Tag Archives: censored uk

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.

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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This Anti-Porn Law is Our Clause 28

My earliest memories of a sexual minority being unjustly targeted and criminalised come from the gay scene in the late 80s. Friends who came to London to dance their youth away and to go cottaging, who had never had an interest in politics, suddenly found themselves getting up in arms, angry and belligerent, when the Thatcher government’s notorious Clause 28 came into force.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned the promotion, and even the discussion in schools, of homosexuality as a valid form of family relationship. It used the predictable argument of protecting children from harm. But as is often the case, the legislators were twenty years behind the times and unprepared for an urban, unclosetted gay community that was proud of its nascent culture, articulate and ready for battle. According to the papers of the day, lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords; gay activists crashed into the BBC Studios and highjacked the news. It was claimed that:

putting Clause 28 through parliament was one of the greatest promotions of homosexuality we have ever seen.”

Boy George, then demonised on the tabloids as a heroin-fuelled deviant and has-been, released No Clause 28, a single that helped put this legislation in the spotlight. Young people of all sexualities danced to the revolution, presenting gay culture as a fun and creative force, in opposition to their dull, archaic detractors. It was like being tut-tutted by your grandad, only it was real legislation. British gays’ pride in their cult of pleasure whilst denouncing prejudice, was a masterstroke that has paid off ever since. Perhaps the best lesson that the gay movement has taught future activists is: carry on, fiercely, and have fun while doing it. Something that was instinctively followed when independent porn producers, sex workers, groups from the thriving BDSM london scene and their allies, demonstrated in Parliament Square on December 12th of this year.

When the AVMS Regulations came into force two weeks earlier, on December 1st, 2014, it had a similar electrifying effect to Clause 28, mobilising individuals and groups that until then, had had very little interest in politics. Independent fetish porn producers were directly affected by banning the representation of sexual activities that appear regularly, safely and consensually in our work, as were women, LGBT and queer people, and the porn that they make. It felt as if those who wrote this legislation had no knowledge, or rather, no acknowledgement, of any sex that deviates from a narrow, normative, heterosexual, procreative model. It’s no wonder that the deviants came out in force, once again uncloseted, angry and political. Women and gay/queer people know a lot about being demonised for using their bodies for purposes that are neither procreative nor to make a man hard.

The protest was a defiant celebration of, and public pride in, sexual difference. You could feel the stirrings of a nascent movement that was not going to be bullied by shame. Staging a mass facesitting was arguably its master stroke, but was criticised both by insiders and outsiders, for displaying a sex act to a non-consenting public (of mostly London tourists). Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about this. One of the many contributions of modern gay culture to the world is the legitimisation of public sex, challenging bourgeois myths of sex as a fiercely private affair. Plus, this was London in December, and the protesters were wearing three layers of clothing. Unless you were the incarnation of Mary Whitehouse, Sodom and Gomorrah it wasn’t.

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But I am still a bit of a natural born killjoy, so my fear, which I vocalised in some interviews, was at first that the spectacle of a mass facesitting would give the media the perfect excuse to exploit the banal and ignore the real purpose of the protest: never underestimate the media circus’ power to trivialise the most serious subjects.

Fortunately for the protesters, the potential for farce had long before been appropriated by the AVMS Regulations, also fabulously monikered Female Ejaculation Ban. Its ridiculousness said more about our rulers, than about those perverts in Parliament Square. There was enough potential for juicy jokes on the state’s weird obsession with spanking and squirting to fill many newspaper pages. Did I just type weird obsession? Surely, I meant predictable. Anyway, I’m digressing.

The AVMS Regulations politicised and united groups that, as I have already mentioned, have not, until now, been known for their interest in politics: namely the porn industry and the fetish scene (sex workers, on the other hand, being traditionally marginalised, have a long history of political activism). Most of the adult industry follows a neoliberal, capitalist model that worships financial gain at any cost, so the big studios aren’t going to come out in defence of the competition. The fetish scene, being very white, male and middle class, suffers from a short-sighted fetishisation of persecution. I have lost count of the many times London kinksters complain about not feeling “special”, in an increasingly tolerant culture. I hear you, you poor snowflake. These complaints can only come from people who have never suffered stigma of any kind.

But back to these freshly politicised sexual minorities, who clearly understand the dangers of discrimination and stigma: there are many similarities between the mobilising effect that the AVMS Regulations had in the independent porn producers and BDSM scene, and Clause 28 in the gay community. Neither gays nor women can enjoy their pleasures lawfully, it seems, without becoming a threat to society.

For years, Backlash has looked at the long history of the gay movement for models and references. They are, after all, 30 years ahead of us in terms of political activism. We also share a feminist perspective because sexual stigma is often blatantly gendered. Sexual discrimination, whether it’s against cottaging or against facesitting, is also pretty much the same: it hates anything that does not validate reproduction and a hierarchy that bows to male desire, one where the female is always at the bottom and subservient to it. Anything that doesn’t follow this narrative is, invariably, harmful to children and a the end of civilisation as we know it. Perhaps our unimaginative powers-that-be are taking facesitting and “being on top” too literally.

