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Monday, July 22, 2013

David Cameron's "national wank register"

On July 22nd 2013 in a desperate attempt to grab headlines and distract attention away for several grotesque conflict of interest scandals at the heart of his government, the Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise announcement that he wants to ban certain types of pornography and to create a national database of users of online pornography.

Cameron is clearly hoping to deflect attention away from the Lynton Crosby triple conflict of interest scandal, the Tory fracking conflicts of interest scandal and the scandalous state of Tory party funding. His plan is to trick the press and public into focusing criticism on his barmy plans to compel every household in the UK with an Internet connection to state whether or not they wish to access to online pornography, thus creating a government mandated database of people's sexual preferences.

That the timing of this announcement is a smokescreen for these scandals is obvious, but the proposed legislation itself is absolutely dismal stuff.

Unworkability
The most obvious problem with Cameron's plan to regulate the Internet is that it will be yet another bit of government legislation drawn up by people that have no real idea how the Internet works. If the state attempts to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to pornography to their customers unless they are registered on a government database of porn users, people will simply find ways to bypass the system rather than tell the government that they enjoy looking at porn. I can think of several ways of doing this and I'm hardly a computer wizzkid. The most obvious way to bypass such a censorship system would be to use a VPN service (a kind of tunnel under the Internet so that it appears you are browsing from another location in another country). Such overtly invasive legislation is likely to spur the development of Proxy Porn services in exactly the same way the clueless, expensive and unworkable ban on the Pirate Bay torrent listing site simply led to the creation of the Pirate Proxy site.

If you do accidentally chose the wrong option when the government enforce this registration process. Don't worry, just ask your kids, they'll know how to get around it.

Filtering problems

Anyone that has ever experienced Internet filters knows that they are idiosyncratic things, that work by blocking websites that contain swearwords. Some filters have odd ideas about what constitutes a swearword. How about "gay", "lesbian", "trans-sexual", "sex", "teen", "rape", "bondage" and "penetrate". It is easy to imagine how all of these words can be used in entirely non-pornographic contexts. If the filter is set to block these words, sites like LGBT rights sites "discrimination against teenage lesbians" left wing economics sites "percentage of the population trapped in debt bondage" and sports websites " their resilient defence was penetrated just before full time" are going to be caught up in the censorship.
How is the government to ensure that their new "porn firewall" filters are going to function so much better than every other content filter ever devised?
Another factor to consider is that sites like mine, that occasionally discuss themes like pornography (this article for example), but mainly concentrate on politics and economics are likely to get caught up too. If you select to activate the government mandated "porn firewall", you're suddenly going to loose access to a lot of independent blogs that have ever used swearwords or discussed the subject of pornography.

Function creep
There is a strong case to be made that the introduction of a "porn firewall" is just the first step in an effort to control and commercialise the Internet. Once the government have a working mechanism for restricting content they deem to be "unacceptable", the definition of "unacceptable" will simply be changed to include "subversive behaviour", "anarchism" or "economic disruption". Once the government have kicked the door open to Internet censorship, is there really anyone gullible enough to think that they wont use their firewall technology to filter out anything they deem to be against their political interests, or against the interests of their commercial paymasters.

There are a lot of people that believe the Internet is far too free, and would like to see the means of information distribution stripped away from bloggers, social network activists, anonymous collectives and the like and returned to the commercial media. The instillation of firewall technology on every Internet connection in the land would be a good place to start for anyone intent on de-democratising the Internet, wouldn't it?.

You only need to look at the Tories attempted backdoor privatisation of the NHS to dispel any doubts that they would try to sneak through unpopular legislation without the public noticing, and what better veneer of acceptability is there than a constant refrain of "protecting our children".

Once the firewall infrastructure is in place to begin blocking particular websites,
even if state censorship isn't the principal long-term objective in the first place, the temptation to use the firewall for political or commercial advantage will be impossible to resist.

