UK to Block Online Porn But Who Will Be Porn Czar?

The UK PM, David Cameron is pushing for default blocking of Internet porn ... a really bad idea.

According to a BBC news report the UK's prime minister, David Cameron, announced that "most households in the UK will have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it."

While I'm sure that many people would prefer that porn was generally unavailable except to adults (and there are many who would welcome an outright ban even for adults) the proposed legislation has some enormous practical issues to overcome. While there are huge technical problems for Internet Service Providers and search engines such as Google to provide filtering there's the even more thorny issue of who will define what is and what is not pornography? 

Now, it is true that there is online (and offline) content that is unarguably pornographic according to general Western societal standards. But the bigger problem is that there's also a far greater volume of online content that is much harder to classify. Forgetting content that might be considered "soft" porn there's a huge volume of medical and artistic works online that some might consider pornographic while others might consider that same content to be educational, scientific, or aesthetically valuable.

It's not enough, as many who are for such legislation as Cameron proposes, to contend that what is pornographic is obvious ... indecency is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder can only make judgments based on their own personal beliefs, the social norms they uphold, and the cultural standards they understand. Associate Justice Potter Stewart (1915 - 1985), of the United States Supreme Court wrote in the obscenity case of Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) that hard core pornography was hard to define but that "I know it when I see it." So, who will be the UK's Pornography Czar?

The end result of a restrictive policy such as the one Cameron proposes regarding pornographic online content is that it will -- it must -- inevitably lead to censorship and once you start on the 'Net it's just a short hop, skip, and a jump to libraries and offline publishing. As Associate Justice Potter Stewart also wrote a couple of years later in Ginzburg v. United States (1966): "Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime."

This is dangerous way to go, Mr. Cameron.

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