We know many people were fairly preoccupied yesterday with the news of the royal baby’s birth. But here is another story from the day that is going to affect far, far more people.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new sweeping government plan to ban (or at least dramatically reduce) viewing of online pornography. The plan, due to begin by the end of this year, will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block all pornography-related search terms and websites. Individuals wishing to access pornography on their own Internet connections will have to contact their ISP directly in order to opt out of the program. “Extreme pornography” (such as content depicting rape scenes) will be entirely prohibited. Specific measures will also be taken to locate and prosecute viewers and distributors of child pornography.
So far, so good? Maybe not. Cameron appealed to the very sympathetic cause of protecting childhood innocence, but many are calling such blanket measures a violation of privacy rights. Here are some of the arguments:
1. First there’s the idea that the Internet should be a freely accessible source of information (in the broadest sense of the word). If people wish to restrict certain areas of the Internet in their own homes, then that is their prerogative.
2. Many raise the issue of who will determine what is “pornographic” versus what is informational, artistic, or just regular news (will risque images of celebs count?). Also, many mainstream movies are quite graphic, even depicting rape, child abuse, etc. How will these be evaluated?
3. Some argue that censorship of any sort is like a gateway drug for the government. Ban online pornography now, and what other online viewing habits will start being regulated as well?
4. One of the biggest concerns is that Cameron’s plan doesn’t actually address the pornography industry, sex trafficking, child abuse, or violence against women. It seems to be a way of painting over the issue, when there’s still a really dirty wall underneath.
Cameron’s ban qualifies as what is colloquially known as a “sumptuary law,” or a law intended to enforce morals and control certain consumption habits. This has included certain styles of clothing, food, and various “luxury habits.” The argument could be made that if you ban the material associated with the improper habit (ie. alcohol, revealing clothing, or, in this case, pornographic websites) then the behavior will necessarily decrease.
On the other hand: “Guns don’t kill. People do.”
What do you think?
Thumbnail image credit: James Blinn/Alamy