So yeah, gays, women and those unclassifiable weirdos, the queers: Backlash have defended many of them. Everything that we have encountered in court, at employment tribunals, in law, in the media, the gay movement fought against 30 years ago. When we look for ways to understand, then defend, all sorts of cases against sexual difference, we refer back to gay activism. We stand on the shoulders of giants. When faced with sexual discrimination, I often find myself wondering: what did the gays do before?

There is some hope that the AVMS Regulations will be repealed in the end, and that activism and protest will play a major part. One of the most positive effects of Clause 28 was that it had the exact opposite effect that it sought. Instead of silencing homosexuality, as it thought it would, by banning schools from even discussing it, it highlighted institutional homophobia and a shift in society towards tolerance of sexual minorities. It did indeed catapult gay culture into the mainstream, and found support from many quarters, as well as from the general public, who felt no gay threat, but rather, sympathy, for a persecuted minority.

So what can we do, while this law is still in force, with all its arbitrary, misogynistic, frankly farcical prohibitions? Because farcical or not, it still has the potential to make many people’s lives a living hell. Clause 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003, by the Blair government. Based on cases defended by Backlash, I have seen that these laws are often used to kick people who are already down. The AVMS Regulations, like ATVOD before, will force many independent porn studios that are a model of resilience in the financial crisis, to close down: even though nobody (to our knowledge) has died after a severe facesitting session.

And what to do next? I get asked that a lot. Carry on sitting on people’s faces on your videos and supporting your independent studios by buying from them. Back in 1988, gay people carried on being gay, doing what gay people do, and becoming an inspiring role model for an increasingly diverse society. Porn, and specifically, independently produced porn, creates cultural artefacts. Contrary to the opinion of our detractors, and of sexually awkward legislators, porn doesn’t exist in a criminal demi-monde or in a cultural vacuum. It’s a product of its time that talks about the world it comes from. Niche porn offers an education into the less discussed forms of sexual expression. It’s worth protesting, disobeying, fighting for our right to a more diverse porn. Thank to gay activism, we have a much richer world, with more ways of living and connecting. We are following in their footsteps.

I keep writing that I saw the beginning of a nascent movement after December 1st, because so many people united against persecution of diversity. So much was written and said. It started a fascinating debate about the role of porn in our culture, as I’ve already mentioned; but also, about misogyny, sexual autonomy, art and porn, porn and feminism, the complexity of porn and those who make it… And last but no least, it fuelled a debate about state censorship. Much more needs to be said, written and shouted. I hope that, after the inevitable lull of Christmas, the anger will still be there.

Last month, many must have realised that they are not alone and that they are not helpless deviants living on the fringes of society. It’s been immensely satisfying to connect with other porn producers who, like me, consider our work legitimate, ethical, creative, relevant. Something that deserves to be respected as a valid profession. Like the gay movement 30 years ago, we all agreed that we were not going to tolerate being criminalised and silenced by outmoded legislators. We were not going to accept sexual stigma as an inevitable result of running a discredited business. And we were fed up with being misrepresented as pimps, as coerced women, as unsophisticated, easily bullied smut-peddlers. The so-called Porn Ban was an unprecedented call to arms for all those who work in the less corporate side of the adult industry but also, for those who enjoy watching and exploring the less trodden paths of human sexuality. So yeah, things have perhaps to get worse before they get better and maybe ATVOD or the AVMS Regulations, much as we resent and oppose them, might be the catalyser. Everybody needs a kick in the arse sometimes, to feel the anger.

Weekly News Summary w/e 14 December

Mass face sitting protest a success, and receives international media coverage

A protest by sex workers, adult entertainers and campaigners took place In Westminster, outside the Houses of Parliament on Friday 12th December.

The protest was organised by Charlotte Rose, a sex worker and sex educator who stood for Parliament in the Clacton and Rochester and Strood by-elections.

The sight of clothed face-sitting and simulated sex outside the home of UK Government attracted worldwide media coverage, and will have raised awareness among those who may not been aware that such laws were being created to restrict the content consensual adults are free to consume.

In addition to the attention-grabbing simulated sex and clothed face-sitting, key campaigners shared their views on why we need to stop it now and what laws like this mean for our future way of life. Speakers at the event included Charlotte Rose, Jerry Barnett, Myles Jackman and Jane Fae.

The protest also took to twitter to maximise its reach with the hashtag #PornProtest with 4,700 users sending 7,185 tweets, with a potential of 35,688,045 impressions.

Just some of the coverage:

The idea of a sex protest outside Parliament is not a new one, in 2008 a similar protest was held outside the heart of British politics over laws that were passed to make “extreme pornography” illegal to possess, produce or distribute.

Adult DVDs sent to parents and children

The Edinburgh Playhouse has been forced to issue an apology after it accidentally sent hundreds of pornographic DVDs to children and their parents.

The duplication company responsible for producing the DVDs, Edithouse, has accepted “full responsibility for the mistakes made in the duplication process” in a written statement issued after the playhouse recalled the DVDs following the discovery of the adult content by a member of staff who had taken a copy for himself.

