Porn-blocking: Joy Smith applauds David Cameron - Macleans.ca

Porn-blocking: Joy Smith applauds David Cameron

A British plan to filter online pornography

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As part of a larger effort, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to make it so that computer users in England will have to essentially opt-in to access to online pornography. Here is the relevant part of the speech he delivered yesterday.

There has been a big debate about whether internet filters should be set to a default ‘on’ position in other words, with adult content filters applied by default – or not. Let’s be clear. This has never been a debate about companies or government censoring the internet but about filters to protect children at the home network level.

Those who wanted default ‘on’ said – it’s a no-brainer just have the filters set to ‘on’ – then adults can turn them off if they want to and that way we can protect all children, whether their parents are engaged in internet safety or not. But others said default ‘on’ filters could create a dangerous sense of complacency. They said that with default filters, parents wouldn’t bother to keep an eye on what their kids are watching as they’d be complacent and assume the whole thing was taken care of.

I say: we need both we need good filters that are pre-selected to be on unless an adult turns them off and we need parents aware and engaged in the setting of those filters. So that’s what we’ve worked hard to achieve … 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. And, in a really big step forward, all the ISPs have rewired their technology so that once your filters are installed, they will cover any device connected to your home internet account.

No more hassle of downloading filters for every device, just one click protection. One click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe. Now once those filters are installed, it should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of a mouse without anyone knowing. So we have agreed with industry that those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult. So an adult has to be engaged in the decisions.

Conservative MP Joy Smith applauds Prime Minister Cameron.

Eliminating the easy access to pornography by children should be a common sense approach. There is much research that reveals the harmful implications of youth who are exposed to pornography. (It is shocking that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 12 years old.) For example, viewing of pornography is seen as a causative factor in child on child sexual abuse. Additionally, recent studies reveal that regular viewing of pornography can actually rewire the brain. For children, who are in a critical stage of physical development, this is alarming and can carry long term negative consequences…

I firmly believe in protecting rights and freedoms, democracy and open internet. As Prime Minister David Cameron rightly pointed out, “A free and open internet is vital …But when it comes to the internet in the balance between freedom and responsibility, we have neglected our responsibility to our children.” Surely, unchecking a box cannot be too much of a price to pay when it comes to protecting and nurturing our children.

Speaking with the Star, Ms. Smith says she’ll flag this for Mr. Harper.

So does this make any sense?

Jesse Brown says filters won’t block all of the porn and might block content that isn’t porn, Mic Wright says Mr. Cameron doesn’t understand the Internet and likens him to King Canute and Suzanne Moore calls Mr. Cameron’s proposals unworkable and sentimental. Philip Johnston supports the Prime Minister’s initiative as help for parents. The Independent reports that Mr. Cameron is facing tricky questions about how the filters will work.

In other news, Mr. Cameron doesn’t support a ban on The Sun’s topless Page 3 girl.

Update 5:26pm. Ms. Smith and I spoke by phone just now. Here’s an edited and condensed transcript of that conversation.

Q: Basically you support pretty much everything that Cameron laid out yesterday.

A: Well, I applaud the prime minister for his bold approach to work with ISPs to develop solutions to protect children. You know, we have a massive fight against child exploitation and the sexualization of children and every step we can take makes a difference.

Q: Are some of the ideas that he’s put out there, were those ideas that you had been thinking about and considered before?

A: Absolutely. If you look at the past, I have spoken about the Internet and about the fact that we need to monitor the Internet and as you know the government has required suppliers of Internet services to report online child porn. But as someone who has worked with the human trafficking issue for over a decade—and my own son was part of the integrated child exploitation unit that worked online finding predators who lured children—I applauded this very loudly because I think that we have to have this conversation. It’s time for the conversation to occur. And Prime Minister Cameron had the conversation with Internet service providers, he had the conversation with the search engines like Yahoo! and the others, so it’s done in a collaborative way. And it’s high time this happened.

And what I’m so in favour of is the ISP-based filter on adult pornography. And the purpose of this filter is not to block or censor pornography from adults, but it’s to block it from children. So, you know, some of the accusations of censorship are ludicrous. It’s like suggesting the prohibiting of the sale of adult videos to children is censorship. I mean, it’s ludicrous. When the Internet providers put the filter on, if you’re in a home and you’re an adult in a home, all you have to do is walk over to your computer and you can check a little box and take the filter off. But, you see, the reason why some people are saying, you know, some homes have filters. Well, that’s fine. But I want to point out that home-based filters are available, but the software is only effective on the computers they are installed on. So in an age of wireless home networks, when your children have smart phones, friends with smart phones and other things, this does not apply. So suddenly everything’s wide open for child exploitation and for children to be exposed to the pornography that parents don’t want their children exposed to. 

Q: One argument is that these filters a) won’t catch all of the pornography that you’re aiming to filter and b) they’ll catch things that aren’t pornography. So how do you deal with that?

A: What you have to weigh on this is how can we better protect our children. It’s not going to be perfect. Nothing we do is going to be perfect. But it’s one more step to protecting our children. And what I’ve heard is people say, oh, as an adult it’s embarrassing for me to have to do this. And my answer to that is, unchecking a box can’t be too much of a price to pay when it comes to protecting and nurturing our children. So it’s not about censoring anything, it’s about protecting the children. And we know the harmful impact of pornography on children because research is showing that. And so this is something that Prime Minister Cameron has done that has been really bold and it’s been collaborative and I think we need to have this conversation right here in Canada and take some of these steps.

Q: Do you have any sense whether the government is receptive to this?

A: Well, I have to tell you that the Prime Minister has been so bold about putting measures in that protect children and he’s very passionate about children being exploited or used and abused or exposed to things that they don’t need to be exposed to and my sense is I think the Prime Minister would be very receptive to this and I’m going to be speaking at the earliest opportunity to the Prime Minister about it. But my sense is both my Prime Minister and my colleagues would be on the same page, because we’ve talked over and over again—I know the Prime Minister met with the families of children who were bullied over the Internet and it just broke his heart and anything that hurts the children, breaks I know your heart and my heart, but it does his too. As a person who has worked with victims of human trafficking for over a decade, I couldn’t be silent on this. When I heard what Prime Minister Cameron was doing, I had to really applaud it publicly. So I will be pursuing this and continuing it, but I don’t see any opposition at all because anything that puts in measures to protect our children is what we should be doing, as decent citizens and as Canadians.