Yesterday, the interwebz seemed to be ablaze in equal measure with news of the birth of the royal sproglet and PM David Cameron’s new anti porn plans. Sproglets, whether royal or commoner, are — as you’ll probably have worked out by now — of singularly no interest to me, so don’t all faint at once when I tell you that that’s not to be the subject of today’s Muttering.
No, today I’m going to talk about pornography, or at least, about its regulation and how our esteemed leader clearly has no idea how the internet — or the human mind — works. Now, I have some friends who are totally anti-porn (to the extent that they consider lads’ mags and Page Three to be detrimental to the fabric of society), and others who regard sites like www.kink.com and www.hogtied.com (don’t click if you’re under 18 or easily shocked, folks) to be but mildly titillating. For now, I’ll let you form your own opinions about where I fit in on this spectrum.Anyway, this, in a nutshell, is what our esteemed leader (or his advisers) came up with:
- Every household in the UK has to opt in if they want to view online pornography: ‘family-friendly’ filters will be activated and the account holder will have to ask their ISP to turn it off if they wish to view anything ‘adult’.
- The possession of images depicting rape will be made illegal in England and Wales.
- Online videos that are streamed to the UK are to be subject to the same restrictions as those for sale in shops.
- Search engines will be encouraged to do more to block images of child sex-abuse.
Please tell me that you’re not reading this and thinking ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ Because it’s not. At best it’s all very silly and naïve on the part of the PM; at worst it’s deliberately disingenuous — ‘let’s appeal to the not-very-bright (and win lovely votes) and make them think we’re going out of our way to protect their children, end rape, and generally stop women being exploited.’
Oh dear, oh dear.
But let’s say we go along with his ideas for now, just for the hell of it. These wonderful filters are going to block out pornography, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will compile a list of ‘abhorrent’ search terms that will be automatically proscribed. Computers and the technology that makes them work are not sentient. They are as good or as bad as they are programmed to be. When I adopted a new dog, my formerly placid golden retriever suddenly changed into a snarling, savage hell-hound. I consulted the internet and discovered that the search terms ‘dominant aggressive bitch’ turned up some very interesting — and mixed — results. So are these words in and of themselves abhorrent? Mr Cameron would view my experience as a perfect illustration of how well these filters work and why they are needed. But he’s wrong. Because were these search terms prohibited, I would never have learnt that my dog’s behaviour was a normal reaction and the rescue dog would probably have been sent back to the shelter before the two of them had chance to become the inseparable chums they were once the hierarchy had been established. Moreover, I have not been adversely affected by what I saw. Any dominatrix-like tendencies I possess are inherent and not the result of my happening to see a leather-clad woman wielding a riding crop when I was looking for something else. I am an adult. I can distinguish between the useful and the merely interesting (or the distasteful, if that’s what you’d prefer me to say). Would I have been traumatized if I’d been eight years old? I doubt it. Nowadays, eight-year-olds can’t spell ‘dominant’ or ‘aggressive’ or ‘bitch’; and even if they manage it by a fluke, they’ve all seen whatever today’s equivalent of Xena Warrior Princess is — and she’s much more imposing than Mistress Sadica von Tawse ever could be.
Why filters anyway? The local loop (which I’m reliably informed is the bit of wire from telephone to exchange) is now unbundled, rather than filtering why doesn’t some enterprising individual — or, indeed, government-controlled body — set up NannyNet with either no access of any kind to the big bad internet, or a Great (Fire)Wall of Nanny that controls every last detail of the connexion? Oh, because people want to have their cake and eat it; they want the expansiveness of the internet but the fake security of Cameron’s filters.
Unfortunately, Mr Cameron seems less than sure what actually constitutes pornography. Jeremy Vine yesterday interviewed the Tory leader on Radio 2 (here’s a link http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b0375cm2/ — the relevant bit starts at 1:05:30 and lasts for about 12 minutes), and asked whether he advocated banning images of breast-feeding, as Facebook does. Mr Cameron was shocked that this could be viewed as pornographic. Mr Vine then inquired whether Fifty Shades of Grey would be filtered out, at which point a rather flustered Mr Cameron revealed that it wouldn’t — he didn’t think — and that it was only pornographic images — probably — that would be subject to exclusion.
Pornographic images. Mmm. Them. Just about everything can be a paraphilia or fetish for someone. Just about, did I say? No, everything. Absolutely everything. ‘Standard’ pornographic imagery — one man, one woman, or one man, two women — is but the tip of the iceberg. If you’re sexually aroused by cats, then this shameless hussy will probably have you drooling.
Should we now ban pictures of cats from the internet? Facebook would close down overnight! By the same token, I’m sure any paedophile worth his salt doesn’t need photos of children performing sexual acts to get his juices flowing and his pulse rating — an innocent image of two little girls, in their nice new party frocks will probably do the job just as well. So where do we draw the line? Who’s to say that this is a morally-corrosive image but that isn’t? According to Mr C, this isn’t an attempt at government censorship, so…?
Whilst I’m on the subject of paedophiles and child pornography — Mr Cameron waffles a little to Jeremy Vine about peer-to-peer sharing, in the manner of one who’s heard the term but has no real idea what it means. (And why should he know more than that about it? He‘s not a computer boffin after all; I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of how it works either — oh, but there again, I’m not trying to legislate for a whole country based on a concept I don’t comprehend — yeah, he really should find out more before he opens his mouth.) He then compounds his stupidity by saying something along the lines of ‘it doesn’t matter how you do it; we’ll know about it and we’ll come and find you’ — thus challenging internet-savvy paedophiles nationwide to increase their activity just to prove him wrong. Big Brother is watching you, but this isn’t censorship, honest.