Playhouse sought the advice of the Police but Police Scotland confirmed no crime had been committed as this was a production error rather than a deliberate circulation of pornography to youngsters.

Vodafone blocks Chaos Computer Club site, fuelling ‘Net censorship concerns in UK

Vodafone UK isn’t letting its customers access the website of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), one of the oldest and largest associations of computer hackers in Europe.

It’s not yet clear why the mobile operator has blocked the ccc.de website but since late last week the site has been unavailable for users of Vodafone’s mobile internet.

The CCC believes it’s because its site has been misclassified in the Internet filtering system used by Vodafone.

The CCC, since its founding in 1981, has highlighted security risks in technology affecting a large number of people, has exposed government surveillance and has advocated for privacy and freedom of information online. Every year the group organises the Chaos Communication Congress, the largest hacker convention in Europe.

“When these filters were introduced, their abuse was imminent,” said CCC spokesman Dirk Engling in a blog post Friday.

“Today, we are shocked to learn that they not only block access to our site, but also to our conference. We see this as proof that censorship infrastructure — no matter for which reasons it was set up, and no matter which country you are in — will always be abused for political reasons.”

According to a check on blocked.org.uk, a website maintained by U.K.-based Open Rights Group (ORG), ccc.de was being blocked by both Vodafone and Three, another U.K. mobile operator, as of Sunday. The Chaos Communication Congress tickets site, tickets.events.ccc.de, was only being blocked by Vodafone.

El Paso Children’s Hospital backs off from fundraising event due to DJ’s porn career

Cash-strapped El Paso Children’s Hospital is backing away from its participation in a local fundraiser after learning Monday that the special guest DJ for the event also happens to be an adult film star.

The Dance4Charity benefit which seeks to raise charitable donations for organisations and charities through house/dance and DJ events.

The event was set to feature headline entertainment by DJ Jessie Andrews, who also is a working superstar in her other career path as an award-winning porn actress.

According to Children’s spokeswoman Susie Byrd “This event was coordinated through the UMC Foundation without the consent of El Paso Children’s Hospital. We have asked the UMC Foundation to immediately correct this by removing our name as a recipient”

Not long after Byrd was asked for comment on the booking of Andrews, all mention of the event and her appearance on the Children’s Hospital social media accounts were deleted.

Andrews tweeted several responses to the story via her twitter account, @JessiesLife;

“I love music. I love to dance. I love to dj. And it’s not a joke to me. I honestly love it. Who cares if I do/done porn? Let’s get real,”

“ALSO: Shame on anyone who judges me for what I’ve done. It’s 2014. If I got hurt the hospital wouldn’t turn me down.”

“Society pretty much says that since I’ve done porn I can’t do anything else in life that’s respectable. Just kill me now why don’t you,”

December 9th, a day after the news broke, Veteran’s Entertainment, the organisers of the fundraiser issued a statement and confirmed that “The event will still be held and we will push to support a charity that would like us to help them” and added “A person’s past should not prevent them from doing a positive service for others, hopefully more organizations will recognize that.”

Andrews has won various accolades for her work, in 2012 she picked up the AVN Best Actress and XBIZ Best Acting Performance and New Starlet of the Year awards.

She is as well known for her mainstream modelling and music career as much as she is for being active, popular porn star with both careers doing extremely well – her music can be heard via soundcloud.

Resist Porn Culture criticises animal welfare charity over so-called ‘misogynistic’ and ‘offensive’ imagery in the charity’s latest anti-dairy products campaign.

Resist Porn Culture has attacked animal rights and welfare campaigners PETA for the charity’s latest anti-dairy products advertising campaign.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) ad is on a billboard outside Notts County FC’s stadium. The football club told the BBC that the ad was due to be removed but as of BBC running the story it was still in place.

The ad featured a woman who had white liquid, presumably milk, splattered across her face with a look of surprise or shock. The slogan to the right of the image read “some bodily fluids are bad for you”. The campaign group Resist Porn Culture said the poster was “sexist” and called for tighter regulations.

The ASA confirmed they would be launching an investigation after receiving four complaints due to the fact that the ad was sexual in nature and close to a ‘family’ venue.

PETA responded to the criticism, telling the BBC the billboard was a “tongue-in-cheek warning” about the dairy industry’s treatment of cows

He added:

“While some people might disagree with our tactics, there is no one final word on what offends women and what doesn’t.’

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“Many of the women here – and the women who have written in telling us they love the ad – have a different opinion.”

PETA have long used provocative ad campaigns, often featuring nudity and sexual innuendo, to push their message.

It’s About Censorship, Not Sexism

A year ago, the hideous ISP filters came into force. Although they had been sold as “porn filters”, they ended up blocking all sorts of things that had nothing to do with porn, from drug and self-harm information to nudity, even in non-sexual contexts. Initially, there was a spike of public outrage, but quickly the issue fell into the swamp of identity politics. On discovering that various gay and trans sites were blocked, the outrage became about homophobia and transphobia. ISPs moved to quickly unblock sites that had been identified by the press, and the media lost interest. The filters remained in place, and still today, up to 20% of sites are blocked by them. What could have become a broad-based movement for free speech fizzled out.