Hypocrisy
The imposition of a draconian state monitoring and censorship regime is completely at odds with all of David Cameron's "Big Society" rhetoric. Here's a reminder of how he defined "the Big Society" in a "business in the community speech" in 2012:
"I say that the core belief - in social responsibility, not state control - is something we're never going to change."
Cameron's announcement of the creation of a vast government imposed porn monitoring bureaucracy is a clear demonstration that the Tories have either changed their stance on state control, or that the statement was just another empty piece of Tory rhetoric in the first place. Whatever the case, the quoted statement is rendered a lie by this legislation. Just another lie to add to David Cameron's long, long list.

Does nobody remember David Cameron's pre-election pledges to "sweep away the nanny state". Well I find it difficult to think of anything more invasively nannying than forcing people to seek permission from the government in order to have a wank! Cameron's "national wank register" is just another demonstration that he will say anything in order to win votes, but then do the polar opposite once in power. 

It is clear that all that Tory talk of rights and responsibilities is just so much empty rhetoric to justify whatever policies they are pushing at the time. If they really believed what they say about personal responsibility being preferable to state control, surely they would leave it up to parents to install porn blockers, rather than making everyone that wants to look at videos of naked people register on a government mandated database?

Invasion of privacy
The idea of a vast government database recording the personal sexual preferences of every household in the UK is absolutely appalling stuff. Even if you disapprove of adults using the Internet to view pornography, surely you've got to admit that a government register of pornography users is a step too far, especially given the UK state's long track record of losing sensitive private data.

Still, from a government that uses the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" justification in Parliament to excuse their massive spying campaign against millions of innocent people and their collusion with the American spy agencies, we shouldn't be surprised that David Cameron doesn't give the slightest shit about privacy considerations.

Of course, in a world of Google tracking and mass state surveillance, there is no such thing as privacy on the Internet. However, there is a big difference between knowing that Google algorithms are recording your search preferences or that GCHQ spies could conceivably trawl your browsing history, to actually having to register with the government as a porn user in order to watch a few porn clips on the Internet.


Absurdity
The proposal to ban certain types of pornography is ludicrous. There are countless film and TV series which include simulated rape scenes. Are Cameron's sexual thought police going to arrest people for possession of The Clockwork Orange or Straw Dogs on DVD, or for re-watching that episode of Cracker where Jimmy Beck rapes Panhaligon?

If not, why not? How are the authorities supposed to differentiate between legitimate simulated rape and forbidden simulated rape? What's to stop a rape porn enthusiast enjoying rape scenes in the scores of films that include simulated rape? If enjoying rape scenes in mainstream films is to be made illegal too, what would be the methodology for determining whether a person has experienced any kind of sexual stimulation at simulated rape scenes in commercially available films? Or are all mainstream films that include simulated rape to be banned too? If so, how would that be done?

Given that the Tory government have slashed over 10,000 front line police since they came to power in 2010, do the remaining police not have enough to do solving and prosecuting real rapes (for which prosecution and conviction rates are appallingly low), real murders and real child abuse without having to waste their time on policing David Cameron's new batch of sexual preference thought-crimes and figuring out whether someone got turned on or not by the rape scene in the Hollywood film they downloaded?

Discrimination
This is a clear case to be made that legislation to ban "extreme porn" is an attack on the BDSM community. I certainly don't go in for domination or sado-masochism stuff, but I don't see why people that do like sexual power play or consensual violence should be discriminated against with legislation which prevents them from filming or publishing their consensual sexual activities.

Another factor to consider is all of the protecting women rhetoric. If consensual male on female sexual violence is to be banned, how about the surprisingly popular female domination genre? Is the viewing of female on male consensual sexual violence to be made unlawful too? If not, why not?

Is the government's position to be defined as watching male on female consensual whipping and choking is so beyond the pale that it must be banned, but female on male consensual whipping and choking is perfectly permissible (as long as you register with the government as a porn user beforehand)?

