Leaked document shows Europe would fight UK plans to block porn

Leaked document shows Europe would fight UK plans to block porn

Before the UK elections earlier in the month, David Cameron spoke about his desire to clean up the internet. Pulling -- as he is wont to do -- on parental heartstrings, he suggested that access to porn on computers and mobiles should be blocked by default unless users specifically requested access to it. This opt-in system was mentioned again in the run-up to the election as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid assured peopled that the party "will age restrict online porn".

But it's not quite that simple. There is the small problem of Europe. A leaked EU Council document shows that plans are afoot to stop Cameron's plans in its tracks -- and with the UK on the verge of trying to debate a better deal for itself within Europe, the Prime Minister is not in a particularly strong position for negotiating on the issue.

Cameron has a fight on his hands, it seems, if he wants to deliver on his promise that "we need to protect our children from hardcore pornography". Documents seen by The Sunday Times reveal that the EU could make it illegal for ISPs and mobile companies to automatically block access to obscene material. Rather than implementing a default block on pornography, the Council of the European Union believes that users should opt in to web filtering and be able to opt out again at any time; this is precisely the opposite to the way Cameron would like things to work.

The subject is written about in a document on the topic on net neutrality. It suggests that users would have to explicitly ask their providers to block access to content, and they should retain the ability to "withdraw this consent at any time". As reported by The Independent, David Carr from the advisory board of the UK council on Child Internet Safety reacted to the document by saying: "The risk is that a major plank of the UK’s approach to online child protection will be destroyed at a stroke".

I, like the EU, have a problem with restricting access to the internet. Any sort of content management system is going to be flawed, that's just the nature of the beast. There is simply no way to ensure that all hardcore pornography websites would be blocked, nor is there any way to guarantee that perfectly inoffensive sites would not be inadvertently blocked. As is so often the case when the emotive issue of 'protecting children' crops up, there seems to have been very little thought put into how such a system could work.

The sheer number of websites that pop up each day means that swatting one site you take exception to is like cutting a head off the Hydra: kill one and two, or more, will spring up in its place. Just as the fight against torrent sites has shown, while it is certainly possible to make access more difficult, it is absolutely impossible to stop people from accessing the content they want to access -- and if teenagers want to access porn, then they will… there are no two ways about it.

To think that the web can be controlled like this is naive to say the least.

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