MPs and Lords, to raise concerns over the planned “rape porn” legislation. This was sent on behalf of Sex & Censorship and an alliance of other sexual freedom campaigns: Backlash, Consenting Adult Action Network, Campaign Against Censorship and the Sexual Freedom Coalition.

We write to express grave concern regarding S16 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which will extend the existing ban on extreme pornography (S63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act). This section is poorly defined. It will have the unintended consequence of criminalising the possession of material that depicts consensual sex, bondage and power-play fantasies common to millions.

Pornography of all kinds has become much more accessible since the Internet has become available to the general public. In that time, the prevalence of sexual abuse has not increased in the United Kingdom and may have decreased. It is simplistic & mistaken to suggest that pornography is a cause of violence against women. Correlation is not causation. Serious academic studies of pornography and sexual violence (1) show that increased availability of pornography is, in fact, associated with less violence and abuse.

Fictional and consensual portrayals of submission and domination are a common and popular sexual fantasy, as recently illustrated by the Fifty Shades of Grey novels. Indeed one of the largest surveys ever undertaken in Britain (2) indicated that nearly a third of us have fantasies about elements of forced sex, with approximately 2.2 million men and women having violent sexual fantasies. With around 90% of men and 60% of women viewing pornography, and with so many enjoying fantasies of this nature, the danger is that this poorly defined legislation will have a huge impact.

The Bill’s Impact Assessment suggests that the number of cases cannot be predicted. When extreme material was criminalised (by S63(7) CJIA 2008) government ministers predicted there would only be 30 cases a year, but the reality was very different. In the last year for which the MoJ has provided data (2012/13), there were 1,348 prosecutions. Given that the number of people who enjoy material that features sexual bondage and power-play is so high, we fear government will create thousands of new sex offenders, most of whom will be entirely harmless law-abiding citizens.

There is also a problem with government guidance for the public and prosecutors. Just prior to the enactment of S63(7) CJIA 2008, in response to reservations, the House of Lords was promised that meaningful guidance would be issued to explain those categories that were difficult to define. This never happened. In fact prosecutors were so unsure of the meaning of the law that there have been some trials of material which we are confident Parliament never intended. For example, the prosecution of barrister Simon Walsh, a former aide to Boris Johnson, whose legal practice had included investigating corruption within British police forces. His career in public life was ruined by a prosecution. It was rejected by a jury after 90 minutes deliberation. Prosecutors failed to prove that images depicting consensual sex acts between him and two other gay men were ‘extreme’.

The prosecution also threatened the reputation of the Crown Prosecution Service as an impartial public servant by showing that gay men risked having their lives destroyed in court over intimate acts which were consensual, safe and commonly practiced within the LGBT community. Bad laws do not harm only the individuals prosecuted; they also harm the institutions tasked with enforcing them, and increase even further the costs of the justice system to the taxpayer. This proposed law will also traumatise large numbers of women and men by having their private sexual fantasies examined and shamed in public.

It is therefore vital that S16 of this Bill be refined to limit the scope of the ban to images that are produced through real harm or lack of consent. Fantasy portrayals of forced/power-play sex are too commonly enjoyed to be reasonably subject to prohibition.

We appeal to you to refine this legislation. We also ask to be permitted to put detailed evidence to Parliament at the committee stages. Finally, we ask if you would be willing to host an event in Parliament, at which representatives could speak, so that members of both Houses can better understand what is at stake.

References.

1. Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review: 2009: Milton Diamond
2. British Sexual Fantasy Research Project: 2007. ISBN 978-0-713-99940-2

O2 and the Lack of Internet Filter Transparency

When the large ISPs rolled out their poorly-named “porn filters” in December, they all arrived missing an essential feature: a tool to check whether each filter blocked a specific URL or not. Without these tools from Sky, BT or TalkTalk, anti-filter campaigners resorted to using the only such service available, which happened to be from O2. O2, being a mobile provider, had actually been filtering content since 2004, but its URL checker (urlchecker.o2.co.uk) had largely been ignored for several years.

The storm of abuse that O2 received in December was therefore quite unfair: it was targeted, not for being the worst offender, but for being the most transparent of all the mobile and broadband Internet providers. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before O2 took its URL checking service offline; and although the company denies this was done to stop people sending angry tweets, the page is still offline today, displaying the message:

Our URL checker is currently unavailable as we are updating the site.