Just to reiterate, I don't find the idea of simulated sexual violence at all stimulating, in fact I find it mildly repulsive, however my squeamishness is absolutely no basis for me to declare what other consenting adults should and shouldn't be allowed to get up to. If parents don't want their kids to see such stuff, surely the responsibility is on them to set up appropriate internet filters, rather than imploring the government to infringe on the liberties of those people that do enjoy such things.


Ideological posturing
Just as I'm no fan of BDSM stuff, I do not like and have never looked at "simulated rape porn". However, if viewing such stuff is to be criminalised, I believe that there is an strong obligation on the government to actually prove a causal link between such images and incidents of actual rape if that is the justification they are going to use to criminalise it.

It is absolutely clear that the Cameron's stance is built on empty ideological posturing because he fails to provide causal links whilst championing baseless anti-porn rubbish like this:
"The government today has made a significant step forward in preventing rapists using rape pornography to legitimise and strategise their crimes."
The anti-porn movement are insistent that porn is related with rape and misogyny, however they steadfastly refuse to provide anything resembling a causal link. 

I feel no obligation to provide empirical counter-evidence against such obvious moralistic posturing (if they want to make such assertions the onus is on them to prove their assertions, not on us to disprove them), however I believe it is worth noting the remarkable correlation between countries with draconian anti-porn legislation and those with the weakest women's rights. 

It is also worth noting that recorded incidences of rape in the UK have gradually fallen at the same time as access to online and hardcore porn has grown. Surely if the anti-porn proposition (that porn causes rape) were true, the opposite would be expected.

To put it crudely, perhaps it is better that people with extremely strong sexual urges are at home wanking over online smut, rather than out prowling the streets at night? Perhaps removing their access to porn, based on nothing more than ideological posturing might drive them back onto the streets to inflict their forbidden sexual fantasies on real people?

If the government, at the behest of the anti-porn lobby want to use this porn ► misogyny ► rape narrative to justify prohibitive measures, surely they must provide some kind of empirical proof, otherwise their legislation is founded on nothing more than lazy ideological posturing.

Moral puritanism
The Tories often pretend that they are a libertarian party, but policies like prohibition of categories of porn arbitrarily deemed offensive and the creation of a vast porn-users database totally shatter that myth. It should be absolutely clear from their other prohibitionist policies on drug use, that certain areas of Tory policy are extremely authoritarian and driven purely by moral puritanism. The recent decision to criminalise the mild stimulant khat is a clear example. The scientific evidence shows that khat is significantly safer than cigarettes or alcohol, yet the Tories decided to ban it simply because they see it as a subversive drug  used mainly by dodgy foreign types.

There is very little crossover between my left-libertarian views and those of the neoliberal economist Milton Friedman, however one area of agreement is on the immorality and socio-economic folly of prohibition. Here's his view on prohibition:
"It's a moral problem that the government is making into criminals people, who may be doing something you and I don't approve of, but who are doing something that hurts nobody else. Most of the arrests for drugs are for possession by casual users. Now here's somebody who wants to smoke a marijuana cigarette. If he's caught, he goes to jail. Now is that moral? Is that proper? I think it's absolutely disgraceful that our government should be in the position of converting people who are not harming others into criminals, of destroying their lives, putting them in jail. That's the issue to me."
Precisely the same arguments can be used against banning certain types of pornography, or the imposition of draconian illiberal measures such as a government register of porn users.

The really sad thing is that the Tories believe in Friedman's absurd brand of neoliberal pseudo-economics with a fervour akin to that of the religiously indoctrinated, but when it comes to one of the few sensible positions the Godfather of their professed ideology held, they ignore it completely in favour of authoritarian moral puritanism.

Poor choice of council
I've already mentioned the shrill anti-porn fanatics that insist that porn causes rape, when the evidence seems to suggest precisely the opposite. This is an example of extremely poor choice of council, however there is an even more insidious force pushing this legislation: The Daily Mail.

