Cameron's Censorship Plan Isn't About Porn, it's About Freedom

As the government weasels its way ever further into our private lives, Cameron's clampdown on porn is the least of our worries...
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As the government weasels its way ever further into our private lives, Cameron's clampdown on porn is the least of our worries...

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David Cameron's war on porn is in full swing. The government have announced that by the end of the year, all internet users will be faced – by default – with a filter that will stop them from accessing a range of websites, including sites hosting pornography.

This is not just a fight against porn, however. It’s a dangerous and divisive attempt to control what we, the people, can and cannot do in the privacy of our own homes. Pornography is only one category of material amongst many that the government will be averting your eyes from. The filter will include a staggering amount of content, and although exact details have not been released, we know that websites relating to smoking, drinking, violence, along with esoteric material (meaning material intended for small groups, or only understood by small groups) and web forums will be targeted.

Concerns over how exactly this will work immediately spring to mind: how pornographic does a site have to be to be considered worth censoring? Which web forums will be targeted, and for what reason? What counts as a smoking, or drinking, or violence related site? (I’ve seen pictures of people boozing on the Daily Mail website before – let’s hope that will be enough.)

The most troubling inclusion on the hit list is “esoteric material”. It’s an incredibly broad term that could cover everything from sites for sports enthusiasts to information about minority religions. This highlights the sheer abuse of privilege that runs through the heart of this scheme: it's those with power deciding what those without can and cannot see, specifically targeting the interests of small minorities. The idea that this is about to happen in Britain is truly sickening.

The dressing up of this generic filter in provocative, pornographic clothing is, of course, deliberate, as it allows the governments to paint those that object as perverts. “What's that? You don't want us to filter out your porn? Well, I think we all know why, you dirty little bugger.”

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The same can be said for the notion, spouted by supporters of this scheme, that this is for the protection of our children; that it’s a noble attempt to shield the little ones from the horrors of the big, bad, online world. As well as being perverts, objectors are now also child-haters, who want the brains of our youth to rot as they are filled to bursting by thoughts of boobs, fistfights, and videos of drunk people falling over themselves.

This scheme is not aimed at protecting children. If it was, then the government would provide the filter solely to households with children living in them. And even then, there are already very good parental controls readily available to people worried about what their kids might try and do with a keyboard and an internet connection. Perhaps the only people that this scheme will help are those parents too lazy or incompetent to set up these already existing controls, something that is surely a basic parenting skill in this day and age.

Advocates of the filter might say is that it's all about personal choice, and therefore making a song and dance about the whole affair is pointless: if you don't like it, don't choose to have it. Leaving aside the fact that the choice between freedom and censorship doesn't seem like much of a choice at all, the claim is simply not true.

There is no democratic process involved in this decision, and neither is there any choice on the matter for each individual. No pop-up asking “do you want us to control your internet?” with large YES and NO boxes underneath. This will happen, whether you like it or not, whether you support it or not, whether it’s ridiculously stupid or not (it is), and it’s up to you to go through the hassle of stopping it. Because why should the government care about your freedom?

The “on-by-default” part of this scheme is also a deliberate tactic. Think about all the shopping you've done online. When you get to the checkout, chances are there's a load of tick boxes, already filled, asking if you'd like to receive emails on brilliant new products. Half of the time, you probably don't notice them, with the result that you get spammed left right and centre with things you couldn't care less about. It's a mild annoyance.

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Now imagine that missing those tick boxes changes what you can and cannot see online. The government knows that defaults are powerful – very powerful – and most people won’t end up changing them. In employing this sneaky tactic, they're trying to pull the wool over as many eyes as they can.

The creepiest part of the whole affair, however, is the self-censorship that this filter will doubtless cause. The knowledge that you need permission to visit those weird corners of the internet you frequent, that you need to go on record as opting out of this filter, that it could even come out in a courtroom, will change people's behaviour.

Because of the attention that has been placed on the porn aspect of this filter, tenants will be too embarrassed to ask their landlords to remove the filter, as will teenagers with their parents. Husbands and wives will keep the filter for fear of the message that its removal will send to their spouses. Arguments will be had, secrets will be kept, and a sense of distrust will take hold.

There's something very sinister about the idea that the government are casting a disapproving eye over your online activity. That children will be raised with this filter on, unaware of the thousands of pages of information (amongst other things) that they'll be missing out on. That government policy can make people second guess themselves, and stop doing things that they would otherwise happily do.

It sets a dangerous precedent. Once this filter is introduced, what stops the government from adding to it? Who decides what gets filtered? This isn't a slippery slope, it's a sheer cliff: now that politicians can control – by default – what the populace can and can't see there's no more barriers of freedom for them to breakdown on their relentless trudge to controlling our online world. Yes, most people who use a computer will be able to get around the filter, but the fact that our government dares employ this tactic is very scary indeed.