Pornography

David Cameron Announces Porn "Opt-In" Measure for British Internet Users

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Credit: Tom Stefanac/wikimedia

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that British households that use the internet will have to opt-in if they want to access pornography online thanks to a measure that will be fully implemented by the end of next year. 

The move is intended to crack down on what Cameron called the "corroding" influence of pornography on children.

Cameron discussed the changes in a speech that also outlined other measures aimed at protecting children which include banning the possession of "extreme pornography" and the creation of a list of "abhorrent" search terms that will be used to identify paedophiles.

From The Guardian:

The prime minister's speech is designed to answer critics who accuse him of talking tough but failing to take action. In the most significant step he will outline detailed plans to limit access to pornography.

The Daily Mail, which has been running a campaign to crack down on pornography online, reported that the prime minister will say: "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. If you just click 'next' or 'enter', then the filters are automatically on.

"And, in a really big step forward, all the ISPs have rewired their technology so that once your filters are installed, they will cover any device connected to your home internet account. No more hassle of downloading filters for every device, just one-click protection. One click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe.

"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. So we have agreed with industry that those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult. So an adult has to be engaged in the decisions."

Two important points are worth considering aside from the obvious censorship and privacy issues.

Firstly, it is far from clear that a crackdown on access to pornography will necessarily reduce the incidence of rape or sexual assault in the U.K. or that pornography has a "corroding" effect on children. In fact, as Ron Bailey has pointed out, while in the U.S. access to pornography has increased over recent years the rate of rape and sexual assault has been going down. In 2007, Steve Chapman mentioned a paper in an article on the relationship between pornography and sexual violence that showed that the states that expanded internet access the fastest were the states where rape declined the most.

According to British government statistics the prevalence of sexual assault (including attempts) among men and women between the ages of 16 and 59 in England and Wales has decreased from 1.7 percent being victims at least once in 2004/05 to 1.6 percent being victims at least once in 2011/12. In those years (2004—2012) it did not become harder for children or adults to access pornography in the U.K.

Credit: Ministry of Justice

Secondly, there are reasons to believe that Cameron's measures will be ineffective and will inevitably involve mistakes being made. David Meyer of GigaOM has written up a good analysis of what technical problems could be seen as this opt-in service is introduced, perhaps the most obvious being that the restrictions Cameron wants in place will not be hard for children to bypass. 

Read Cameron's speech in full here.