The most stunning thing about the government's decision to yield to the Daily Mail's anti-porn campaign is the raving hypocrisy of the Daily Mail. One only needs to look at the "sidebar of shame" on the right hand side of the Daily Mail website to see a perfect illustration of this hypocrisy. Here we have an organisation that routinely violates the privacy of women and girls and contributes to the sexualisation of teenage and underage girls by purchasing and publishing reams of paparazzi photos, simultaneously demanding that the government ban adults from viewing activities undertaken between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes.

Take the story of Ellie Fanning for example. The Daily Mail basically stole a picture of this 14 year old off Instagram and posted it to their "sidebar of shame" and adorned the image with comments such as "teenager Ellie Fanning shows off her womanly curves" which infest a picture of nothing more than a child in fancy dress with perverted sexual undercurrents. This is what the Daily Mail Reporter website said about the story:

"If you pull a picture of a pubescent teenager from the Internet and write about how she’s ageing nicely, or growing up fast, or that she has enviable curves then you’re directly contributing to a culture of sexualisation and child abuse."
The Ellie Fanning case is not the only one. The Daily Mail has also run stories with perverted sexual undertones about numerous other underage girls such as Charlotte Church and Emily Watson (when they were teenagers).

So here we have a publication that regularly violates the privacy of teenagers through paparazzi culture and directly contributes to the culture of child sexualisation and child abuse, hypocritically pressurising the government into banning adults from viewing other consenting adults engage in sexual activity and to create a national register of porn users.

Surely the stench of self-righteous hypocrisy should have been enough for someone at Tory party central office to advise Cameron to distance himself from the Daily Mail campaign, instead of jumping on their grotesquely hypocritical bandwagon.

Porn in parliament
Last but not least I'd like to draw your attention to a story that broke in February 2013. Analysis of parliamentary computers showed that they were used to access all kinds of smut over the course of seven months.

The websites browsed included hardcore porn, sado-masochism, foot fetishism, gay cruising, fat fetishism, male adultery, polish porn and cat fetish (!) websites. The male adultery site (which hooks up married men with women seeking sex) had over 52,000 pageviews!

Perhaps David Cameron should have thought about getting his own house in order before imposing his draconian regulations on our houses. I mean, if the Houses of Parliament are full of MPs cruising hardcore porn sites and arranging their extramarital affairs, then what kind of right have they got to tell us that we can't look at certain kinds of images they find offensive, or that we must register with the state in order to view sexual images.

I find it pretty difficult to imagine any sexual activity that can be done between consenting adults that is as offensive as the idea of MPs arranging their extramarital affairs on parliamentary computers, whilst claiming a salary at the taxpayers' expense (and probably the cost of their second home too, which they use as a fuckpad to meet the women off thier adultery website).

Conclusion

David Cameron's decision to ban the kinds of hardcore porn he deems offensive without evidence stinks of knee-jerk ideological posturing and moral puritanism; the display of contempt for privacy is concerning; the idea of a government register of porn users demonstrates that all the Tory talk of small-state conservatism and "rolling back the nanny state" is empty hot air; taking moral advice from the Daily Mail is ludicrous; the stance on simulated rape is totally unworkable; the scope for function creep is sinister; the police shouldn't be made to waste their time on policing things that David Cameron has classified as sexual thought crime (simulated rape) when Britain has one of the lowest levels of (actual) rape conviction in the developed world; the contents of parliamentary computers demonstrate than not just a few MPs would be extremely hypocritical to support this anti-porn legislation; and the whole idea is technically unworkable, meaning that it will just be a hugely expensive failure anyway.

The only way that the announcement of this anti-porn policy can be seen as a success is that it distracted me into writing this article instead of focusing on the ongoing corruption scandals at the heart of the Tory party. However in mitigation of the fact I've been distracted into writing about porn, in the time it took me to write this article, over 2,000 people have shared the Facebook memes I've created about the Tory corruption scandals and I'm concluding this article by drawing your attention back to the scandals once again. Please take a moment to read one (or more) of the following in order to couter-balance David Cameron's smokescreening ploy.


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