Saturday 27 July 2013

UK Sleepwalking Into Censorship? More Like Running Into It At Full Pelt

We do not live in a free country. We all know that. Our libel laws are ridiculous. Our freedom of speech is curtailed should we be "offensive". We live under the gaze of corporate and Government officials. Even some websites are blocked. But we can at least try to hold on to some of the freedom we do have; we aren't Saudi Arabia or China after all.

But won't somebody think of the children? Every debate seems to revolve around those special transient state human beings under the age of 16. Marriage equality was bad because "children need a mother and a father" (we all saw what happened to Lot's daughters after their Mum died after all). And an open internet is bad because children might see things they shouldn't. And when we say "see things they shouldn't" we don't necessarily mean "what their parents or their future informed selves wouldn't want them to look at" but rather we mean "what the Government and ISPs have decided they shouldn't look at".

And we aren't talking about just porn here. Much has been said about how David Cameron's anti-porn filters will not work (and that the case that porn is harmful is still not firmly made). But more needs to be said about how these are not just porn filters. These opt-out filters will almost certainly default filter things from websites about suicide and self-harm through to "extremist material". Who will decide what constitutes extremist material? I find a book that discusses incest, murder, genocide, praises family breakdowns and proscribes execution for the smallest of crimes very distasteful and extremist. But are ISPs really going to block the Bible? Will Scientology websites be blocked? Or Greenpeace? Will the Rapture Ready forums be off limits? Or Queerty? Where will the line be draw and will it be fixed or ever changing?

Isn't it optional though? Yes of course it is. For people like me it'll be optional. Sure we'll then appear on some list at an ISP somewhere and the police will occasionally check whether a "person of interest" has his/her filters on or off as a way of deciding whether to investigate further (because it'll be a sign they are up to no good of course!). But it is optional. Will it be optional for women with controlling husbands? Or for men with overbearing wives? Will it be optional for kids in a religious household? Will it be optional in web cafes? Will it be optional in houseshares or when you are renting a room which comes with wi-fi? "Oh could you remove the filters for me?" will be regarded as "I wish to do something very naughty online". Who is going to ask it in anything other than the most open relationships and friendships? The Governments continued conflation of child abuse pictures, simulated rape imagery and porn does nothing but shame those who just want the Government to leave our internet alone and hardly promotes an honest conversation in the home.

I said 3 years ago when this was first proposed that porn was the litmus test of freedom. Sadly I didn't have the foresight to see that the Government wouldn't be satisfied with just porn. This isn't even a slippery slope argument... these extra options will go live with the porn filters.

As a Lib Dem I'm very, very ashamed that these proposals have come from a Government containing members of the party. And I'm equally saddened to see so many social conservatives who've spent the last year moaning about their freedom of speech suddenly so enthusiastic about censorship. Well when I say "saddened" I mean "unsurprised and slightly amused". They are predictable buggers.

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