< Opting in to View Porn in the UK


Friday, July 26, 2013

BOB GARFIELD:  This week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a bold two-pronged attack on both pornography that exploits children and the availability of pornography to children.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  The fact that many children are viewing online pornography and that the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.

BOB GARFIELD:  The Cameron government has promised a battery of new measures in this offensive against the offensive. But chief among them will for all new Internet connections to include pornography filters, enabled by default. Don't want the filter? Well, you’ll have to check a box to opt out of it, or you might say, opt in to watching porn.

The announcement has drawn criticism from people like Mic Wright, lead tech writer for the UK's Daily Telegraph, who says that not only is it a stifling invasion of privacy, but that Cameron’s measures aren’t going to have any impact on the pornography he’s trying to stop.

MIC WRIGHT:  One of the things that David Cameron is asking is that Google take a blacklist from CEOP, which is their Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the UK.  Well, Google already does that. The government has actually cut funding to CEOP in recent years. So while talking tough about dealing with child sexual abuse imagery online, [LAUGHS] he actually cut the funding.

Most of the behavior by pedophiles and sexual abusers operates in parts of the Internet that aren’t crawled by Google. These people are using peer-to-peer; they’re using password-protected sites; they’re using Tor. Those who say that they could easily stumble upon child pornography on the Web, I think they’re scaremongering because there is no earthly reason that you should stumble upon it these days.

BOB GARFIELD:  And for people who dislike looking at other people having sex online, are they going to be hampered in their consumer desires?

MIC WRIGHT:  No, but they are going to have to declare themselves porn users. A company has a record of you saying yes, I’ll put my hand up and say I want to watch pornography. And also, because it’s gonna be a decision that you’re gonna have to make as a family, you’re gonna have to end up having a discussion with your spouse or your partner about your porn use, which you may or may not wish to, [LAUGHS] to have.

BOB GARFIELD:  You say that while the problems are real, Cameron was just showboating here. Why?

MIC WRIGHT:  Because the Daily Mail and elements of the tabloid press in the UK are seen as fundamentally important for winning the next election, and particularly there’s a sense that Cameron has not connected well with women and a certain type of middle class woman who is thought to be very, very concerned about the corruption of childhood, the sexualization of childhood. And the day after he announced his policies, the Mail front page was trumpeting its success in winning its battle against porn and child porn and the sexualization of children. And that’s why I consider it grandstanding.

BOB GARFIELD:  It’s hard to know what actually Cameron is targeting, in a country where the general circulation tabloids have, you know, topless photos on Page 3.

MIC WRIGHT:  Given that he’s pro these filters, you know, to stop access to porn of all kinds, he was asked would he back the campaign that is ongoing in the UK for Rupert Murdoch’s son to stop publishing Page 3 in the daily newspaper featuring a topless woman. And he said, no, it’s about consumer choice and people should be able to buy The Sun.

BOB GARFIELD:  And then in the process of filtering out dubious Internet searches, there is something [LAUGHS] – I just love this – called the Scunthorpe problem. [LAUGHING]


BOB GARFIELD:  Tell me about the Scunthorpe problem.

MIC WRIGHT:  Scunthorpe is a town in the north of England, and there is an explicit term within the name, a series of letters which spells out probably the strongest swear word either in the UK or the US. And filters are not sophisticated enough to know that you’re searching for “Scunthorpe” and not searching for that explicit term. So Scunthorpe County Council can find its website being blocked [LAUGHS] because it’s considered to be an explicit site, with many references to that sexual swear word.

BOB GARFIELD:  What else does Cameron have on his target list that will get further and further into the private lives of British subjects?

MIC WRIGHT:  There’s a kind of hazy notion of banning extreme pornography. Now, where the line is drawn is, is extremely difficult. There was a case of a civil servant in the UK who was brought up on obscenity charges because he was gay. And amongst himself and some friends he was engaging in some pretty – hardcore sadomasochistic behavior, and they were sharing pictures amongst themselves. He was found not guilty, but that’s seriously affected his career. And there’s a question of, you know, where you draw the line, and also his idea of extreme pornography is going to include scenes of simulated rape. Now, the question there is how you deal with things like The Accused, you know, Oscar-winning film, in which there are scenes of simulated rape.

We are going to get into free speech issues and, unfortunately, unlike the US, the UK’s law around free speech is a lot more difficult to apply.

BOB GARFIELD:  If Cameron is serious in wanting to eradicate child sexual abuse imagery from British society, is there a way to do that?

MIC WRIGHT:  The way you do that is through stringent policing; it’s through investigative work. And fundamentally, what the government is doing with an austerity drive in the UK is that it is cutting the police and thinking that technological solutions will fill the gap. And they just won’t. The way you find out about these individuals who are organizing pedophile rings is through quite traditional policing and, and investigation.

BOB GARFIELD:  Mic, thanks very much.

MIC WRIGHT:  My word.

BOB GARFIELD:  Mic Wright is the chief technology blogger for the Daily Telegraph.



Mic Wright

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