Well, ain't that a fucking surprise?
The British prime minister's internet filters will be about more than just hardcore pornography, according to information obtained by the Open Rights Group.
The organisation, which campaigns for digital freedoms, has spoken to some of the Internet Service Providers that will be constructing Cameron's content filters. They discovered that a host of other categories of supposedly-objectionable material may be on the block-list.
As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on "violent material", "extremist related content", "anorexia and eating disorder websites" and "suicide related websites", "alcohol" and "smoking". But the list doesn't stop there. It even extends to blocking "web forums" and "esoteric material", whatever that is. "Web blocking circumvention tools" is also included, of course.
The Open Rights Group have been talking to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and got the low-down on the kind of options that will be presented to subscribers.
After brief conversations with some of the Internet Service Providers that will be implementing the UK's "pornwall" we've established a little bit about what it will be doing. To be fair, the BBC were pretty close.
The essential detail is that they will assume you want filters enabled across a wide range of content, and unless you un-tick the option, network filters will be enabled. As we’ve said repeatedly, it’s not just about hardcore pornography.
You'll encounter something like this:
What's clear here is that David Cameron wants people to sleepwalk into censorship. We know that people stick with defaults: this is part of the idea behind 'nudge theory' and 'choice architecture' that is popular with Cameron.
Indeed. One of the best takes on this that I have seen is this hypothetical conversation at Another Angry Voice...
Dodgy PR strategist: You just need to get your narrative right. Tell them it's about protecting children. Tell them that the wonderful innocence of youth mustn't be despoiled. Tell them that children shouldn't be exposed to vile pornography.
Political leader: What, like rape porn?
Dodgy PR strategist: Exactly. Make out that the censorship programme is an effort to protect children, and then add rape porn and paedophilia into the mix.
Political leader: So that... [waits expectantly]
Dodgy PR strategist: So that you can roll out your firewall and taint anyone that tries to oppose it as a rape porn apologist ... But don't call it a firewall or censorship or anything like that. Call it a porn blocker or a child protection measure.
Political leader: But I don't want to protect children, I want to silence political dissent. Look what happened in Egypt and Hungary. Look what is happening in Turkey right now. We mustn't allow that to happen here.
Dodgy PR strategist: You're missing the point.
Political leader: What point?
Dodgy PR strategist: That when you launch the pornography blocker, you're setting the precident that the government can automatically block citizen from accessing perfectly legal material. Plus by installing Internet filters you're putting the censorship infrastructure in place. Once it's all rolled out, you can easily change the parameters to block whatever you like.
I highly recommend that you go and read the whole thing—even if you don't believe that there is any truth in it (and I think there is) then it is, at least, entertainingly amusing.
And the point about censoring things that are perfectly legal is a point well made. It is true that David Cameron is planning to make "rape porn" illegal, but that hasn't happened yet—but the internet filter will come in long before any law banning it. After all, legally, "rape porn" is something that is very difficult to define.
Naturally, there are a number of female campaigners that have urged this ban: but "rape porn" is not simply the preserve of disturbed men. There is, for instance, a scene in Iain M Banks' Complicity in which one of the female protagonists gets her lover to indulge her rape fantasy: and the way in which it is written could, in some very broad definition, be described as pornographic. Will that book and film adaptation now be banned?
And lest some smartarse suggest that this scene is simply a misogynist male author merely indulging his fantasy, I myself have dated at least one woman who had "rape" fantasies (something which I was as uncomfortable about as Cameron Colley is in Complicity).
But we don't even have to concern ourselves with this contentious topic: if the information from the Open Rights Foundation is correct, then the government's power grab is far more unrestrainedly naked. What possible justification can the state have for default, ISP-level filtering of information about perfectly legal topics as "violent material", "extremist related content", "anorexia and eating disorder websites", "suicide related websites", "alcohol" and "smoking"? Not to mention blocking all "web forums".
And what the fuck is "esoteric material"—anything that the government doesn't like?
You know, it is becoming my firm belief that MPs should not be allowed to have children: they would be far less likely to wheel out this "for the kiddies" schtick.
In the meantime, this country's march towards fascism continues apace...
UPDATE: Longrider is excellent on this:
But, you see, that libertarian outrage that Orr dismisses so lightly isn’t about porn, it’s about the bigger picture. It’s about the state deciding what is okay for the citizen to look at or read. Porn today—because no one will defend the pornographer without sullying himself—but tomorrow, it will be something else. It will always be something else because the beast is never sated. The puritans always come back for another bite, because they know best and we don’t. Once the precedent is set—that the state may decide what we view—it will decide on our behalf to protect us from other undesirable content.Yup.
That is the point. Porn is simply the Trojan horse.