The UK sleepwalks into censorship and we're next ... it's just a matter of time

The UK government is making Brits choose what filth and depravity they want to see online

While just about everyone in the US seems to be up in arms about the NSA's eavesdropping on anything and everything to do with their communications they're missing what's going on in my homeland of the United Kingdom.

Yes, that proud and septic isle [1] is in the throes of eradicating free speech and instituting censorship of the most insidious and pernicious kind.

As I have previously discussed, 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."

It turns out that this scheme, which begins roll-out this month in the UK, will be based on opt-in programs wherein Internet service providers will ask their account holders to permit access to specific types of online content.

Yes, you read that right; ISPs' subscribers will be asked what nastiness they want to have access to. A recent column by Laurie Penny in the UK's Guardian suggests that opting-in might go something like:

... a nice lady in a telesales warehouse somewhere, employed on behalf of your service provider; let's call her Linda. Linda is calling because, thanks to David Cameron's "porn filter", you now have an "unavoidable choice", as one of 20 million British households with a broadband connection, over whether to opt in to view certain content. Linda wants to know - do you want to be able to see hardcore pornography? / How about information on illegal drugs? Or gay sex, or abortion? Your call may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes. How about obscene and tasteless material? Would you like to see that? Speak up, Linda can't hear you.

But what categories of filth and depravity you get to choose from and (and this is critical) what is actually excluded by default will be left to the discretion (or lack thereof) of UK ISPs because there's no uniform model of what online content is to be filtered (as if such a thing could ever be defined). 

For example, those lucky, plucky Britons who were subscribers to British Telecom's Internet service (one of the first to implement the new filtering laws) found at the end of last year that "non-pornographic 'gay and lesbian' sites and 'sex education' content would be blocked by BT." Please go back and re-read that last sentence because I'm not making that up. As New Statesman reported at the time:

Working through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the [Cameron] coalition has put in place a set of filters and restrictions as ambitious as anything this side of China, dividing the internet into 'acceptable' and 'unacceptable' categories, and cutting people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

Wired UK reported in July last year:

As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on "violent material", "extremist related content", "anorexia and eating disorder websites" and "suicide related websites", "alcohol" and "smoking". But the list doesn't stop there. It even extends to blocking "web forums" and "esoteric material", whatever that is. "Web blocking circumvention tools" is also included, of course.

Wired also quoted the Open Rights Group's Jim Killock (the emphasis is mine):

What's clear here is that David Cameron wants people to sleepwalk into censorship. We know that people stick with defaults: this is part of the idea behind 'nudge theory' and 'choice architecture' that is popular with Cameron. / The implication is that filtering is good, or at least harmless, for anyone, whether adult or child. Of course, this is not true; there's not just the question of false positives for web users, but the affect on a network economy of excluding a proportion of a legitimate website's audience.

America, watch out! This method of attacking our cultural, aesthetic, and informational freedoms by leading us gently, sheep-like, into the twilight world of government controlled Internet content is just around the corner and it will be driven by extremists who believe, with all their hearts, that it will be for our own good.

If we're not careful we'll do just what the UK is doing: Sleepwalking into a government and special interest-driven plan for what people can hear, see, read, and talk about. [2]

Sound off below or to gearhead@gibbs.com then follow me on TwitterApp.net, and Facebook.

[1] Apologies to the bard ...

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,--

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

- William Shakespeare, "King Richard II", Act 2 scene 1

[2] Apologies to Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the pornographic stuff,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't into porn (honest).

Then they came for the political stuff,

and I didn't speak out because I had to watch "Tosh.0."

Then they came for the educational stuff,

and I didn't speak out because I was still watching "Tosh.0".

Then they came for the Lolcats,

but I was now watching cats ride on Roombas ...

did you see that last one?! It was sooo cute!

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