The Grinch Who Stole Porn for Christmas: UK Weighs Ban

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Is the UK banning pornography? That is the question overseas at the moment as a conservative member of the British Parliament has proposed forcing ISPs to block all pornographic material seeping into UK homes.

"This is a very serious matter. I think it is very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children. I'm hoping they will get their acts together so that 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." Culture Minister Ed Vaizey told the Sunday Times.

Vaizey hasn't turned this into a crusade against all access to pornography; rather, he wants the explicit content accessible only on an opt-in basis instead of opt-out. Vaizey is planning to talk with UK ISPs BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk "in the near future."

The media is skeptical about whether this plan, if put into action, would work at all. The Guardian says that "explicit content" would have to be legally defined -- a process that has been undertaken by many governments and met with failure. Take Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, for instance. A California law tries to ban retailers from selling video games that depict "deviant violence" to minors. However, the definition of "deviant" is being challenged and three lower courts have rule

Artwork: Richard Tuschman
d against this application; the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating.

Other problems with a sweeping blockade: it may constitute censorship; the UK's public sector has a reputation of mismanaging IT projects; the massive firewall would be hugely expensive; no matter how big the firewall, someone will find a way to leap it; and an opt-in list would have to be created, and that kind of sensitive data has a tendency to leak: the personal data of thousands of citizens were exposed to the public by a P2P piracy law firm in the UK.

Never mind that Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at ISP Timico, told the BBC that "It's technically not possible to completely block this stuff." Davies said that "the sheer volume of pornographic material online and the number of ways that people access it, via the web, file-sharing networks, news groups, discussion boards and the like," make the job impossible.

Does the UK really have that big a problem with porno? The conservative government and a few studies seem to think so.

Conservative MP Claire Perry said that 60 percent of 9- to 19-year-olds had found porn online but only 15 per cent of computer literate parents knew how to block access with filters. A Cyber Sentinel study found that UK teenagers spend around two hours a week watching porn online, and another study claimed that more than one in three UK office workers surf for porn at work.

That's a lot of porn -- but is creating a colossal filter the right answer?

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