Perhaps the provider really is updating the site… but let’s not hold our breaths. If I were a manager at O2, I probably would have reached the same conclusion: there’s no point being transparent when transparency is bad for business. Every other ISP, watching O2‘s support Twitter ID get bombarded during early December, will have also decided not to offer an online URL checker. Quite simply, market forces will punish any provider that breaks from the pack and provides information about how its filter works, and which sites it blocks.

It is therefore disgraceful that the government allowed the filtering to be put in place without mandating provider transparency. Countless sites have undoubtedly been blocked in error, but it is very difficult to find out which ones are blocked by which providers.

Sadly, we cannot expect Claire Perry MP, who is responsible for this mess, to call for this problem to be remedied. Transparency will reveal the huge extent of overblocking, which will be as bad for her career as it is for ISPs’ reputations.

It is up to the public to expose this deliberate suppression of information, and to shame government into action. If you care about Internet freedom, please tweet BT, TalkTalk, Sky, David Cameron and Claire Perry to ask why we cannot easily see what is being censored; and also ask O2 when their URL checker will be back online. Use the #CensoredUK hashtag in your tweets, and we will retweet them!

UK Government Admits Filters Have Failed

Poor old Claire Perry. Having championed Internet censorship child-protection filters, and become a hero to the Tory right and Daily Mail, she appears to have pissed off much of the remainder of the online public. She has steadfastly denied that filters are prone to massive and eternal overblocking, calling such claims “fanciful” only a few days ago. But, as long predicted, overblocking is a huge problem, and as anybody with an understanding of the technology can explain to Perry and Cameron, it can’t ever be adequately resolved: the problem is just too big.

Perry and Cameron have regularly insisted that ISPs can be left to run filters without need for regulation. So it must be enormously embarrassing for them that the UK Government this week announced plans to introduce – in a small way – regulation. In response to an avalanche of news about inappropriate blocking – from ChildLine to the Samaritans – the government has announced it will create a white-list of sites that must not be blocked.

The clear motivation for this is to avoid any more embarrassing news stories highlighting how inaccurate the filters are. The government can’t hope to prevent overblocking any more than the ISPs can, but at least they can ensure that key UK charities are not blocked. This announcement is an admission of failure.

But this move should not be greeted as a step in the right direction. In order to create and manage the white-list, the government needs to create – at taxpayer expense – an Internet censorship team, albeit one with a limited role, for the time being. The new list cannot possibly hope to resolve the majority of blocking errors – all it can do is ensure a small, elite list of websites remains accessible to under-18s.

Overblocking isn’t the main problem, filters are

So overblocking will continue – it just won’t attract as much media attention as before. But even if it could be resolved, this white-list avoids the critical concerns about the filters: overblocking isn’t the real problem. The problem is – still – the filters themselves.

The government still insists on perpetuating the dangerous myth that children are in danger online, and that the answer to this danger is censorship. It continues to pretend there is evidence that allowing children to explore the Internet can be harmful. It continues to ignore the fact that parental control software for PCs has been available for years, and child-friendly tablets are now on sale everywhere, making the need for further filtering redundant. It continues to spread the myth that denying children access to information is safe, rather than harmful. It continues to blur the very important line between young adults and pre-pubescent children. It continues to provide abusers a tool with which to deny their wife, husband, child, access to vital information.

The government admitted this week that the filtering programme has failed. But they maintain the pretence that the failure is a small one, and can be easily repaired. A government white-list will resolve these problems just as well as a severed limb can be repaired using a Post-It note.

If the UK government truly cares about child welfare, it will defend the right of teenagers to freely access the Internet, and it will educate parents as to how they can protect and educate their younger children. Of course they won’t: and meanwhile, they have created a new censorship function within government that we should be watching very carefully indeed.

Filtering: Definition of Irony?

Home of Democracy?
Home of Democracy? (Image license info)

While browsing some old emails, I discovered the invitation to Claire Perry’s “let’s censor the Internet” committee (or a “parliamentary inquiry into the online protection of children”, as it was formally known). The email begins with this delightful intro:

“Dear Mr Barnett – apologises for sending this via gmail unfortunately the Parliament I.T. systems do not allow us to send and recieve emails to strictly broadband. I do hope the below is something you can consider. Please respond using my gmail email. Many thanks, …”

Parliament, like many large organisations, had already implemented filtering on its Internet connections; how many children are protected by this mechanism is unclear, but obviously MPs cannot be trusted to have open access to the network.

Perry has spent the past two years arguing vigorously that overblocking rarely occurs and is easily dealt with; yet evidence to the contrary was already staring her in the face. If Parliament can’t even get a porn filter right, how is the entire country supposed to do so?

