William Etty was a painter from London.
Credit: Public Domain
After accusing online pornography of "corroding childhood," British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that, by default, Internet service providers will soon block porn from reaching consumers, and make possession of certain types of extreme material a criminal offense.
"Many children are watching online pornography — and finding other damaging material online — at an increasingly young age," according to the written transcript of a speech that Cameron delivered this morning (July 22). "Our children are growing up too fast. They are getting distorted ideas about sex and being pressured in a way we have never seen before."
Cameron has adopted a multipronged approach to dealing with online pornography, which leverages the abilities of the British government, major search engines and Internet service providers.
The U.K. will soon require its six biggest public Wi-Fi companies (O2, Virgin Media, Sky, Nomad, BT and Arqiva) to apply family-friendly filters on public Wi-Fi networks, to prevent adults from accessing pornographic content. This change will occur by the end of the summer.
The real kicker comes at home. Four British communications companies — TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT — supply 9 out of 10 British broadband customers with Internet, and by default, they will soon block adult content.
"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," said Cameron. "Once your filters are installed, they will cover any device connected to your home Internet account." This policy will only affect new broadband customers.
The broadband companies will contact every existing customer between now and the end of 2014 to offer them a choice between filtered or unfiltered Internet access. After that, if a customer wishes to change his or her preferences, the account holder will have to get in touch with a company representative.
Aside from the obvious concerns about a government body co-opting private companies, this system also introduces inconveniences to customers who have no children, or who prefer to filter content themselves. Furthermore, since the filter installs automatically for new customers unless specified otherwise, many people will likely install them unknowingly and be confused when they can't access porn later. [See also: 10 Worst Internet Laws In the World]
Cameron has also called on search engines to be vigilant about its child pornography search results. He has offered government data to companies like Google, Bing and Yahoo with the hope that they will eventually stop offering any results for images of child pornography. How these companies will distinguish between useful information about child pornography and real child abuse is not yet clear.
Finally, Cameron has taken a firm stance against "extreme" pornography that deals with simulated rape. "These images normalize sexual violence against women — and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them," he said. "[We are] making it a criminal offense to possess Internet pornography that depicts rape."
This tactic is likely to be a controversial one. Rape scenes among consenting actors may be distasteful, and reports of female rape in the U.K. have more than doubled in the last 15 years, but there is no hard evidence linking the two.
Cameron did not have to go through any legislative bodies to achieve his goals. Instead, he attained voluntary compliance from the Internet service providers. Since the providers are private companies, they can set whatever filter parameters they please, and if they comply with the government voluntarily, no one can accuse the government of strong-arming them. Criminalizing rape porn might be more difficult without legislative help, though.
"I will do whatever it takes to keep our children safe," Cameron said. "Whatever it takes," in this case, involves some very sweeping reforms that may rub many Britons the wrong way. Pornography does not have a sterling reputation at the best of times, but shielding children from it at great inconvenience to many adults is likely to have repercussions.