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2011-10-11 - 10:51:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: Meta: Ethics | Internet | Law | Politics |

I remember when I first found some 'erotica' at home. I was still very much a young and naive child of 12 or so – they were far simpler times back then – and it was a book called "The Perfumed Garden". I could tell there was something forbidden about it as it wasn't on our bookshelves but hidden away (where, to be fair, I shouldn't have been looking anyway!)

I didn't really understand what it was about, so put it back and ignored it.

This morning, however, I hear and see news reports that the Government has 'persuaded' four of the UK's major ISPs to "block access to pornography" on the internet, on the spurious grounds that it is to protect children. Ignoring that fact that ISP accounts are contracts with, and paid by, adults only; that there are more households without children in than those with; and that, surely, it is for a parent to teach their child about the realities of life and, if they think best, protect them from some of those realities. The censorship would also be opt-out not opt-in.

It is not the job of a government to impose what amounts to censorship. To say this is about 'pornography' is to ignore the track record of what has happened in the past when opt-in services have tried to so such filtering. Visitors to Scunthorpe have been blocked, as have the details of students who graduated at the top of their class Magna cum laude. Worse, sex education websites – offering anonymous help to troubled teens who don't know where to turn for sensible, independent advice – are blocked from those who most need them. Who determines what is considered "pornography"? Websites about STDs are about health issues, sites about coming to terms with homosexuality, or contemplating plastic surgery, or about great paintings by the 'Old Masters' are – incorrectly – trapped by some 'pornography' filters.

"But what about the children" seems to be a common cry amongst those who would prevent their own child from ever growing up, instead keeping them locked in some Lala-Land where reality won't arrive until they leave the family home to go to college – and yes, it does seem to mostly be the 'middle classes' who most believe in this 'I don't want my parental responsibility - give it to the government' approach. And when they do leave the nest? They haven't learnt self-moderation (which often also applies to alcohol usage.) Dr Brooke Magnanti has also written today on on who is behind these proposals.

The world is not the same place as when I was a child. Things are shown on public television which raise issues I was never aware of as a child, but EastEnders, Hollyoaks, and Coronation Street are mass-market visual fodder where, it seems, anything goes. And for the child which wants to make sense of what they see but gets an indifferent response from their 'responsible' adult so goes online? Failures, like this in Canada where right-wing openly promote homophobia and, closer to home, proposed bills in Parliament like this one from Nadine Dorries .

Once you have a government deciding – on an opt-out basis – what someone may or may not see and do online, you have a government engaging in censorship. That this censorship is alleged to be 'for the public good' is irrelevant; it remains an unwarranted intrusion into the freedom of an adult to engage in legal activities. Moreso, if the details of what is being blocked from view are not public – which seems most likely – then who is to know what else a government is seeking to suppress in the name of children?

Earlier on Twitter I compared this proposal to requiring every car in the country to have a permanently-fitted child seat, no matter that there would never, ever be a child carried in the car. A friend suggested it was closer to requiring that seat to be the driver's seat.

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