Britain's daft plan to block porn is no example for Canada - Macleans.ca
 

Britain’s daft plan to block porn is no example for Canada

Jesse Brown explains the problem with content filters


 

British Prime Minister David Cameron has just announced one of the grandest censorship schemes ever attempted. His goal is to filter the entire Internet of pornography, for all Britons save those who request it:

“By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account, the settings to install family-friendly filters will be automatically selected. If you just click ‘next’ or ‘enter,’ then the filters are automatically on.”

National Post columnist Barbara Kay was quick to chime in with her approval.  “The U.K.’s example,” she wrote, “is worth following.”

In fanciful language, Kay decries modern pornography, which unlike the chaste erotica of yore does not depict what she deems “normative” sex, but instead a troubling “range of human sexual lubricity and depravity.” Anointing herself an expert on juvenile masturbators, she instructs us that “contrary to what one might assume, (kids) are not watching for arousal, but as a guide to their own future actual performance.”

I get it: Kay hates porn. Or, at least, she hates modern porn, citing a preference for 19th century naughty postcards. I won’t quibble with her predilections, but I will say that today’s fare offers something for everyone. Pre-Internet, horny teens were served up one-size-fits-all sexuality by any dirty magazine swiped from a 7-Eleven. This “normative” sex was straight sex between macho men and skinny white women. Whether kids seek porn to get off or to get educated — isn’t it both? — I’m glad the full “range of depravity” is available.

Many won’t agree. Many parents don’t want kids watching any kind of porn. Many share Kay’s hatred of modern porn. There’s much to hate about it. All that is fine, but it’s not the issue.

The issue is technological. It’s much more interesting to discuss sex than computers, but I’m afraid there’s no way to avoid engagement with the basic practical impossibility of any porn-filtration scheme.

You simply can’t block all Internet porn, and you can’t avoid blocking things that aren’t porn when you try. Whether a filter uses blacklists or keywords or image analysis to hunt down fleshy pixels, it will always be fooled by porn that wants to fool it, and it will always result in false positives: content that an algorithm classifies as porn when it isn’t. Even if the failure rate is tiny (and it never is), this margin of error will always be large enough to render the filter useless for its intended purpose while massively destructive in terms of collateral damage.

It’s the Internet, after all. There are billions of pages.  If a filter misses a fraction of a per cent, that could easily constitute 1 million pages of accessible porn, enough of a selection to ensure kids who want smut will find it. Meanwhile, if the filter incorrectly blocks a fraction of a per cent, the government will have accidentally censored 1 million pages of non-pornographic free expression.

(And it might not be accidental. When Australia’s government tried to filter porn in 2007, its secret blacklist, later leaked, was found to include non-pornographic sites containing political criticism.)

I’m not comfortable with those numbers.  I’m not comfortable with private companies that consult secret blacklists and run filters for governments that decide what I can and can’t see.

I’m not even convinced we have a problem.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


 

Britain’s daft plan to block porn is no example for Canada

  1. “Pre-Internet, horny teens were served up one-size-fits-all sexuality by any dirty magazine swiped from a 7-Eleven.”

    How much technology changes society – I am in early 40s and I remember getting excited when my mom’s sears catalogue arrived because of bra ads. Dirty magazines were a luxury good, rarely seen, unless someone’s father had a stash of playboys.

    I don’t have children myself but I mind my single sister’s two children often because I work from home while my sis doesn’t. My libertarian instincts are constantly at war with how I think children should be raised. I don’t want internet censorship but porn should be harder to find and I don’t know what the answer is.

    I don’t know anything about technology but would it be possible to offer multiple internet experiences? Different levels of censorship could be offered?

    • The problem is that it can’t be done effectively. And people like Kay and David Cameron are trying to draw a line between legal porn and child abuse content, which is unethical and immoral. One includes consenting adults, the other are images of children being abused and harmed. To call it “porn” to me is even offensive.

      Countries like China and Iran struggle with trying to stamp out dissenting view points using Billions of dollars worth of resouces and armies of people daily pouring through the “deep level” of what people post, comment, and also send and recieve. And they still can’t effectively prevent it from occuring 100% of the time 24/7/365 days of the year.

      That’s not what David Cameron is purposing. What we are talking about in this is creating a blacklist, not unlike Project Cleanfeed (which is a blacklist of websites, so microsoft.com, google.com ect… most Canadian Internet Service Providers agree to block for their users automatically, which is not mandated by legislation) in filtering out child abuse content. But again the issue lies in forcing it on EVERYONE for content that is otherwise legal for you and I as adults to view. And that this list of “porn watchers” would be stored somewhere, and as things always leak so will this. Think about teachers, doctors; professionals being harmed by this simply because they want to watch legal adult content.

