Suddenly we’re ALL perverts

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 18 July 2013)
Ineffective internet legislation will castigate lawful citizens

UK Prime Minster David Cameron has announced plans to fit every computer and other online devices with “family friendly filters” to block access to pornography. In what he claims is a measure to protect children from pornographic images, new computers will have the filters fitted and automatically switched on and existing users will be contacted by their internet providers to ask if they wish their filter switched on or off. Those who do not respond will automatically have their filters switched on and having them switched off will require getting a pin number to access pornography. There are also plans to bring English law into line with Scotland whereby possessing images of rape would be illegal, which of course is only to be saluted. This move comes on the heels of the Prime Minister warning owners of internet search engines such as Google and Bing that they have until October to block “horrific” internet search terms from people looking for illegal pornography.

What constitutes pornography? What constitutes obscenity? Who decides what is and what is not obscene or pornographic, and based upon what criteria? Certainly, anything which harms a child or an animal is rightfully obscene and those who post and download such material should meet the full penalty of law.

It is the plans for the family friendly filter which should be most concerned with however. Under the government proposals, the images of the brutal murder of drummer Lee Rigby by radical Islamists would still be available, yet a couple having sex would not. What then constitutes obscenity? I recently saw a video of two starving and polio-stricken children in Uganda crawling upon the ground. I find that obscene but not a video of two people copulating. What is more damaging, brutal scenes of mindless violence or the beauty of the naked human body? I can any day find images of animal abuse on the social-networking site Facebook (from those opposed to it), yet the same site not too long ago banned an image of two gay men kissing. Would such loving scenes be considered pornographic by the government? It seems to me that obscenity is very much down to the individual.

Will all nude photographs be considered pornographic, no matter the context? As a lover of photography I am well aware that some nude photography is artistic, with no sexual dynamic to it. This is an important point. When does something cross the line from art to pornography, and who makes that distinction? It is worth remembering that many examples of what we consider art today were the pornography of their time, because there were no cameras. Paintings such as Goya’s La Maja Denudis and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus are prime examples of this. If anyone still doubts such a distinction, then consider The Sleep by Gustav Courbet, which depicts two women naked on a bed in what appears to be a sensuous lesbian pose. Is that art, is it pornography, is it erotica, or is it all three, or none? More importantly, would such an image be blocked under government proposals? Another work by Courbet, The Origin of the World, almost certainly would – it is a larger than life painting of female genitalia. Yet all the artist is saying in that work is that the vagina is where we all come from. Therefore, if the painting does have a sexual dynamic, then that is purely in the eye of the beholder.

Which brings one onto naturists and students of human biology. Will they then have to apply for a pin to access sites with nude images which have absolutely no sexual connotations to them? Again, who decides what is and what is not pornography, and based upon which criteria?

What of those who have no computer but who rely upon libraries and internet cafes? What are the chances of them getting the filter switched off if they need to access something. A transgender friend of mine makes the point that there are internet cafés already block searches for Gay, LGBT, transsexual (in the assumption all transsexuals are prostitutes), yet the sites that serve those communities are anything but pornographic and have saved the lives of many suicidal teenagers. Will these sites then be blocked?

I do not deny for one moment the need to protect children from adult images, but the vast majority of parents already do so by setting their own filters on computers and other devices on their own. For filters to be forcibly placed upon online devices suggests that the government believes that the vast majority of parents are showing a dereliction of duty in the protection of their children. I would actually say that is deeply insulting to parents. The government counters that computer literate children can and do often bypass these filters. This is true. Therefore I remain to be convinced just how the account holder is going to in any way deter such internet savvy kids.