On Monday, a new law came into place, extending DVD censorship controls on to Internet videos. None of this was new or unexpected. The censorship rules which have caused so much outrage this week have been in place for many years.

The new law – which I explained on this blog – is probably the greatest attack on free expression that the UK has seen since the BBFC was empowered, in 1984, to censor all video works before they could be released. One of the BBFC’s first policy decisions was to ban all explicit sex on video. And so, the UK became one of the few democratic countries whose population was banned from legally buying porn on DVD, until this rule was eventually challenged by the porn industry in 2000. Forced to accept explicit sex acts, the BBFC (along with the police and CPS) clung to as much power as possible, and still refused to approve many, many “niche” sex acts on DVD.

By mid-decade, this barely mattered any more. Broadband Internet connections made DVD increasingly redundant, and likewise the BBFC, which saw its revenues steadily fall. Pete Johnson, a BBFC manager, tried to reverse this decline by introducing the BBFC Online scheme in 2007. But this had no statutory backing, and never took off.

In 2010, Johnson moved from the BBFC to head a new regulator, ATVOD, and (via a complex use/misuse of EU law), was empowered to implement regulations for VoD sites. His first – and only significant – action was to implement onerous age-verification requirements for UK porn sites: rules that were not implemented anywhere else in Europe. As a result, many businesses (including my own) closed, and others (such as Playboy’s UK operation) moved overseas, shedding jobs in the UK.

The new law adds power to ATVOD’s existing regulations, and for the first time, enforces the BBFC’s R18 rules online. This year’s fashion among the new-left has been to label everything sexist: toys are sexist, and computer games are sexist, and that comedian is sexist, and he’s sexist, and you’re sexist, and that tree is sexist… and so of course, by cherry-picking BBFC rules, the new law was also deemed to be sexist. Not a huge step towards Chinese-style Internet censorship that will harm everybody’s right to access information. Sexist.

So yes, it’s true (as well as ludicrous) that female ejaculation – aka squirting – is one of the many acts now banned, and easy to assume this is sexism (since, of course, male ejaculation is still allowed to be seen). In fact, within the BBFC’s reasoning process – which makes sense within its own, screwed-up logic – this makes perfect sense. The powers-that-be have deemed urination in a sexual context to be unacceptable, and since the evidence as to the nature of squirting is still far from conclusive, they have also banned that. Commentators have also complained that gagging on cocks is still approved; but in fact, the BBFC will cut such scenes if they are deemed to be “potentially life-threatening”. And they will allow similar acts to be carried out by a woman with a strap-on. And the ban on face-sitting isn’t an attempt by The Patriarchy to attack female domination, any more than the ban on strangulation of female models is an attack on male domination. The rules may be extremely stupid, but they’re not sexist.

Although the most immediate casualties of the law will be fetish sites, it’s not especially about targeting fetish either – that just happens to be the first thing in the way of the bulldozer. As already mentioned, the BBFC tried as hard to ban “vanilla” sex as it did to ban kink. It’s just that it lost that particular battle in court.

So what is this about? As the name of our campaign suggests, it’s about both Sex and Censorship. It’s odd that almost nobody noticed what actually happened on Monday: well over 99% of the world’s websites are now technically illegal here in the UK. Not because of the R18 thing, but the other part: the one requiring sites to validate a visitor’s age before they’re allowed to see any naughty bit.

There are multiple interests here: anti-sex moralists (of both religious and feminist varieties) who are truly outraged by sex, and want it all banned; vested interests that stand to earn money and power from censorship (ATVOD and the BBFC, for example); and authoritarian interests that are looking to find excuses to block online content. In the latter case, porn is just one of a number of excuses, as are terrorism and copyright theft. Those familiar with Orwell will recognise that the British state, liberal on the surface, is deeply authoritarian beneath.

This week’s public outrage is an opportunity to build the movement for free expression to a new level, and it would be a shame if certain “It’s all about meeeee!” narratives were allowed to distract from that.

The new law is actually a means to an end, not an end in itself. A process that began (suitably) in 1984 is still rolling along. If you would like to support as we build the case against censorship, please join our list or even send a donation, large or small. Next year is going to be “interesting” for the UK, and not in a good way.

The Censorship of Dapper Laughs

– The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship – George Bernard Shaw

– I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

In my upcoming book, Porn Panic, I raise a question about the censorship state – specifically the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC), the police and prosecutors – Are They Superhuman? In Britain, all DVD and cinema releases are required, by law, to be certified (and possibly censored) by the BBFC. Obscenity law defines obscene material as that which might “deprave and corrupt” the viewer, listener or reader, and it’s the BBFC’s job to ensure that no such material gets into the public sphere where it might damage our fragile little minds. BBFC examiners watch all submitted material, second-by-second, and recommend cuts if they encounter obscenity. Similarly, police officers who are preparing a case for an obscenity prosecution must sit through hour after hour of depraving and corrupting material. So how is this possible? How can material that depraves and corrupts its audience not deprave and corrupt BBFC examiners, police officers and prosecutors? Are they a different species from us?