Dear Claire, About Those Filters…

#CensoredUK copyDear Claire Perry MP,

I know you remember me – we’ve met twice. The first time, I was a witness at your parliamentary inquiry into “protecting children online” – although of course, we all knew that was a euphemism for justifying Internet censorship. I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear the torrent of anecdote and misinformation that passed for “evidence”, and was duly noted by the MPs.

If the event hadn’t been so serious, it would have been comical. Jacqui Smith (whose expertise in pornography extended as far as accidentally claiming for some on expenses) was sure that porn was leading more people to try anal sex – although she apparently had no evidence that this was true, and didn’t explain why it might be a bad thing anyway. The anti-sex group Object was, of course, represented, and of course furnished the inquiry with horrific (but vague) tales of rape caused by porn. But then, Object are as fond of linking everything to rape as the Daily Mail is of linking everything to cancer.

I did my best to point out that, if there is any link between porn and sexual violence at all, evidence suggest a benign one: increasing sexual freedom and openness (including easy access to pornography) correlates with a decline in sexual violence. And psychologists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that porn isn’t harmful – although conservative sexual attitudes probably do cause lasting damage. But puzzlingly, the MPs showed fairly little curiosity, and seemed to note down wild claims just as easily as they did hard evidence. There already appeared to be a general acceptance that something must be done.

I was especially worried to be the only person defending the basic concept of free speech (although I discovered later that Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group had appeared in another session). Free speech was once something Britain prided itself on, and still today, many Britons live in the mistaken belief that our country is founded on this idea. But the reality is otherwise: for decades, Britain has been easily panicked into surrendering rights in exchange for (false) promises of greater protection for our children. I was proud to defend free speech in Britain’s historic Parliament, but I felt that myself and Jim should not have been left to fly that flag alone.

Although you made a good show of listening carefully to all the arguments, it was already known at that stage that you favoured an Internet filter. To my eyes, it seemed that you had reached your conclusion and were going through the process of gathering evidence before you announced your support for a filter. And so it turned out.

You had been warned that the first experiment in filtering for “child protection”, on mobile networks, had been a catastrophe. It is simply not possible to classify hundreds of millions of websites as either “safe” or “over 18” without making vast numbers of mistakes. Yes, it’s pretty easy to block most commercial porn (in fact those sites voluntarily self-label as adult content), but in between kink.com and disney.com there is a near-infinite amount of hard-to-classify content.

Much of the content and many of the forums on sex education, sex advice, gay and lesbian advice, information on sexual infections, and so on, is aimed at teenagers, and yet has been largely blocked from mobile phones held by under-18s. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All sorts of content has found itself blocked on mobile networks. The Open Rights Group even found a site selling engraved silver gifts that had been blocked because it sold cigarette lighters – classed as “tobacco products” and therefore censored by the blind, dumb filtering software.

And these sites aren’t just blocked for children: millions of adults too have found themselves unable to reach “over 18” sites. There are many reasons why some adults don’t want to contact their provider and ask for the block to be removed; and even among those who do, some have found the block replaced a day later, presumably through some technical error.

This isn’t “filtering”, it’s censorship, and it already affects the way millions of people see the Internet. And now you want to repeat an experiment that has failed catastrophically, but on a far greater scale. Home connections, unlike mobile connections, are shared. Now, as well as asking their ISP for the right to look at “adult content”, people have to ask their parent, their landlord, their flatmate, their partner.

The second time we met was in the Sky News studio. I know you remember me, because you described me as a “responsible pornographer”. I felt dirty. I tried to put two questions to you, but you talked over them, as politicians are trained to do. So here are those questions again:

  1. I’m a parent: are you suggesting that my partner and I should censor our home Internet connection because we happen to have a child in the house? Should parents set their filters on or off?
  2. How can you prevent a repeat of the huge overblocking problem that already appears on mobile networks?

Since you wouldn’t answer these, I will: 1) There is no sense in a filter that affects a whole household rather than individuals; 2) You can’t prevent overblocking. You can promise to, just as you can promise to stop the tide. But you can’t. It’s impossible.

And now, the ISP filters are here. And guess what? Overblocking has already been reported. Of course, you (and the ISPs) will dismiss these as teething problems, but unlike teething problems, they ain’t going away.

We shouldn’t worry about teens though. They have doubtless already downloaded the Pirate Browser, or bought themselves a USB key that bypasses the filter. The net result is that nobody is safer, but many people have had their view of the Internet censored. The genius of your approach – bullying the ISPs – is that you have done all this without the messy business of passing a law or having a debate in parliament! Who needs democracy anyway? The Chinese and Iranians are, no doubt, taking notes.