The very idea of applying for a pin to turn a computer filter to off disturbs me. Just who will be holding the information of those account holders who have applied for a pin? That basically puts those of who may apply for a pin on a register, and possibly under suspicion. There have been plenty of cases of sexual offenders where the media have reported that large amounts of pornography have been found in their home – without once mentioning the nature of that pornography. And this is what worries me. We live in a culture where ownership or viewing any pornography, even if it is legal, is seen as suspect. It seems to me then that there is every danger of law-abiding citizens who view perfectly legal images becoming criminalised, or at the least possibly being wrongly investigated as potential sexual offenders.

Conservative Member of Parliament Claire Perry MP, Mr Cameron’s adviser on the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, pointed out that the killers of schoolgirls April Jones and Tia Sharp had accessed legal pornography before moving on to images of child abuse. I would counter however that these are but two cases, whereas most people who access legal pornography do not go on to look at paedophile images. If Ms Perry is somehow suggesting, as she appears to be, that legal pornography is a gateway to illegal pornography, then I would ask her to supply proven scientific research for that. She cannot of course, for the simple fact that there is no proven causal link between the two.

Besides, the government also proposes to have “pop-ups” with those searching for illegal images can go to get help. That is derisory as most paedophiles and other sex offenders will ignore them, and it does nothing to stop such images being posted, nor to rescue children (and others) who are being abused or prosecute those involved in illegal sexual activities, preventing them posting such images and / or closing down their sites. In reality this legislation is pointless, for the simple fact it will not stop those who wish to view child pornography and other sexual abuse from doing so. They will merely find another way around it, and all of us who obey the law will pay for that with infringement of our rights.

Asking search engine owners to blacklist certain terms is utter nonsense. For a start it would be an extremely stupid sex offender who went to Google or Bing to look up child pornography, that is just asking to be caught. And if there is one thing we know about sex offenders, they are anything but stupid. Most are actually highly intelligent, hence their ability to be so manipulative. Such a block will not stop the illegal online sites sex offenders have access to and share the links to within groups. No, again it is going to have an adverse affect on the law-abiding internet user.

Again, it is down to what is considered a sexual reference. One person phoning BBC Radio 2 recounted how his school blocked the word ‘sex’ from searches, with the result that pupils could not look up Sussex, Essex, Wessex, etc. An internet group I am in likewise censored comments I made about the book “Village of the Damned” and the author Philip K Dick. That is what happens when certain words get blacklisted or censored on the internet; it can often go way to far. What then, under government proposals would happen to someone looking for directions to the English town of Penistone, or hillwalkers looking for the Lake District hill of Great Cockup? And do not even think of looking up an innocent poem by Robert Burns about a hat – titled Cock up your Beaver.

Contrary to what David Cameron claims, I suspect that these measures have very little to do with child protection, and more to do with controlling what the public can and cannot look up on the internet. I suspect this is possibly based upon the Conservative government’s strongly inhibited and puritanical view of human sexuality, which views anything as explicit as a mother breastfeeding in public as a scandal of astronomical proportions, and how in their elitist manner they view anyone who views pornography as a pervert and a potential sexual predator. I am also not fooled over how this legislation may be abused to control what we may view about government activities.

There are always ways around things which manipulative people will find. I am not about to name them but I know of a Facebook page with extremely graphic (legal) pictures of sexual activity between a man and a woman, and of videos on YouTube with close up images of female genitalia. Despite notifications to the Admins, those who posted these appear to have somehow got around the controls of those websites. What chance then of controlling those accessing child and other illegal pornography?

The internet has opened up pornography to a much wider audience than ever before, of that there is no doubt. The vast majority of people who download and view pornography however are law-abiding citizens, for whom it is used to spice up their lives, with no adverse affects to anyone involved. What adults do in the privacy of their own homes, so long as they are not harming anyone is their own business and this governmental intrusion into people’s private lives is unwelcome, unneeded and actually unworkable for it’s supposed purpose.

Filtering certain images and blacklisting words will do nothing to deter sexual offenders but are an intrusion into the privacy of internet users and an infringement upon our rights, which has the potential to criminalise many law-abiding citizens, based upon the illegal actions of a tiny minority.

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