I asked the obscenity law specialist, Myles Jackman, for his thoughts on this, and he said: “I’ve have to watch a lot of fairly colourful material in my career, and it doesn’t seem to have had a significant effect on me. Who watches the watchman? Why normal, average members of society are considered to be more sensitive and delicate, I simply can’t answer.”

Censorship is a decision by one group of people to deprive another group of people the right to access some content. At its core, censorship is inherently elitist, and can be nothing else. The censor doesn’t believe that he or she is weak, stupid or brutal enough to be depraved by the material, but believes that other people are. This elitism usually appears in class form, though it can also be linked to sex, sexuality, race or age. Most people don’t think they have the right to censor others, even if they dislike what they watch; but some do. These people, by definition, are elitists.

Elitism rears its head in every single moral panic and act of censorship, without fail. It appears constantly in attempts to censor pornography: “Of course, porn didn’t turn ME into a rapist, but then I’m not one of those people…” It appears among the nice, middle-class ladies of the No More Page 3 campaign, who don’t want to see breasts in a newspaper, and don’t want the Sun’s (mostly working-class) readership to do so either. It appeared in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial, when the prosecutor asked whether… “you would wish your wife or servants to read”… such books. It appeared during the Video Nasties moral panic, in response to the idea that, thanks to the new VHS technology, ordinary people could now see the kind of uncensored material that had, formerly, only been accessible to the wealthy. It appears now in a new moral panic over computer gaming, in which “the impressionable” are considered at risk of being turned into rapists and murderers.

“The impressionable” are never people like us. They are other. They are poor, or black, or female, or male, or gay, or belong to some other group that we decide to fear or hate. In moral panics, bigotry becomes acceptable – such as this Guardian piece implying that African men don’t have the restraint of white people, and are thus especially prone to being turned into rapists by pornography: “I used to think porn was tremendously good fun… [until in a Ghanaian village, a mud hut is transformed] into an impromptu porn cinema … turning some young men into rapists…” – those primitive Africans, and their rapey ways! And this is in a “liberal” newspaper. As the left has lost touch with its labour roots, it has also become ever more elitist.

Advocates of censorship are certain of their own superiority over those-who-must-be-censored. If they weren’t, it might dawn on them that they don’t have the right to control the behaviour of other people; that they are no better than the people they seek to control. They would instead realise that, while they have the right to boycott material that offends them, the other people also have the right to see it.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the middle and upper classes, already secure in their innate superiority, are the ones who most seek to censor and control the activities of others. Of course, few people ever admit elitism – they instead try to justify their behaviour with spurious claims of harm: “I’m not a prude, but porn turns men into rapists”, “I’m all for free expression, but computer games make people violent”, “Much as I admire the energy and enthusiasm of youth, heavy metal gives power to Satan”, “I’m not a racist, but hip-hop encourages misogynistic attitudes”… “I’m as reasonable as the next person, BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS!”

It is a sign of these conservative times that universities, once bastions of free thought and rebellion against the status quo, have become increasingly censored places. The excuses for campus censorship tend to sound vaguely progressive, but (as the quote at the start of this article makes clear) censorship is anathema to progressives. Conservatism in progressive clothing is the order of the day.

The latest target of campus censorship is a comedian called Dapper Laughs (DL), who has a show on ITV2. I hadn’t heard of him until a week or so ago, when an explosion of outrage erupted on Twitter. Personally, I’m of the opinion that “ITV comedy” is an oxymoron. See – I’m an elitist too!

This latest moral panic began when a Cardiff University student, Vicky Chandler, began a petition to block DL from performing at the university, based on the fact that he’d been recorded telling jokes about rape. No evidence has been presented – it should go without saying by now – that men hear jokes about rape, and then go on to commit rape. The beer sold in the Cardiff student union bar is far more likely to have been involved in sexual assaults than any comedy act. But to call for alcohol to be banned from campus would a truly brave act*, whereas calling for a “sexist” comedian to be banned is guaranteed to win applause and admiration for Chandler from those looking for the next pro-censorship hero.

So the students that might have wanted to see DL, and decide for themselves, are told they’re not allowed to. Because they’re not clever enough to see (alleged) sexism without endangering the female population of Cardiff. Only the elite can decide what is suitable for the entire Cardiff student body to see or hear, and the elite have signed Chandler’s petition. Game over. Predictably, once a few-hundred signatures had been received, the gig was cancelled. Then ITV announced DL would not have another series. But the witch-hunt was just beginning.

The Twitter hysteria followed a pattern which has become tediously familiar: person found guilty of “hate speech” (without the need for a messy trial – who needs due process?); those that question the verdict are accused of supporting hate speech, as are those who defend the right to free speech on principle. Attempts at reasoned discussion are futile (OMG I can’t fucking believe you support violence against women!!!, etc.) Lynch-mobs have no need to hear alternative viewpoints, and the risk of being publicly branded a misogynist is enough of a deterrent for most people to keep quiet.

