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Will the UK Block All Internet Porn?

Last Updated: April 10, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

The UK government has asked Internet service providers to figure out a way to block all pornography online in order to prevent children from being exposed to it. The initiative has prompted a lively debate, raising concerns on both a legal and a technical level.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said, “This is a very serious matter. I think it’s very important that it’s the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children.” Minister Vaizey’s concern echoes issues raised on both sides of the pond as more and more of the Internet generation has entered adulthood. Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. writes,

Pornography viewing among teenagers disorients them during that developmental phase when they have to learn how to handle their sexuality and when they are most vulnerable to uncertainty about their sexual beliefs and moral values.

According to a recent survey, more than 80% of kids ages 14 to 16 in the UK say they regularly access porn online, and almost a third said they first saw Internet pornography by age 10. In response to this data, John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition for Internet Safety says adults are lining up outside counseling offices with relationship problems related to pornography consumption. “If adults are having problems coping with this new mass availability of these types of images,” Carr warns, “then it’s not unreasonable to deduce that children, who are exposed to exactly the same images, in exactly the same way, must be getting into all kinds of difficulties.”

Blocking Porn at the “Source”

“I think it is very important that it’s the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children,” says Vaizey. “I’m hoping they will get their acts together so we don’t have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years.”

The plan is to have an “opt-in” process for adults. Those who want to consume pornography online would need to contact their ISP with a list of domains they want to allow into their home.

Some think this technologically is impossible to accomplish. Trefor Davies, Chief Technology Officer at ISP Timico, says the sheer volume of pornographic material online and the number of ways that people access it make the job impossible. “You end up with a system that’s either hugely expensive and a losing battle because there are millions of these sites,” Davies says, “or it’s just not effective.”

Government Censorship Debate

Some fear what might be censored next on the Internet. Charlie White of Mashable.com writes,

It’s a slippery slope the British government will be navigating here. Who will decide precisely what porn is? Will ISPs be required to install bare-skin-detecting software, and if so, who will pay for that? Will instructional videos such as breast-feeding demonstrations be considered porn? And how will British residents feel about adding their names to a list of people who specifically asked for access to pornography?

Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason Magazine agrees: “Since we’re already slip-sliding down the famous slope, it’s worth pointing out that various kinds of religious and political speech are the next stops on the way down.”

However, Cris Clapp Logan, Director of Communications and Congressional Relations at Enough is Enough, has a very different take on the censorship issue. “In the physical world, we have always had clear measures in place to protect children from accessing adult pornography.” In the U.S., for example, Logan says patrons need to be 18 years old to purchase an adult movie or magazine. “These protections are in place,” Logan comments, “because of the overwhelming body of research that attests to the fact that young children do not have the cognitive skills to cope with these images and which shows that exposure to pornography can have a detrimental effect on a child’s mental, emotional, and physical health.”

Logan reasons: Why should the Internet be any different? “Unfortunately, these protections have not extended into the online world, and any child with unrestricted Internet access is just one click away from hard-core, fetish-filled pornography.” She believes this hardly amounts to censorship: “They are not seeking to censor or prevent adults from accessing pornography, but they are requiring adults to ‘opt-in’ into the online world of pornography in the same way they have always been required to opt-in to the pornography offline.”

(Photo credit: PinkMoose, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.)