James Eadon: Politicians’ Porn Filter goes Tits Up

Our preachy leaders are indulging in what I call Censorship Porn – the debased, gratuitous abuse of our access to information.

Like our socialist friends in China and elsewhere, our incumbent prime minister, Red Dave Cameron, wants to censor vast swathes of the Internet that The People routinely accesses. Content defined as porn and ANYTHING the government deems “extreme” was earmarked to be blocked by “default” until the government “backed down” earlier in the week. However, the government will still be putting pressure on Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) such as Virgin and BT to “do more” to censor the web. This outcome is reminiscent of the approach whereby if a politician wants something unsavoury, he will campaign for something much worse, then back down to a “compromise” which is akin to his original ambition. The main protest will evaporate and the people end up lumbered with the unsavoury policy. In this case, unwarranted censorship.

It is worth noting that the government has been censoring the internet for years, it blocks a black list of sites selected by an unaccountable quango. That policy is reminiscent of the Third world draconian regimes we are supposed to be setting a good example dto.

More recently the government has ordered ISPs to block perfectly legal sites such as various Pirate Bay sites, at the behest of lobbyists such as American music and movie industry lobbyists including the RIAA and the MPAA. That strategy has failed, and it is instructive to see why. The blocked sites facilitate so-called “peer-to-peer” file sharing. The sites allow you to download “torrents” that contain information that allows you and other users (“peers”) to directly share files with one another. Note that these files do not reside on the blocked sites! Also note that file-sharing is perfectly legal unless those files violate someone’s copyright, and even then it might be legal to share those files if the end-user legally owns the same content: on a purchased CD or DVD, say.

Legitimate industry frequently uses such popular file-sharing mechanisms such as Bit Torrent to distribute software and media products, documents, etc. This improves their profits because they reduce their data centre costs. Also artists and marketers use the file-sharing networks to promote their wares. A movie called “Arthur Newman” was marketed in this way, for example, to generate buzz. Also, peer-to-peer file sharing is perfect for try-before-you-buy. Bands often give away songs to build up a fan base.

So the blocked sites have done nothing illegal, they provide a useful and perfectly legal service to people. Yet the government told the ISPs to block them. This is a scandal, this is not in the interests of the people. It is merely the desire of American special interest lobbyists such as the movie and music cartels that the MPAA and RIAA represent. Those same clandestine cartels have been caught putting their own material on the file-sharing networks in order to popularise that material. The more you get the song or movie you wish to promote “out there”, the more likely it is to sell, via word and mouth and building a fan base.

So what has this to do with the upcoming censorship of porn and so-called extreme material – even if it is done via “pressure” put on ISP’s? Blocking torrent sites failed because it created a whack-a-mole site-blocking system. Every time an ISP blocks a torrent site, another site appears to replace it. As the Internet has an inexhaustible supply of web site addresses, then the ISP’s mission to block torrent sites is doomed to fail. This is not a victimless policy: futile effort is costing ISP’s money and that cost is passed onto the customers – us. The same thing will happen when governments attempt to block content that people want. Sites will get blocked but they will spring up elsewhere. The censorship filters will always be playing catch-up as the Internet routes around the road blocks they cause. No doubt they will also inadvertently block even child-friendly sites by mistake (collateral damage).

To circumvent the Nanny State filters, unscrupulous porn and “extreme” content vendors will disguise their sites as normal sites, e.g. a politics blog, a chess site, a fashion site or a car site, say. This means that more people – not fewer – will accidentally stumble upon the the very content that the government is attempting to block.

In an ironic twist, Claire Perry MP, who ardently urges this expensive censorship folly, had her website rudely violated by “hacktivists” so that it broadcast pornography to all-comers. Thus this misguided woman inadvertently exposed innocents to pornography, the exact opposite to her intentions.

Honest sites openly warn people about the strong content within, to deter the uninterested passers by from accessing their content. Such relatively ethical sites will be the first to be filtered as they are more easily identifiable. Relatively dishonest sites, on the other hand, will camouflage themselves from the web filters, in a similar way spammers camouflage themselves from search engine filters. Such disreputable sites will be rewarded as the filters will intrinsically find it harder to identify and block them, especially when they keep re-spawning as new websites to encourage more web traffic to their content. In this way, the filters will reward the unscrupulous and punish the honest vendors. This folly will play into the hands of organised crime and more money will end up in the black market. Exploitation is likely to be darker with crime lords operating in the shadows.