Supporters of the ban tried to deny this act of censorship was, in fact. censorship, and claimed this had been a democratic process, because everybody had the right to sign the petition, or organise a counter-petition. If this is democracy, it’s an ugly variety – more commonly known as tyranny of the majority. And not even a true majority – just the small number of elitists that decided they should have control over the viewing habits of the quiet majority. This is a fascistic interpretation of democracy, and has chilling implications for all the minorities that might next face censorship-by-petition. As a Jew (we make up 0.3% of the UK population) with mixed-race kids (they constitute 2%), this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. But hey – the elite would never turn on us, would they?

This country, once the birthplace of Enlightenment values, has lost touch with the meaning and purpose of liberal thought. Free speech must, by definition, include bad speech, and (as the old saying goes) the antidote to bad speech is good speech. Allow an elite to deem (without a hint of due process) certain speech to be unacceptable, and freedom is fundamentally lost.

Chandler herself has showed a deep ignorance of liberal values by declaring herself qualified to determine the limits of free speech for everybody. While justifying herself, she tweeted “offending a religion isn’t freedom of speech, it’s hate”. But to offend is a basic right. I find Chandler’s utterances offensive in their dangerous ignorance as to what constitutes free speech, but still, I defend her right to her ignorance, and her right to shout it from the rooftops. All speech that has any value will offend somebody; without the right to offend majority values, the feminist and civil rights movements would have been crushed before they had begun.

But many of today’s “progressives” come from a different school. They use liberal language to cloak the fascistic idea that some viewpoints can be crushed by a small, active group. The censorship of Dapper Laughs is a victory for a censorious elite that is growing in strength by the day.

* For clarity: no, I don’t support bans on alcohol either.

PS: a quick look at Dapper Laughs’ Twitter mentions reveals more people (male and female) regretting the closure of his career than rejoicing in it. But sorry folks, you can’t enjoy your comedy. The elite have spoken.

Tiger Porn: “Extreme Porn” Law to be Challenged

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the dangerous proliferation of content possession laws that have sprung up in the UK. These have resulted in a series of draconian rulings, including one that decided a teenage girl was a sex offender for taking a photograph of herself naked. This conviction was made under a law designed to prevent child abuse. Such badly drafted laws surely do nothing to achieve this, and plenty to tie up police resources that could be better directed elsewhere.

Content possession laws are dangerous, regardless of what they criminalise, because content possession is such a vague idea. How many people realise that receiving a photograph by email or WhatsApp constitutes possession, whether or not you even look at it? Or that browsing to a web page containing a banned image will store that image in the web browser cache, making the user a criminal? And most important, how can members of the public know what images might or might not be considered “extreme” by the prurient British state?

 The “extreme porn” law, introduced by the last Labour government in 2008, is perhaps the most dangerous of them all, criminalising a vast array of content, from bestiality to acts that might “result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals” – this would cover consensual and legal acts like fisting or the use of a large sex toy.

One of the most ludicrous prosecutions to arise from this law was the infamous “tiger porn” case, in which Andrew Holland was prosecuted for possessing a video of – it was claimed – a woman having sex with a tiger. This would certainly represent a dangerous sex act!

The police and prosecutors decided there was a case, and proceeded. When the case finally reached court, the judge requested that the video be played with sound – something the police hadn’t thought of doing. During the scene, the “tiger” turned to the camera and said “that’s grrrrreat!”, in the style of Tony, the Frosties tiger. It’s clear that police and CPS training doesn’t include the skills to distinguish between a real tiger and a pretend one. Holland was acquitted.

But during the legal process, he had been branded a sex offender, experienced vigilante attacks, and been prevented from seeing his daughter for a year. He suffered a heart attack during this time.

The obscenity law specialist Myles Jackman announced yesterday that Holland would be launching a judicial review against the extreme porn law.

This is good news indeed; besides potentially overturning an atrocious piece of legislation, it may also help disrupt yet another bad law, the impending “rape porn” legislation, which, rather than criminalising porn featuring rape (as it sounds), will leave police and a judge to decide whether a sex act looks like it might be non-consensual, and would thus criminalise bondage and other non-standard – but consenting – sex acts.

In the mean time, millions of people risk being branded sex offenders simply for receiving a message from a friend (or enemy) or browsing the web. They can, to some extent, protect themselves by using private browser settings, and asking their friends not to share any kind of sexual imagery. But it is ludicrous that they should have to.

The War on Sexting, and Other Cases of Creeping Censorship

Outside the world of free speech advocacy, most people take the default position that some censorship is necessary and acceptable; that sensible lines can be drawn to keep out the bad stuff without affecting free expression in general. This approach naively ignores one of the great problems with censorship: that it is a tool of power, and once granted censorship powers, the state will almost certainly extend them in directions that could not have been predicted at the start. Thus, any censorship measure is a danger to all expression, and should be greeted with great scepticism.

Sadly, the British people appear to have lost track of this important point. While free expression is protected by the US Constitution, the UK has no such protection in law, and free expression here – especially sexual expression – has been deeply restricted as a result.