      So a new Cleanfeed would effectively stop almost no one from viewing this legal adult content because kids already know how to bypass this. People of my generation and younger today, when they were kids in grade school were using proxies and other means to get around these kind of blocks for gaming sites on school and library computers.

      And people who look for child abuse content again use these methods and operate on parts of the Internet called “Darknets” to avoid detection (parts of the Internet where anonymity is a prerequisite to access). There are ways for you to secure computers with software if you want to allow children to use them. Which is probably more effective and responsible. And monitoring their activity and talking to them about the proper uses of it.

      We have to get the social Conservatives back onto taking personal resposibility here. The Internet is a great resouce but if you don’t talk to your kids, don’t offer them guidance and leave them unsupervised then why the hell should the responsibility fall to the rest of society to be their net nanny? And why should those without children be caught up in this dragnet? It just says it’s less about protecting children and taking a stance on something they see as immoral for us all. Fuck that noise.

      I think the author is right. A lot of this is a technological problem and a problem for police. One Kay’s generation just doesn’t get. But it is also one of civil liberties and the level of authority we give to Government.

      • You mean they’re trying to equate the two.

        • Yes.

    • porn for young individuals IS rather hard to find.

  2. Full disclosure: I made it half way through this article before I went to my favourite porn site and masturbated

  3. Great article Jesse, Your last 3 sentences are on the money. I would be more worried about kids finding some of the sites you discuss in your last article.

  4. I don’t know if there’s a politician in the world that understands how the internet works….or even what it is.

  5. wow seriously! how lame is this idea.. all you need to do is move all the porn sites off the .COM to something like .XXX or what ever they want it to be and block all the addresses that match .xxx from your browsers or this can be done at the ISP level. Then the ISP can unblock these .xxx sites if requested by the customer. Voila, no more porn for those who don’t want it, which is probably 0.0000001% of the population.

    • What happens to all of the existing business that have already built a brand identity around their .com? Are they out of luck and have to maybe go out of business because of this change? What if some opportunistic person buys ExamplePornSite.xxx before the legit owner of ExamplePornSite.com gets around to it?

      What about porn that gets uploaded to a place like flickr, it’s a .com but any kind of photo can get uploaded there.

      There’s so many edge cases that just blocking .XXX isn’t sufficient to block porn.

    • What about a site that registers as .com but someone reports it as being a porn site but they disagree? Who chooses?

    • They tried exactly that a few years ago but it was denied because of backlash from people who thought it would make pornography too easy to find.

  6. “It’s the Internet, after all. There are billions of pages. If a filter misses a fraction of a per cent, that could easily constitute 1 million pages of accessible porn, enough of a selection to ensure kids who want smut will find it.”

    Likewise, the police will never be able to put an end to murder, so why even bother? And people will always get cancer, so why try to beat it? In Jesse Brown’s world, there no such thing as “half way.” Like all reactionaries, he believes that if something can’t be 100% achieved, then it’s no good. Most people move beyond that kind of black-and-white thinking by age five

    • I’m also not convinced that we even have a problem as well, while it’s obvious that murder and cancer are problematic, I haven’t seen sufficient evidence to convince me there’s a problem with porn online that it is so bad that it can only be solved through censorship.

      • It stems from a recent UK court case. Internet child pornography was cited in Mark Bridger’s abduction and murder of schoolgirl April Jones in Machynlleth, Wales. It was said in court that people don’t normally just become child killers overnight – but Bridger did, apparently acting out his child porn fantasies.

        • Sure, but child porn is already illegal, as it should be. What’s being offered up now isn’t a ban on child porn (which is already banned) it’s a barrier to ALL porn, including the perfectly legal stuff.

          • Illegal, but available through Google.

            The UK government’s action is a way of making the internet industry aware that it is accountable for what it publishes.

          • I’m not sure you can find much child porn with a Google search, but even if you could it’s a bit of a jump from that to a claim that somehow Google is therefore publishing child porn. That’s kinda like going after Sony for making blank DVDs that child porn gets burned on to.

            More importantly, making legal internet users jump through this type of hoop is supposedly about keeping kids from accessing any porn online, which couldn’t be more naive. And I don’t see why law-abiding adults without children should have to proactively turn off kid-friendly filters on computers no kid is ever going to access. When did it become my responsibility to protect other people’s kids from accessing adult material online?

