British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed the democratized world’s most aggressive anti-porn laws. Unfortunately, in order to restrict access to something as ubiquitous as porn, he’ll likely have to block most of the Internet.
To protect “children and their innocence,” Cameron has proposed new regulations that will filter online porn by default and completely exclude blacklisted terms from search engines. While details are still scant, all new Wi-Fi routers will automatically filter porn, and millions of existing Internet users will have to opt-in through some type of online consent form to access adult material.
Various Internet and child-protection groups have argued that the ban will not disrupt the secret file-sharing networks of pedophiles, or the cultural factors that enable the worst forms of illicit pornography. But the most glaring issue is just how broad censors must be to completely block out something as ubiquitous as porn.
As a happy accident, my Mac broke this week, and I only have access to a stripped-down Safari Internet browser in Apple’s recovery mode. By default, Apple’s strictest parental controls were enabled, and I’ve found myself blocked off from most of the Internet. Here are a few things I can’t search for on Bing.
BLOCKED: “Child Pornography Prevention Programs”
BLOCKED: “Rick Santorum”
BLOCKED: “Weiner Sex Scandal”
BLOCKED: “Dick Costolo” (CEO of Twitter)
BLOCKED: “Jefferson sex with slaves”
BLOCKED: “Tumblr’s porn problem”
BLOCKED: “Sexual reconstructive surgery”
BLOCKED: “How to tell my boyfriend I don’t want to have sex”
BLOCKED: “How to put on a condom”
BLOCKED: “Pussy Riot”
BLOCKED: “Adult Film Industry and expansion of broadband”
Yep, that’s right, Apple blocks this website probably because we occasionally use curse words and have written about sexual issues. It also blocks out Russia’s fiery dissidents, Pussy Riot, scrubs America’s unsavory history, and would effectively block anyone from learning about the CEO of Twitter or a handful of candidates for higher office.
Cameron seems aware of the problem and has hinted at a solution that prompts users for safer alternatives. A query like “child sex” would prompt a pop-up like “Did you mean child sex education?”
The problem with this approach is that the world isn’t PG-13. Politics, business, and personal health regularly intersect with adult issues. The (very) savvy engineers at Apple have already discovered that you have to apply a tourniquet to the First Amendment to effectively block children from seeing naughty pictures.
In fact, I couldn’t even search for the story about Cameron wanting to block porn. I only accessed it because it was on the front page of Google News. Under Cameron’s Internet, I’ll have great difficulty reading about his own policies after it fades from the front pages.
Even if citizens feel comfortable opting in to a porn-friendly Internet in their own homes, they’d still be blocked from airport Wi-Fi, city Wi-Fi and public libraries.
I’m sympathetic to Cameron’s concerns. Porn is not society’s proudest creation. But this has to be the dumbest Internet policy I’ve ever heard of. And I read about this stuff for a living.