I look forward to our next meeting.

Regards
Jerry Barnett
Founder, Sex & Censorship

#CensoredUK – We Trended!

#CensoredUK copyYesterday’s #CensoredUK Twitter campaign made a splash online, trending nationwide across the UK. We launched the campaign to supporters late on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, regular tweets were being made and by late afternoon, the hashtag was spotted trending in London and across the UK. We often hear people say that the British are more concerned with security or prudery than free expression, but yesterday suggested otherwise. Many British people are outraged with attempts to censor our media.

As of this morning at least The Telegraph had covered the campaign.

The twin strands of this campaign – Sex and Censorship – are deliberately chosen. Today’s push towards Internet censorship comes from two camps: puritans who think sexual expression is harmful, and those who seek to gain power by controlling information. These two groups came together at the ATVOD conference on child protection which was held in London yesterday afternoon. We heard a series of hysterical claims about the effects of pornography, but were offered no evidence to back them.

The Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, described in detail a gang rape of an 11 year old; she claimed that participants had said the experience was “like being in a porn film”; and then claimed that this was all the evidence she needed to conclude that porn causes sexual violence.

But (even assuming that the story is true as she related), anecdotes are not a substitute for statistical evidence. We know that porn availability does not correlate with a rise in sexual violence; in fact, we know that the opposite is true. Sexual violence has fallen sharply in most developed countries in the past three decades, as have most other forms of violence.

They do not have the moral high ground – we do! We do not “protect our children” by trying to hide the world away from them. We don’t make them safer by allowing them to hit puberty without knowing what is happening to their bodies, and what the implications are.

We live in an increasingly safe society, but a coalition of campaigners want to convince us that thing are getting worse. A rising moral panic is under way; the purpose of the Sex & Censorship campaign is counter those messages, and replace hysteria with evidence-based thinking.

We thank everyone who has followed so far, and look forward to your support in coming campaigns!

#CensoredUK – Day of Action – Thursday 12 December 2013

Online day of action: #CensoredUK Thursday 12th December. Please copy and send the following tweet (and see below for more sample tweets) – and follow us on Twitter.

For three decades, the UK has been sleepwalking into censorship. It would be inaccurate to say we still are: now we are running at full speed! Most of the censorship measures have been introduced under the banner of “protecting children”; now we are told our children are under threat from the Internet. And yet no reliable evidence of a threat has been produced.

On the contrary, a generation has grown up with Internet access, and teenage pregnancy rates are at their lowest since 1969. Since domestic violence cases peaked at over 1.1m in 1993, they have fallen by over 70%. And these trends don’t just affect the UK. In the United States, rates of sexual violence fell by 64% from 1995 to 2010.

But the evidence doesn’t deter those who want to limit access to the Internet for British citizens. This Thursday, a conference will take place in London, aimed at persuading the government that even more controls are needed – again, to “protect children.”

This Thursday, please use the #CensoredUK hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and other social media to register your opposition to any further moves to censor the Internet: the UK must have the same access to information as citizens in other democratic countries.

Here are some sample tweets you can copy and adapt… or just write your own (and don’t forget the hashtag). Let’s get this M***F**** trending!

  1. Join the #CensoredUK online day of action! Click for details: http://bit.ly/1aUtIsn
  2. Is the UK sleepwalking into censorship? http://onforb.es/1gYULrT #CensoredUK
  3. Cameron: UK will block “extremist” web sites http://bit.ly/1jMkeHv #CensoredUK
  4. Sky, TalkTalk, BT, Virgin to introduce Internet filters http://bbc.in/J4JNVX #CensoredUK
  5. China praises UK Internet censorship plans http://bit.ly/1hM5aKj #CensoredUK
  6. Tim Berners-Lee warns of Internet censorship rise http://bit.ly/19BfjRT #CensoredUK
  7. UK “porn filter” will also censor political speech http://bit.ly/18B4dfN #CensoredUK
  8. “Porn filter” will also block conspiracy theories http://bit.ly/IP1b0j #CensoredUK
  9. British companies are blocking gay websites http://bit.ly/J4Li6l #CensoredUK
  10. Why is the UK the most censored country in Europe? http://bit.ly/1hMfNwH #CensoredUK
  11. British Library censors Hamlet as “too violent” http://bbc.in/1e4QMfQ #CensoredUK