          • The head of the unit that monitors the UK Cleanfeed system has already said this is a stupid ass statement to make. Most CP freaks are off on VPNs, Darknets and encrypted connections. They’re not google searching to get their deviant jollies. This shows how much you understand the issue. Blocking out search engine words or websites (which is already done via Cleanfeed for child abuse content) doesn’t address the issue.

            And neither would blocking all legal adult content help find these people or remove child abuse content from the Internet, nor would it be effective at stoping minors from accessing most if not almost all adult content out there.

            What it would do is inconvenience me and put a filter on my connection when no children use my Internet connection, and have a bunch of prudes “shame” me into registering as some kind of deviant for watching consenting adults bang. or maybe two women. Or 3 women and a strapon.

          • The “internet industry” doesn’t publish anything. Is McLean’s part of the “internet industry” or the publishing industry? Is a blogger?
            Think about this.

    • I don’t think you are echoing the correct sentiment – that million pages includes millions of porn pages missed and millions of legitimate pages incorrectly filtered. And even if the filter was 100% accurate – why limit pornography? Why is this a bad thing, and why can’t parents manage it themselves?

    • I think you’re missing the point on that one. It’s more the million pages of false positives that are the problem in that hypothetical. If all of a sudden you are censoring a bunch of legitimate speech (like, for example, legitimate sex education resources), while only making it *slightly* more difficult to find pornography, that is probably not a trade worth making.

      Cory Doctorow made the argument far better than I ever could in The Guardian last fall: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/nov/13/children-porn-starbucks

      • Agreed. When my daughter was younger I tried using the filters available at that time and quickly took them off again because the filter blocked non-porn sites I was trying to access. I’m sure filters are better now but still…

        Maybe require porn sites to include some tag that filters can read? And assign a huge fine for non-compliance. (It won’t catch them all – some will still skirt the law and risk the fine – but it would block the majority without the false positives.) Then let individuals choose whether or not to turn on the filter.

      • We have had this experience already in Canada. When our border guards were instructed to block porn that was abusive and given “feminism 101” briefings (i.e. any woman in restraints is violence against women and human trafficking), the FIRST ting targeted was lesbian erotica featuring consenting adults. The SECOND was gay fiction. Gay bookstores in Vancouver and Montreal were repeatedly targeted. The law was misused literally from day 1. The problem for filtering sites is just as bad, maybe worse, and as likely to be abuse… i.e. 100% likelihood.

    • Our justice system works on the “innocent until proven guilty” principle because society decided that it was just to let ten guilty people go free rather than punish one innocent person.

      This internet filter would be like letting ten guilty people go free while punishing ten innocent people.

    • Comparing watching porn to murder and cancer is quite extreme… Our efforts to prevent murder and cure cancer have a much higher priority than preventing teenagers from masturbating to dirty videos on the internet. If we censor porn because a child was abducted, then we need to censor video games because people are shooting up schools. Watching porn doesn’t create child molesters, just like playing a video game doesn’t create killers.

    • Like all reactionaries, he believes that if something can’t be 100% achieved, then it’s no good.

      Sure. Whereas there’s nothing whatsoever reactionary about comparing pornography to cancer and murder.

    • The point is that trying to censor legal porn isn’t going to even REMOTELY stop children from being abused. This is like making seat belts mandatory to stop drunk driving, the two things barely have anything in common.

      • Dead on. If anything, porn reduces sexual violence as demonstrated by the MASSIVE decline in it worldwise since the birth of the Net. Whatever the case is, sexual violence and porn exposure do not, society wide, correlate. They move in opposite directions.

    • No. Stop talking, for starters.

      Think about it like this. Lets all install CC cams EVERYWHERE because murder happens. Lets all just give police 100% access to our phone lines, text messages, emails and other communications without fuss, warrants or oversight because MURDER HAPPENs.

      This is what is being asked of adults here. We’re not children.

    • the difference being a twelve year old coming across pornography leads them to nothing but realizing there is porn. it does not end with someone dead.

  7. Great article, Jesse. It’s a slippery slope when a government starts censoring the internet. Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? Soon they’ll just make porn illegal and use the same justifications as they have the War on Drugs. Insanity I tell ya!

  8. Interesting Article, but missing a minor point. This whole blocking of all the porn on the internet is being touted as some kind of anti paedophile act to whip up the ”think of the children” brigade into a frenzy of David Cameron worship

    • Ah – the Vic Toews Method!

    • we are waiting for the Cameron sex-tapes

  9. It’s not censorship – it’s accountability. People are going to have to state their interest in porn when setting up an internet account, that’s all.

