The BBC is reporting that prime minister David Cameron is introducing new measures that will block all ‘online pornography’ from UK households. The block will initiate at the level of the Internet service provider (ISP), and will be a default setting unless customers specifically opt out to enable this content. Cameron is also calling for ‘horrific’ search terms (including “rape pornography”) to be automatically banned, for everyone.

pornographyThe BBC’s article used generous scare quotes throughout to editorialize about how stupid this plan is. For example, on questions regarding the technical feasability of such a plan, they had this to say:

“He told the BBC he expected a ‘row’ with service providers who, he said in his speech, were ‘not doing enough to take responsibility’ despite having a ‘moral duty’ to do so. He also warned he could have to ‘force action’ by changing the law and that, if there were ‘technical obstacles’, firms should use their ‘greatest brains’ to overcome them.”

Personally—and I say this as a child educator who has routine contact with impressionable children—I am a little horrified by this proposal. The road to censorship is a slippery slope indeed, and the definition of ‘pornography’ is extremely open to debate. Yes, images depicting rape or children are indeed horrific—but those are illegal already, and their purveyors are actively pursued and prosecuted under current laws.

And as for the ‘legal’ stuff—well, how loose is your definition going to be? Are sex education materials pornographic because they explicitly label body parts? What about information on birth control? Once you start restricting keywords, you run into all sorts of difficulties at drawing that line, and I think that’s a not-so-good path to be going down. I would rather leave legal materials available, and leave it up to each individual to monitor and manage what comes into their house.