The Great Firewall of China

It’s been all over the papers that David Cameron wants to pass a law ensuring that porn has to be blocked by internet providers unless the individual deliberately unblocks it and opts in to viewing porn. I’ve spoken extensively about censorship in the past: I just don’t believe it’s the right way forward. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope, particularly under the frequently abused guise of ‘protecting children’. By letting the government meddle in our personal lives and pass a value judgement on everything “pornographic”, we leave ourselves open to all forms of censorship. The internet is a very new medium and one that currently operates almost entirely without censorship in Britain. Ironically and worryingly, Cameron is planning to use the same system that China uses to block sites that are unauthorised by the state, which should be setting off alarms bells for anybody with even slightly liberal inclinations.

Who decides what is pornographic is a thorny and unresolved issue, and it seems much more likely that we’ll just see a ham-fisted clampdown that sweeps important resources like sexual education and sexual health information up with it. Of course, Cameron has been very clever by focusing on ‘extreme pornography’ and emphasized a crackdown on porn that glorifies rape. As frankly horrible as some ‘extreme’ stuff can be, I wonder whether the restriction will include consensual BDSM play that also includes submissive elements. I could write an entire blog on this issue alone, and even I find it hard to know where to draw the line sometimes so I don’t have much hope that Cameron and his cronies will fare any better. Once the government have set the porn debate around the extreme and indefensible examples of rape glorification and pedophilia (which is already illegal anyway and continuously removed off the web by specialists), they’ve got legislation in place that allows them to shoehorn in other things they don’t like. Creeping state controls are always a worrying prospect and we need to have a strict and cynical eye watching over these kinds of attempts.

But how effective is the firewall going to be anyway? Most commentators seem to agree that the filter would be largely useless. VPN and proxy services are incredibly easy to use and they can get around these kinds of restrictions with no problem: it would only take a very limited level of technical knowledge to render this firewall useless.

I don’t think I’m the only one to cynically suspect that Cameron’s sudden War on Porn is designed to deflect attention from the sweeping and highly controversial changes he is making elsewhere. This proposed legislation offers a placating solution to perceived ‘problems’ with porn that makes the government look like they’re taking action when in fact they aren’t, and simultaneously allows them to initiate a tradition of state-sponsored internet censorship which could open a whole Pandora’s box of problems.

If you want your voice counted on this issue, you can sign the online petition on the Government website.

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