    • Why should any normal, law-abiding adult have to do that?

      • Well, why not? It’s no different to signing up to the Playboy channel.

        If an individual wants to access adult content, that’s fine – but I think they should opt in. Actually, I’d be equally as happy with the option to opt out of adult content when setting up an internet account.

        • It seems to me that having to proactively register my desire for an uncensored internet connection is significantly different from me having to register to subscribe to a paid service.

          • Isn’t “register[ing] to subscribe to a paid service” exactly what you do when you open an account with your internet provider?

          • Yes, but I’ve always seen that service as paying for “access to the internet”, not “access to those parts of the internet that the government sees fit to allow me to access”.

        • I don’t recall ever having to justify my cable choices to anyone, thank you very much.

    • It is censorship. If you want to censor your internet connection, there are a plethora of tools available to do just that. Leave everyone else alone.

    • Who or why am I required to be “accountable” to someone because I want to watch porn sometimes?

    • Why the hell is it anyone’s business why people like LEGAL porn?

  10. How can children even watch porn anyway?

    My answer: When the parent (father, typically) forgets to log off his unfiltered account, the child could view porn. >.>

    • KIds use their own computers…and passwords are hackable.

      • This is true – to a certain extent – but I have one major problem with this premise. The parent is in charge, there are many ways short of passwords to stop a child having unauthorized access to a computer. My own children have had access to the internet since they were old enough to use it, but – and it’s a huge but – with limitations.
        I can see every site they go to, I can, if I want view what times and how long they logged on for each time – all I have to do is take the time to actually view it and actively parent.
        I’ve never had a problem with my teenagers viewing porn, although since they already knew I would be half keeping an eye on their viewing habits, some of the sites visited have spawned discussions; which I don’t feel is a bad thing. My main issue has always been when a site they’re visiting is so virus ridden it infects our whole network.

        I don’t use expensive software or a wealth of technical knowledge to find this out… I just use the parental controls which are easily accessible in any version of windows from vista up if you have the ambition to learn and be involved in your child’s computer life.

        It’s just like anything else in life – the computer is a tool – a useful one for homework, projects and amusement, but just a tool. With a little knowledge and a little effort, it can be a learning tool in many more ways while still safe.

        • Yes, but the point is…..parents ARE responsible for doing it. We don’t want the govt ….or anyone else….censoring it.

          • I agree whole heartedly, was just posting an addendum to my long-winded rant when I saw your reply lol

    • Forgot to add, I can see my own history too as well as my child’s own account. My main point is we don’t need the nanny state to be even more of a nanny state – we need parents to be parents and not be afraid or ignorant of the technology we’re giving to our children

  11. I remember how embarrassed I was to try to observe the smutty magazines at the corner store, when I was 10 years old. The excitement was even stronger than candy. Even my barber would not let me look at his Playboy cache, reserved for all those waiting for haircuts and older than 16. I remember when I got my chance and the barber would “blow-dry” the centerfold pussies as a joke.
    Well … times have changed.
    Now I can get anything with privacy, internet bandwidth, a computer, and a free hand to jack-off. Note that this is free stuff that is easily available, so just what do you think you get when you actually pay for the “better” smut. Of course this is not real erotic love, like being married to the love of your life. This is addiction to quick arousal and without the pain of love sickness.

    • Paying for porn is quite possibly the dumbest thing one can do in this day and age. It’s like paying for air. Seriously. There is no “better porn.” Seen one, seen them all (which is really the goal, seeing them all).
      Yeah, folks will bend themselves all outta shape about porn, but seriously, it’s all the same and it’s all free.

      • in truth it’s about the biological drive to ensure the species survives. Because anything else is eventually taxable. Next .. eunuchs and female circumcision.

  12. How about, everyone who doesn’t want to live in a society where porn exists move to the middle-east and see how much they like it… because freedom of expression and tolerance are what’s really at stake here.

    • There’s tons of porn available throughout the Middle East – it’s just that it’s all Western.

      That’s why the local guys constantly hassle white women for sex; they think they are all sluts, because that’s all they see. (Not to mention laws that see rape victims jailed.)

      • yeah… that must be it, the western porn (smh)… not because they have such a low view of women in general that they require them to stay covered at all times and not be alone with any man who isn’t their husband or a direct relation (lest the men’s carnal desires over-rule their oh so pious nature)

  13. It’s a tad ironic that this government will rush to regulate pollution in the virtual environment when such in the physical one is anathema. Dirty internet, bad. Dirty lakes, fields and rivers? Meh.

