Dave's censoring the Internet

So the official announcement came in a speech on Monday that David Cameron's determined to censor the Internet, he's doing it for the children and the technically illiterate are cheering him on. He tried hard to bury this news under the coverage of the Royal birth. Mainstream media like the BBC let him get away with it too, but the Internet isn't so easily fooled.

Let's be clear on this, Internet censorship is bad thing. Do you know who else censors the Internet: China, North Korea, Iran, Syria..... Not names you'd like to think our government holds in high esteem, and yet here we are following their lead.

Dave tells us this is all necessary to protect the children, well I'd like to remind Dave of the words spoken by fellow Tory William Pitt the Younger:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

So which are you Dave? Tyrant or Slave?

But "think of the children"

Dave would have us believe that this is to protect children from the horrors of child pornography and paedophiles on the internet. The thing is we already have laws and systems in place to handle that kind of thing. Child abuse and possession of child pornography is illegal, we already have a system called Cleanfeed which filters child abuse images on the Internet, we have CEOP and the Internet Watch Foundation. The IWF has been around since 1996 and Cleanfeed has been in operation for the best part of a decade at this point, and has grown considerably in that time. Despite assertions that it would only ever be used for it's original purpose of filtering child abuse images, it has been extended and is now also used to block sites suspected of copyright infringement (a civil, not criminal, offence last time I looked) such as The Pirate Bay. It's that sort of mission creep which has the whole internet, rightly, very worried about Dave's censorship plans. What happens when the next evil we need protecting from comes along, say terrorism? Then the next one....All this from a government that has mooted pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights and has GCHQ spying on all our internet activity, well you can probably wave goodbye to any hopes of freedom of expression or right to privacy for starters.

Dave's advisor in all this Claire Perry has been busy convincing us all, with the help of the Daily Mail (Wikipedia link, I will not link to the Mail's site as they make a lot of money from advertising) et al. that all adult content needs to be locked away from the kids. She spews "facts" about how easy it is for children to stumble across porn on the internet, as if it throws itself onto your computer (top tip Claire: If you don't go looking for it you wont find any). She throws out "statistics" like: "81% of children have seen adult material online", it is of course utter nonsense put forth and supported by vested interests and holier than thou Christian groups.

We have, of course, heard all this before. The hysterical ravings of Mary Whitehouse types (for the youngsters: imagine if Helen Lovejoy were taken seriously) directed towards everything and anything their prudish minds deem as inappropriate: Video Games, Books, Films.....and now the Internet. They latch onto some incredibly rare and abhorrent event then make tenuous links to things they find morally offensive in order to justify and further their views: e.g. "X happened and the perpetrators watched/read Y therefore all Y is evil and should be banned". They take terrible events like the murder of a little girl in Wales and cynically use them to push their agenda. Yes, I'm thinking of the likes of the Daily Mail and their "BLOCK ONLINE PORN" campaign.

It's very hard to reason with these kinds of people, their arguments are designed to be emotive and if you disagree with them then you will be labelled as siding with the criminals, the paedophiles, the murderers. But let's make this very clear as our politicians seem blind to it: CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION! You need proper academic studies to establish causation. Just because a child murderer happened to watch some porn does not mean porn's responsible for the mental illness which led to their horrific crime. Another thing: Those "statistics" that you guys love so much, how about you read some proper scientific academic studies on the matter? Oh that's right, because they don't support your viewpoint. I also notice you always use the word "children" but never give age ranges. The thing is, legally speaking, in the UK a child is anyone under the age of 18. I'd imagine plenty of 16 and 17 year olds, who are legally old enough to have consensual sex, might also look at porn. Because if they're old enough to do it themselves, then why wouldn't they be curious about it? That might skew the numbers somewhat, don't you think.

Choice?

The ISP's want us to be able to choose to filter out "adult content" at the device or household level. Offering us a choice by providing software and/or hardware to enable it and telling us how to go about setting it up, much as many of them already do. That's not a bad thing so long as there is a choice and the default should always be the free and open internet. The problem here is that Dave is forcing an opt-out system implemented at the ISP level on us all, if you want access to "adult content" you will have to explicitly request it:

Please Sir...

Please Sir...

"So what?" I hear the technically illiterate cry, here's what: The way Dave wants it means that somewhere there has to exist a list of people who have requested access to adult content. What happens to that list? Maybe social services will pay a visit to parents who request access to adult content? What if a minister leaves a copy on a busy commuter train? What happens if (as I'm sure the Daily Mail will) I refer to such a database as a list of perverts to be put under surveillance, do you see a problem with it then? I sure do.

Claire, Dave and their mates tell us that we shouldn't be alarmed, it's exactly the same as putting adult magazines on the top shelf or BBFC ratings on films to stop the kiddies buying them. No, it's not even close. If I had to walk up to the shopkeeper and request that I be allowed to look at the shelves for 18 rated DVD's and they noted down my name and sent it off to the government so you could keep a record of what I was up to, then yes it's the same. Oh and if anyone dare say "if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear", how about you go and ask the victims of the Stasi, the KGB, the Gestapo, Poll Pot, Kim Jong Il, Idi Amin etc. about how that worked out for them, or just go and read 1984.

Adult content?

Dave wants to block all "Adult content" (whatever that means, 18 rated movie websites? Sex education sites? STD advice? LGBT groups? YouTube?) on the Internet by default, and he wants to ban certain (unspecified) keywords. Probably things like: "MP's expenses" or "Cash for questions". Who defines what constitutes "adult content" where's the cut off? Dave has already said page 3 is safe, so boobs are obviously ok for the children.

Dave's also wanting to make possession of "violent" and "simulated rape" pornography illegal. I'd imagine that the UK's BDSM practitioners might have a thing or two to say about that. Hell I'd imagine readers of the best seller (some 70 million copies sold worldwide according to Wikipedia), and fastest selling paperback of all time, Fifty Shades of Grey might have a thing or two to say about it too. Though Dave doesn't want to be seen as a book burner so, in a fit of inconsistency worthy of his proclaimed hated of nanny statism but love of internet censorship, it seems that only applies to visual pornography. So videos and photos, probably art too. In which case are we looking at things like the classic film A Clockwork Orange being banned again? We are supposed to be more enlightened than that these days.

Will it work?

We haven't even considered the technicalities of implementing such a system. Basically what Dave is suggesting is rubbish, not only is a perfect filter technically impossible it's also something most kids can get around in five minutes. Just look at the blocking of the Pirate Bay, their traffic actually went up afterwards. Clearly the block wasn't stopping anyone.

So in reality what we're looking at is censorship for censorship's sake, because we know kids can bypass it easily. But just because it won't work doesn't mean we shouldn't be worried. What if adults get around the system? Will there be a new crime of bypassing The Great Firewall of Cameron? Will ISP's be sued by technically illiterate parents because their little darlings managed to find porn on-line? The possibilities are endless. One thing you can be certain of: Your monthly bill for Internet access will be going up to pay for all this.

What can we do to stop this?

Sign this petition for starters: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746, tell all your friends about what a terrible idea this all is and get them to sign it too. Maybe go a step further and support/join the Open Rights Group, Pirate Party and similar. Certainly read some of the material they have on the subject, it's much better than anything I could write.