It’s not difficult to get the British masses behind new censorship: simply create a moral panic over harm to “women and children” (note that women are not considered to be autonomous adults in such situations). And nothing is better guaranteed to rouse the mob than child abuse.

So it was that in the 1970s, a moral panic (led by the Queen of Panic herself, Mary Whitehouse) over “child porn” led to the Protection of Children Act – which ostensibly existed to criminalise the creation of child abuse imagery. But the law went far further than criminalising abusive imagery: its final wording instead referred to “indecent imagery” – a subjective, moral idea.

In taking the step from child rape to nudity in general, the state sent a message: not that child abuse is wrong, but that the depiction of nudity is wrong, and so the state has enshrined into law an old British attitude – that nudity and sex are synonymous with each other, and naked bodies are dirty and shameful. The law has often been misused – perhaps most famously in 1995 to arrest the newsreader Julia Somerville, and her partner, who had taken photographs of their daughter in the bath. Many other, less famous people, have been branded child abusers and had their lives ruined for taking similar photographs – a victimless crime that upsets the nudity-hating moral attitudes of the British establishment.

The law is also dangerous in defining anyone under the age of 18 as a child. So in theory, a couple aged 17 who take naked photographs of each other – even for private use – can be branded paedophiles and criminalised.

But this is more than just a theory: the law has now been used against teenagers for taking photographs of themselves. A few weeks ago, a teenage girl received a criminal record for sending a topless photograph of herself to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend too was criminalised for having received the image, and in a separate case, a teenager who sent a nude photograph of himself to friends received a caution.

And so a law that was supposedly introduced to protect abused children has instead been used to attack teenagers for enjoying consensual sex lives. It has also absorbed vast amounts of police and CPS resource that could instead have been directed at identifying and rescuing genuine abuse victims. Meanwhile, as we now know, the law did nothing to protect genuine victims of abuse from men in power.

Such is the nature of creeping censorship: laws passed in response to moral panics rarely do what they were intended to do. More recently, as the British censorship state has grown in reach and power, more draconian laws have come into being, and each one covers a far greater scope than promised by the politicians.

The “extreme porn” law is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Introduced in response to the murder of Jane Longhurst (which was dishonestly linked to BDSM pornography), it was supposed to be aimed at avoiding further such murders. Yet, as the law was drafted, it was broadened to include a number of categories of content, including animal porn, for which the vast majority of prosecutions have taken place. Given the broad definition of “possession”, this means that even receiving an unsolicited image is a criminal offence. Recently, two Essex men were found guilty – under a law supposedly designed to protect women from being murdered – for having received an animal porn video via WhatsApp. Although they had not requested the video, and had attempted to delete it, copies had remained on their phones, and they were forced to plead guilty to sexual offences.

And most recently, the “rape porn” law looks to catch far more people who pose no threat to anybody.  The effect of the law is to criminalise consenting adults who enjoy BDSM porn featuring consenting adults.

In each of these cases, a seemingly good cause – child abuse, murder, rape – has been appropriated by the state in order to brand all sexual expression as wrong, as perverted, as criminal. One wonders where the real “perverts” are: at home, watching porn and snapping nude selfies; or in the censorship state, endlessly blurring lines between consensual and non-consensual activities.

Censorship is not something that can be harmlessly introduced to hide “the bad stuff” and leave “the nice stuff” alone. It is harmful by nature, and corrosive to the freedom of everyone. All sexual behaviour risks falling within the remit of Britain’s increasingly draconian anti-porn laws. The state has signalled its belief that all sexual activity belongs at home, in private, behind closed doors, and in the absence of recording devices. And thus, child abusers will cover their tracks and walk free, while consenting adults are branded sexual predators and harassed into taking their kinks back underground.

EE Admits Filtering Problem

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen my occasional screams about my mobile phone provider. Specifically, my provider is EE, and my problem is that they really, really don’t want me to look at porn (or anything else their filtering system considers unsuitable for under-18s).

I’m in my forties, and I’ve been an Orange customer for years. I also disabled Content Lock (EE’s version of mobile content filtering) years ago. So when I upgraded my phone at the start of this year, and was transferred from Orange to EE (a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile), I expected nothing to change. But it didn’t take long to discover that my shiny new HTC One, equipped with super-fast 4G access, wouldn’t let me look at porn.

I phoned EE, who explained that industry guidelines require providers to re-enable content filtering (OK, enough euphemism – let’s call it what it is: Internet censorship) every time a customer upgrades their phone. Presumably, this is in case the customer becomes younger between upgrades. It could happen, right? You’ve never seen Benjamin Button?

So anyway, the nice man at EE switched off Content Lock for me, and all was well. For a few weeks anyway, until one day, I found my Internet access censored again. So I phoned EE again, and the (confused) support person apologised, and uncensored my phone. And then some time later it happened again. And again.

Today, I phoned them again with the same problem. And finally, EE admitted fault. A known system bug is blocking content, even for age-verified adults who have requested uncensored access to the Net. I pointed out that this has been happening to me for months, and they admitted that this problem has been happening for a long time.