    • this is what Conservatives do. Remember who it was that scrapped the Avro Arrow

      • The Canadian government couldn’t afford the program, and couldn’t sell it to anyone else… and it was actually A.V. Roe himself who ordered it scrapped in a fit of pique.

  14. Well written. I talk to my kids about it. Filters do nothing to address sexting and all of the other concerns parents have. I’ll take responisbility for my children and not the government thank you.

    • EXACTLY! Parents need to take responsibility for their children. The last thing I want is the government deciding what my kids will and will not see. I’d much rather talk to my kids about pornography than have it banned.

  15. I want less government not more.

  16. I’ll believe that the Cons care about child porn, when they press charges against NAMBLA and child porn fan Tom Flanagan.

  17. This is the smartest thing I’ve heard on this idiotic and unconstitutional idea that has arisen in the mind of this Conservative backbench pearl clutcher.
    Talk to your kids. Teach them values. The internet will take care of itself.

  18. Why do they not go after the makers of the stuff? Albeit the genie is out of the bottle and anyone can produce their own erotica and upload, and do, besides the mainstream pornographers; which tells you something about the audience. But it would be the same swamp as going after prostitution, people who purchase their services, etc. The “key” is education(public) on human sexuality. Too much to ask? In the most advanced technological civilization the earth has seen since the creation. Now this would be a game-changer. “Government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. And Religion? We see where that ends up. Mother nature cannot be controlled nor contained. And that will be the solution in the final end. It is interesting to note how the CPA & APA are silent on the matter. And leave it to the mainstream media and politicians who haven’t the faintest clue as to what they deal with here; except through the prism of their bankrupt ideological and business models (sic) The Weiner man trying to become Mayor of NYC. It is indeed a strange world. Or perhaps we are finally coming to grips with the nature of the beast

  19. This is, yet again, a way for the media to turn your eyes away from what the real idea behind all this is. While they say this is to block explicit content, think of how quickly it could be turned around to block things the government doesn’t want you to see? It’s not just explicit content they want to block, it’s them wanting to block you from not seeing what they don’t want you to see. Who decides that? The government, and just about anyone else that has access to that blocking list.

    It also makes your internet traffic infinitely more traceable. Think about it.

  20. Websites for Astronomy organizations were once widely blocked by various providers and ‘net nanny’ programs for mentioning observing without telescopes or binoculars… “naked eye observing”.

  21. It looks like they’re just ‘auto-checking’ one of the boxes for filtering options. Seems like you could probably just un-check the box if you want. Am I missing something? I mean I know it’s a “slippery slope” and all that but this seems pretty far from actual mandatory/forced censorship.

  22. This is 100% about censorship.

    CONs don’t like science or free speech .. all threats to their idiotic world.

    Once you create a filter … it’s very easy to add to it …

    You can see the world CONS have all sat down at a G8 Event and agreed to shut down the internet.

    A CON/Corporate world would never want Free Speech.

    BTW … why no Violence Blocker? Isn’t Violence as equally bad?

  23. There is something called proxy…….

  24. Where do I sign up?

  25. …that woman is stupid. they would fuck animals and rape their own wives for fun back in the times of yore,. and sexuality wasn’t anyhting different to normal life.

  26. family is grotesque. them old bastards even their own children.. only yet a small baby and wash them genitals. the baby washing should be put forth to other nonrelatives. Dont they think what if the children remember the terror as they grow up?

  27. “e basic practical impossibility of any porn-filtration scheme” well i understand supporting porn for children, as they need at least sexual contact or something BUT this sentence is completely stupid. one only just allows a certain set of domains and their subdomains and filtration is done. Mabe if some hackster hacks some porn into these domains.. somehow.. then it is impossible practically.

    • for example u can setup a filter where first line allows the addresses youporn.com and all subdomains (this way if url filtration is possible with the software), then u can also add khanacademy, nih.com, mail.google.com (but not google.com generally), maps.google.com.. etc.. then at the end u specify all else is banned.. then u can add to this list if u verify.
      youporn is good because i think there is no abusive porn inthere (i think), but although it depicts some bad standards as well, and there is no tutorial or explanation on all the videoes, no disclaimers.
      i first wanted to add youtube, but it becomes littered sometiemss with videoes wich are about horrible things, but one cannot stumble upon such all the time because one have to look for something similar.
      khanacademy is kinda good (although it has no education porn so far, i think only something technology, mathematics related some chemistry maybe and some cellular biology).
      nih.com is mostly some link database thingy for american medical things. it is interesting to read about this and that there.
      mail.google.com is a mailservice url, maps.google.com can be used to find directions and maps.