Besides, Mr Cameron has clearly never come across the concept of Onion Routing. Even a techno-numpty like me has heard of this before. TOR (The Onion Router) was originally designed by the US Navy as secure way of communicating over the internet and setting up invisible websites in countries where the political regime would tend to frown on such activity — oh, a bit like the Conservative party is doing in the UK, really. It was created to be untraceable and go through firewalls. It is encrypted. It bounces happily from server to server and never follows same route twice. Messages sneaked out from all these Arab countries where there have recently been revolts and uprisings have come via TOR. What’s more, OpenTOR is available for anyone to download! Look — here’s a link if you want it for yourself: https://www.torproject.org/
And obviously, anyone who’s got anything in their possession that depicts a rape scene must surely be planning on re-enacting it. I am slightly worried about Mr Cameron’s own moral compass at this point. I own a DVD of The Accused. I do. And I don’t care who knows that I do. It’s a good film; a good court-room drama. I can honestly say that I could be in the same room as Jodie Foster (an actress for whom I have much admiration and respect) and not feel the urge to force myself upon her sexually. Nevertheless, being brutally and graphically raped on screen won Ms Foster a lot of controversy at the time, but also an Oscar, a David, a Golden Globe, a KCFCC, and an NBR, and marked her transition from child star to serious actress. But I’m shocked to learn all those award-awarding committee members are, like myself, to be considered as potential rapists. I’ve also got a copy of A Clockwork Orange, with its stylized, balletic rape scene. And I watched Scum on TV a couple of months ago. I am, therefore — if we believe David Cameron — a criminal and should clearly be banged up.
According to The Register (Jasper Hamill, “War On Porn: UK flicks switch on ‘I am a pervert’ web filters”, 22 July 2013, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/07/22/war_on_erupts_in_britain/) feminist campaigners think Cameron’s stupidity is a good thing. Mr Hamill quotes Fiona Elvines of Rape Crisis South London as saying that ‘the government today has made a significant step forward in preventing rapists using rape pornography to legitimise and strategise their crimes and, more broadly, in challenging the eroticisation of violence against women and girls.’ Because no one was ever raped before people had access to the internet? The Story of O (1954) was always intended to be an online blog, but Anne Desclos, a.k.a Pauline Réage just got a bit before herself chronologically (yes… a woman eroticized violence against her own sex… as did Elizabeth McNeill (9 ½ Weeks), Mary Gaitskill (Bad Behavior, more famously filmed as Secretary), E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey)… well, I’ll stop there; you get the gist)? The Victorians never traded spanking porn photos or met in secret clubs for the purpose? No, all that is modern and the internet is to blame. Bad, bad internet.
Most porn sites — i.e. those featuring consenting adults — don’t want to be involved with children, from either side of the camera or computer screen. They don’t want stricter controls on their activities; nor do they want to be closed down because one underage girl claims she’s eighteen. The membership of the ASACP (Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, http://www.asacp.org/) and the RTA (Restricted to Adults, http://www.rtalabel.org/) comprises more adult porn sites than anything else.
What other nonsense was there? Oh yes, restrictions on streaming. ‘Put simply,’ says Mr Cameron, ‘what you can’t get in a shop, you will no longer be able to get online.’ Yup. That’s putting it very simply. Too simply. We’re back to my suddenly-aggressive golden retriever. How is anyone to know if a video entitled good_dogs_and_bad_masters.mpg is about the mistakes people make when training their canine companions or some kind of BDSM fest with human puppies being led around on leads and drinking out of bowls on the floor? Well, it really is as simple as the PM believes. Someone would have to watch it. And every other one of the millions and millions of videos that are out there.
But it’s OK. Mr Cameron wants stricter policing by the various search engines. Let’s completely disregard the fact that most ISPs in the UK have already been censoring the internet for years, blocking child porn sites on the Internet Watch Foundation’s pretty extensive list. Mr Cameron now wants to shift the burden onto Google, Yahoo, Bing, et al That’ll take a lot of the onus off that poor soul who has to watch all the dross out there in the hope of spotting something a bit spicy. Only it won’t. Let’s imagine that the telephone number 01234 567890 belongs to a sex shop. BT decides, or is ordered, to stop listing sex shop numbers in its directory. You look in the phone book, and it’s not there; you phone directory enquiries and they too cannot help you. But the number still exists. Your friend might be able to tell you what it is; or next time you’re in that neck of the woods you could pop into the shop and ask them. Just because Mr Cameron browbeats Google or Yahoo or whoever into removing listings from websites he deems to be ‘abhorrent’ doesn’t mean that they no longer exist — it just means that you have to know where to look or whom to ask.
Mr Cameron believes that ‘online pornography is corroding childhood,’ because ‘in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.’ He wants Britain to be ‘a place where […] children are safe; where there’s a sense of right and wrong and boundaries between them; where children are allowed to be children.’ That’s nice, isn’t it? So let’s set up a few filters, let’s reassure parents that the stamping out has thus taken place; and let’s complacently sit back and be shocked when ‘abhorrent’ things do get through after all. Because they will.
Jeremy Vine asked what would become of those parents who chose to turn off the filters — would the ISPs or the government sic Social Services on them for endangering the morals (or something) of their children. Cameron waffled on about parents being responsible for controlling what their children have access to – as they do now. As they do now? So if all parents opt out, then what’s changed… other than some of the tax payers’ money being spent on another silly and futile initiative? Oh. Oh. I see.
So here’s what you should do if you think someone’s accessing your broadband illegally: ensure that anyone who connects to it without your permission is automatically redirected to a porn site. Then sit back and wait for them — or their parents — to come round and complain about how you’re a reprobate and corrupting their kids. After that, it’s simple (to use Mr Cameron’s adjective of choice): just report them for offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/computer_misuse_act_1990/#an06)