It certainly has. For my book, Porn Panic (it’s coming soon, thanks for your patience!) I interviewed Sue, a Twitter follower who has had the same problem for far longer than me, and told me:

Over a period of six months I was having to call at least once a day to remove the filter, I couldn’t access blogs, adult sites, national lottery etc even Google was blocked on occasion. The call centre staff were genuinely apologetic and we ended up on first name terms!  Apparently once I proved I was over 18 the filters would be permanently turned off. I did say there was no way I could be below 18. I pay via direct debit each month, the account is in my name and I have been a customer of theirs for over 10 years. They agreed that indeed was proof enough but some system glitch meant it wasn’t clearing properly.

As a person who keeps a close eye on censorship activity, I often find it hard not to get drawn into conspiracy theories. I don’t believe that anti-sex Nazis at EE are deliberately censoring adults’ phones against their will. But I do believe that the system is rigged to discourage people from getting full Internet access. Few people are as persistent as myself or Sue. Many people leave their filtering switched on (the default setting) out of laziness, lack of time, or to avoid the embarrassment of asking a stranger to switch on the porn.

We are facing censorship by a thousand cuts. Mobile phone filtering which is enabled by default, and which re-enables itself whenever we upgrade our phones. Home filtering which is “optional”… so long as you are the bill payer (if your wife, husband, parent or landlord has switched off the porn, then tough luck). Public WiFi networks that are increasingly filtered, with no option to switch them off.

The stupidest thing about all of this is that the filtering is so easy to circumvent. I install the Tor browser on all my devices, which allows me to access the uncensored Internet, and avoid state surveillance in the process (Tor browsers are available for PC, Mac, Android and iOS devices – unless you believe that you should be blocked and spied upon, I’d recommend installing them).

Amusingly, the EE support engineer I spoke to today gave me a workaround for their own accidental blocking, telling me that the Opera Mini browser also circumvents their filtering.

But we shouldn’t laugh too loud: filtering technology will no doubt strengthen; and attacks on Tor (or the Dark Net as the mainstream media refers to it) are increasing; the implication being that people who seek online privacy must be potential gangsters, terrorists and/or paedophiles.

We shouldn’t have to be circumventing filtering or spying systems. While filtering is a perfectly valid option for ISPs to offer their customers, it shouldn’t be mandated in any way, or switched on by default. Filtering is just the first step: don’t expect the control freaks within the UK state to leave it here. Both Labour and Conservative parties have joined the Porn Panic, so don’t expect a change of government to make things any better. The campaign to uncensor the  Internet must go on.

Criminalised For Receiving “Extreme Porn” Via WhatsApp

Two UK men in their twenties have been convicted of possessing extreme pornography in a case involving the distribution of images featuring beastiality.

Despite the judge accepting that that the two men had not solicited the images Gary Ticehurst, 28, of Canvey Island, Essex, and Mark Kelly, 25, of Romford were both given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Both pleaded guilty to possessing the images on their smartphones. Kelly pleaded guilty to one count of “possessing an extreme pornographic image likely to cause injury”, and three counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals. Ticehurst admitted one count of possessing an extreme pornographic image as well as two counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals.

The images were found after Police had stopped the two men for unrelated matters and a routine inspection of their phones was carried out.

Both men defended themselves in court. Kelly said he had deleted the received videos from his WhatsApp, adding that he was unaware that images were saved to his camera roll. “I didn’t even watch the full content of the video. It was very sick and disturbing,” he told the court.

Judge Paul Worsley told the court that his was imposing a “lenient” sentence, accepting that neither man had solicited the content nor had attempted to share it with others.

“You have pleaded guilty to possessing truly disgusting images,” Judge Worsley said adding “It makes a big difference if someone goes out of their way to seek it, or if they’re sent it by some mischievous colleague.”

Even after the judge’s leniency and appearing to have accepted the indirect means the duo were sent the offending images he still imposed a significant punishment.

These kind of cases are always frustrating for me to listen to or read about. Yes I find beastilaity disgusting, yes it’s currently a crime HOWEVER i’ve had random WhatsApp messages from people i’ve met once or twice, or on occasion never, there is no telling what content is in them.

It is literally like trying to convict someone of possessing an e-mail selling illegal viagra. There will be lots of truly innocent individuals caught up in these kind of charges.

My mind is pondering the demo sex and censorship held outside the UK launch of Stop Porn Culture. It would have been so easy for the Police to have stopped and searched any one of us on the basis that we were demonstrating and who knows how many of us the could have detained on these ambiguous, spurious and damn right silly charges.

That is the kind of abuse these laws, coupled with heavy handed powers can fuel.

Beware The Department of Dirty!

The UK government’s efforts to protect citizens from the terrible dangers that lie only a mouse click away sometimes seem completely ludicrous. And that’s because they are. Indeed, the British public has given its verdict on the “porn filters” by switching them off en-masse.

So this fun little one-minute video from the Open Rights Group (aka Department of Dirty) is a great response. If you don’t laugh, you might cry.