Even if the politicians’ filters worked as intended it is the nature of kids to covet forbidden content. And determined kids, a generation of technically savvy urchins, will bypass the filters with ease, either by hacking or by using tunnels and work arounds provided by others.

These are some of the unintended consequences that attempts at porn and “extreme” content censorship will create.

Government controlled Internet filters are a folly, they are unworkable outside an advanced totalitarian system (which, incidentally, we are moving towards). And what is this “extreme” material that the government is putting pressure on ISP’s to block? Porn, but also, to quote from The Open Rights Group – “violent material, extremist and terrorist related content, anorexia and eating disorder websites, suicide related websites, alcohol, smoking, web forums, esoteric material and web blocking circumvention tools”. How long before the UKIP ends up with an “extreme” material badge? Or, indeed, this very Bogpaper blog?

A more enlightened approach is to educate to mitigate the risks and encourage parents to implement internet filters. The world has changed, there is no turning back to simpler, non-virtual times. Such wishful thinking will do more harm than good. Rather than have politicians attempt to filter the web of porn, our freedoms would benefit much more if we have pornographers filter Westminster of its censorship-mad politicians.

16 comments on “James Eadon: Politicians’ Porn Filter goes Tits Up

  1. David
    July 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I feel something about this issue requires the laying down of the extreme ‘libertarian’ demands for freedom at all costs.
    Images of abuse are not just confined to some area of the ‘dark internet’ – such is the huge emergent cortex like network of associations that have now developed in search engines.
    It is not a Daily Mail exageration to suggest that the net is awash with such images should you choose ‘innocently’ to tread there.
    I dont know why people cant be grown up about this without reducing it to some god given right for men to see women get thier tits out.
    That the BBC can call a program Barely Legal Drivers, without anyone cringing at its derivation is typical of the way porn culture creeps in as the norm.
    You can talk about this rationaly without calling people communists, and libtards, or using it as a wedge to push a christian agenda – can’t you? Anybody?

    • Simon Roberts
      July 31, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Since you asked “anybody?”, I’d like give some thoughts on your post.

      There are some basic points that I think need to be revisited as they are getting lost in this discussion.

      The argument against censorship is not based on the desire to view child pornography, it is based on the knowledge that Governments always exceed and abuse any powers that they award themselves. A misguided attempt to “protect children” will do no such thing but will instead enable the establishment to quietly strangle opposition.
      Take the recent NSA/GCHQ scandal as an example. Supposed measures against terrorists involve scanning the electronic communications of everyone. Leaving aside the fact that terrorists don’t use methods of communication that are open to such interception, are we to believe that treating everyone as a terrorist makes us any safer? Obviously not – it’s a clear case of a straw man being used to further the interests of the state.

      If the desire is to actually protect children that are suffering abuse at the hands of pornographers, then the efforts should be made against the culprits. It’s interesting to note that the entire discussion about child pornography is focussed on the internet, not on the pornographers.
      This fact alone should tell you that the Government has no interest in the welfare of the children, but is merely interested in introducing censorship.

      If the Government cared about the rights of victims, it wouldn’t seek every opportunity to obtain early release for prisoners and encourage non-custodial sentences.

      To me, this is pretty obviously just part of an ongoing campaign to muzzle the only uncensored form of communication post-Leveson. This nonsense about anti-women comments on Twitter is all part of the same coordinated effort.

  2. James Eadon
    July 31, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    @David thanks for commenting. The Internet reflects the real world: there are safe areas and there are no-go areas. The knee jerk instinct of politicians to attempt to make the no-go areas vanish by use of global ISP-implemented filters has two main issues. Firstly, technical and societal reasons mean that the global filters could paradoxically make things worse, as mentioned in the article. Secondly, politicians will inevitably abuse the filters to block what they do not like for political reasons, rather than what is malfeasant.
    It is the responsibility of parents, not the State, to shield their kids from adult material on the Internet. In my view, society is under more threat from extreme religion, alcohol and violence than from pornography, especially, as you say, pictures of women “with their tits out”. That society finds violent movies and TV acceptable but is appalled by breasts is a mystery to me. I’m not sure people are injured or killed by breasts, though no doubt, it has happened!
    Political correctness has repressed society. I suspect that “porn culture” creeping into main stream culture is a kind of back-lash against this repression. That this is seemingly manifested, as you say, even on the ultra-PC BBC is curious.
    The Internet presents risks and we need to manage them without forfeiting our freedoms. But our society is already a Surveillance State, one where our freedoms are being continually eroded, and a satisfactory level of privacy is practically impossible now. The most perverse thing is that few people seem to care.

    • Talwin
      July 31, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      During and since the ‘gay marriage’ thing I’ve read in the press comments about how it’s now OK for “men to stick their willies up each other’s bums”. As I guess we’re to embrace and even rejoice in this, presumably, it’s fine to talk about it, and it’s the Coalition’s intention that children and teens may be educated accordingly.

      But now, some seem to say that we should be worried that these same children, including young males, may be offended or damaged if they see pictures of women’s tits on the top shelf at WH Smith’s.

      Bizarre.

    • Talwin
      July 31, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      James, just reflecting further on your comments, in particular your observation that you are “not sure people are injured or killed by breasts, though no doubt, it has happened!”

      Indeed it has (in fiction at least).

      I refer, of course, to the 1974 film “Deadly Weapons” starring one Chesty Morgan. The film summary tells us ‘Crystal is an advertsising executive who tracks down the mobsters who killed her boyfriend Larry. One by one, she seduces each man, dugs them, then smothers them to death with her large breasts’*

      Certainly, tragic storytelling was alive and well in the 70s.

      * Large breasts = 74″ (!!)

  3. right_writes
    July 31, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    I wish that these mafiosi style politicians would at least be a bit consistent…

    It is apparently OK for them to know what we are looking at, and the information that we are exchanging, but when Bradley Manning shares some information that he thinks we might be interested in…

    They go berserk.

  4. James Eadon
    July 31, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    @right_writes – hehe yes indeedy. Also Assange. Snowden is under extreme fire too. The Americans promised not to execute him, the charitable philanthropists.

  5. duffieldjohn
    July 31, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    James: IMHO the issue here is that internet porn is being used as a Trojan horse to try to censor the internet, rather like the way phone hacking was used as a Trojan horse try to censor the free press. We’re seeing significant free speech issues at the moment, with the supposedly impartial BBC doing its bit to try to muzzle the press, and the press in turn attacking the internet. The underlying problems are that existing law is ineffective, unenforced, and unavailable to most, and that media people start off reporting the news but always end up trying to shape our views. They always get sucked into propaganda and censorship. That’s something that comes naturally to politicians, who are continually looking for ways to promote themselves at the expense of the competition.

    But note that phone hacking concerned privacy, and that there’s a conflict between privacy and free speech, as demonstrated by anonymous internet trolls. Free speech is all about exposing uncomfortable secrets, privacy is all about keeping them. Please don’t forget this when trying to raise public awareness.

    Oh, and as for “few people seem to care”, don’t believe everything you read in newspapers.

  6. David
    July 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Whilst I understand and agree with most of the concerns expressed here, I think I know my problem.
    Back in the early 90’s, when it was right wingers complaining about the internet, it was largely the .alt crowd and anarchists defending it. It was underground. Now in these debates to some extent the .alt sex brigade have become silent faced with the sewage the interent now contains, and its a bunch of ‘libertarian’ lads mags supporters shouting loudest.with never ever a sidewise expression of concern about how the dragnet of internet porn means misery for many – for fear of being called a feminazi…

    I dont know what the solution is to an internet now catering for everyone – its not censorship, its individual responsibility – something perpendicular to the political spectrum and perhaps an impossible ask of the whole world.

    BTW – I ‘accidently’ saw some Syrian ‘freedom fighter’ say goodbye to his face from a bomb on someones blog – (it did have a warning…) – in terms of ‘harm done’ I would ask to unsee that, over any of the ridiculous things done with genitals – what kids are swapping on phones I dread to think – maybe they all grow up stronger and more informed for it?

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