Sex & Relationships  
comments_image Comments

Could Porn Be Censored in America?

The UK, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China restrict online porn. Is the U.S. next?
 
 
Share
 
 
 

On July 22, British Prime Minster David Cameron announced a plan by which, at year-end 2014, all UK Internet users would be required to formally register—“opt-in”—for access to porn sites on the web. Those who fail would be blocked from viewing such sites.  His first step is to have Internet users install special programming filters to block access to such sites. Further, public venues like libraries, offices and cafes and nonregistered (read underage) users will be blocked from accessing porn sites.

"By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account the settings to install family-friendly filters will be automatically selected,” London’s Daily Mail reported Cameron announcing. "If you just click 'next' or 'enter', then the filters are automatically on. … Once those filters are installed, it should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of a mouse without anyone knowing.” (In the UK, like the U.S., most schools, libraries and businesses employ filters to block porn and other undesired content.)

Cameron insists the new opt-in plan is designed to protect children from the evils of pornography, pedophilia and sex trafficking. He announced the plan unilaterally, without a joint press conference with the ISPs and other Internet players. He threw down the gauntlet:  "I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this—it is a moral duty. If there are technical obstacles to acting on [search engines], don't just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them.”

The government’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) will establish a new blacklist of "abhorrent" Internet search terms that will ostensibly block pedophiles from searching child-related sites. It will have the power to examine all sites, including secretive file-sharing networks. As the Guardian reports, “all police forces will work with a single secure database of illegal images of  children to help ‘close the net on paedophiles.'"

Cameron’s plan is the latest in a series of campaigns waged in liberal Western countries from Scandinavia to Australia to either completely block or limit access to an apparently ever-growing universe of porn sites. Why this effort now? How has it fared? And should we soon expect a comparable campaign in the U.S.?

* * *

Cameron is targeting for government regulation—censorship—of what he calls "extreme pornography," especially on the web. "There are certain types of pornography that can only be described as 'extreme' … that is violent, and that depicts simulated rape,” he says.  “These images normalize sexual violence against women—and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them." 

It is currently illegal to publish and to possess such pornography in Scotland, but not in England and Wales. "Put simply—what you can't get in a shop, you will no longer be able to get online," he told his fellow Brits.

Cameron’s anti-porn announcement culminates a nearly decade-long campaign by anti-porn groups to restrict what they see as media harmful to children and women. Groups like MediaWatch-UK and Safer Media spearheaded this effort. In the wake of Cameron’s announcement, many in the UK raised concerns about both the efficacy and the effectiveness of his plan. Critics point out that filtering words like “breast” and “penis” could block sites about sexual health, sex-ed and clothing and/or novelties.  Others note that the attempt to block simulated porn rape scenes could lead to the blocking of movies like The Accused, which features a rape scene with Jody Foster. Many are concerned that the experience of GigaOM, a respected business-tech site, will be repeated: Orange, a UK ISP owned by France Telecom, blocked it in error.

 
See more stories tagged with: