All Tech Considered
4:40 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

U.K. Cracking Down On Porn, Blocking It Unless Users Opt In

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 9:02 pm

Every home in the United Kingdom will be blocked from accessing pornography through Internet connections, under new measures announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron. When these go into effect later this year, Internet users who want to access porn will have to opt in with their Internet providers.

By the end of next year, it will be against British law to have "violent" or "extreme" porn, which involves simulated rape. Searching for certain images will also be banned; an organization called the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will come up with a set of search terms in relation to child abuse/child porn that will then be blocked.

Cameron said he's taking these measures to limit the country's pornography consumption and protect the public.

"I'm not making this speech because I want to moralize or scaremonger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come. This is, quite simply, about how we protect our children and their innocence," Cameron said.

Critics are calling the move censorship, and Cameron told the BBC that he expects a "row" with Internet service providers. In a new analysis, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones wrote, "Civil liberties campaigners fear that blocking certain searches in one country could set a precedent elsewhere, making other governments more confident in applying censorship."

There's also the question of this regulation's effectiveness. Will banning porn result in less child abuse and better treatment of women? The Atlantic Wire looked into it:

"If you look at countries that ban porn (and ones that don't), you'll notice that at best, there's no clear relationship between banning porn and that country's treatment of women and children. At worst, a ban on porn is perhaps harmful. For example, take a look at India, where the distribution of porn is illegal. That country has recently become notorious for an epidemic of brutal rapes, some of them against children. Meanwhile, in the United States the incidence of rape declined 85 percent over a period of 25 years while access to pornography has increased, The New York Times reported. The U.K. is probably closer to the U.S. in that stark in comparison, and is regularly rated as one [of] the top countries in the world for women. That's not to say that porn is good for gender relations, only that any relationship between banning porn and positive outcomes is unclear."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time now for All Tech Considered

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SIEGEL: In Great Britain today, not all the news is about royal labor. Prime Minister David Cameron announced a crackdown on Internet pornography, saying that pornography online was corroding the innocence of too many British children and rejecting the notion that the Net is simply too big and unruly to regulate, Cameron set out series of proposals to make the Net safer.

NPR's technology correspondent Steve Henn joins us now. And, Steve, David Cameron isn't the first politician to set out on a crusade to protect children from online pornography. What's driving his interest in the issue?

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Well, Cameron says he's motivated by his own concerns as a father. But it's also worth noting that the Daily Mail and several other British media outlets have been on a crusade against what they call online filth for months.

Here's Cameron addressing the issue on Sky News last June.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: As a parent I worry massively about what our children can get to see when they grab hold of our iPad or log on to the Internet. And there, we need to make more progress on this issue of explaining to everybody that we want to have better filters that parents can switch on to stop access to certain sites and material.

SIEGEL: So what steps did Cameron actually take in that direction today?

HENN: Well, he's proposing a further crackdown on illegal types of Internet pornography. But Cameron is also suggesting taking steps to make a little bit more difficult for people to access legal material online. He's asked all Internet service providers in the U.K. to install Internet filters on new accounts that would be designed to block all pornography. And those filters would, by default, be on. In effect, anyone who wanted to look at legal pornography online in Britain would have to opt-in.

SIEGEL: So, we're not just talking about child pornography here. We're talking about all kinds of adult pornography - images of adults.

HENN: Exactly.

SIEGEL: And what has reaction been to all this from online companies?

HENN: Well, they've pushed back against this idea. This industry has argued that Internet filters aren't perfect; they'll screen out lots of material that shouldn't be considered porn. And they argue that technically sophisticated kids will find their way around these firewalls. There are also civil libertarians who argue that, really, this is about more than kids. They see a government trying to regulate morality among adults by making it a bit harder and perhaps a bit more embarrassing for adults to see adult content online.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Steve.

HENN: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's technology correspondent Steve Henn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.