Default blocking of all internet porn

We blogged about this a while back ago, but Great Britain is going through with it, requiring internet providers to block pornography on the internet unless adults specifically ask for it. Our discussion, though, missed the point, focusing on whether or not this was technologically feasible and how easy it would be to get around it. But there would be no need for an adult to get around it, since he would merely need to ask for access to this material and he would have it.

Let me reiterate what England is planning to do and pose some specific questions.

The UK Government is to combat the early sexualization of children by blocking internet pornography unless parents request it, it was revealed today.

The move is intended to ensure that children are not exposed to sex as a routine by-product of the internet. It follows warnings about the hidden damage being done to children by sex sites.

The biggest broadband providers, including BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, are being called to a meeting next month by Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, and will be asked to change how pornography gets into homes.

Instead of using parental controls to stop access to pornography – so-called “opting out” – the tap will be turned off at source. Adults will then have to “opt in.”

via All internet porn will be blocked to protect children, under UK government plan | News.com.au.

Would this work, in theory, in the U.S.A.?  It wouldn’t violate anyone’s freedom of speech or freedom of the press or freedom of porn.  If an adult wants it, he could have it.

Wouldn’t this not only protect children, but also be beneficial for adults, many of whom I suspect take advantage of the easy access now but would be ashamed to sign up for it?

Are there any down sides of doing the same thing here? Should people concerned about the moral harm of pornography launch a crusade to do what England is doing?

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Partizan

    I’m not a big fan of this, because I can see this escalating down the road where other sites that shouldn’t be blocked, will. Don’t you think that at some point they’ll block some Christian sites because they speak out against homosexuality. The “hate speech” tag is pretty flexible. Will I have to “opt in” to those sites too.

    I’d rather see porn sites registered as “.xxx” sites. Therefore it’d be easier to filter them, but those who choose to visit those sites still can without hassle. I think this was tODD made this argument once, but I might be wrong.

  • Partizan

    I’m not a big fan of this, because I can see this escalating down the road where other sites that shouldn’t be blocked, will. Don’t you think that at some point they’ll block some Christian sites because they speak out against homosexuality. The “hate speech” tag is pretty flexible. Will I have to “opt in” to those sites too.

    I’d rather see porn sites registered as “.xxx” sites. Therefore it’d be easier to filter them, but those who choose to visit those sites still can without hassle. I think this was tODD made this argument once, but I might be wrong.

  • White

    Yes, but the point was made very clearly that they won’t be blocked. Ask and you shall receive.

    I think this is a good idea.

  • White

    Yes, but the point was made very clearly that they won’t be blocked. Ask and you shall receive.

    I think this is a good idea.

  • EricM

    My concern is that since people would have to ask for it, there would be a record of the fact that you did ask for it. Once there is a record, the information can be used in all sorts of ways. Also, once you start with porn (which “everyone” is ok with), you can move on to other things – sites about “subversive” activities, site on how to build bombs, sites that sell guns and ammunition, sites that speak out against national health care, sites that are insensitive to muslims, or sites the say homosexuality is a sin, sites the claim to be the only way to heaven……

    The point is that anything considered controversial or “bad for society” can be put in the same category. Sure, you can get to the sites but you have to ask for it. The way these filters would probably work is that there would be an explicit “allow” for you to access the sites. Therefore, the ISPs (I’m guessing this would eventually have to be shared between ISPs because many folks are mobile these days) would have a record of the information. This information would then be available to law enforcement or others who decided to examine a person’s habits.

  • EricM

    My concern is that since people would have to ask for it, there would be a record of the fact that you did ask for it. Once there is a record, the information can be used in all sorts of ways. Also, once you start with porn (which “everyone” is ok with), you can move on to other things – sites about “subversive” activities, site on how to build bombs, sites that sell guns and ammunition, sites that speak out against national health care, sites that are insensitive to muslims, or sites the say homosexuality is a sin, sites the claim to be the only way to heaven……

    The point is that anything considered controversial or “bad for society” can be put in the same category. Sure, you can get to the sites but you have to ask for it. The way these filters would probably work is that there would be an explicit “allow” for you to access the sites. Therefore, the ISPs (I’m guessing this would eventually have to be shared between ISPs because many folks are mobile these days) would have a record of the information. This information would then be available to law enforcement or others who decided to examine a person’s habits.

  • http://www.ninjapastor.blogspot.com Matthew Christians

    I’m in favor of it. I think it’s a beautiful idea. As a pastor, I’ve seen how pornography ruins marriages and is absolutely devastating to people. I think this would be incredibly helpful. How can we make this happen? (Plus, I don’t buy all the “slippery slope” fallacy… it’s -to my mind, anyway- an incredibly unsound sloppy argument that’s unnecessarily alarmist).

  • http://www.ninjapastor.blogspot.com Matthew Christians

    I’m in favor of it. I think it’s a beautiful idea. As a pastor, I’ve seen how pornography ruins marriages and is absolutely devastating to people. I think this would be incredibly helpful. How can we make this happen? (Plus, I don’t buy all the “slippery slope” fallacy… it’s -to my mind, anyway- an incredibly unsound sloppy argument that’s unnecessarily alarmist).

  • Porcell

    In a better world pornography would be outlawed with severe penalties, especially to its producers. One can be a classical liberal and still uphold strict standards regarding the filth of pornography. Too bad liberalism is confused with libertinism.

  • Porcell

    In a better world pornography would be outlawed with severe penalties, especially to its producers. One can be a classical liberal and still uphold strict standards regarding the filth of pornography. Too bad liberalism is confused with libertinism.

  • Tom Hering

    This isn’t about what might happen to us, individually, in the future. It’s about what’s happening to our children, and our society, right now. Not a potential danger, but a clear and present one. Actual, widespread harm that’s being done as we speak.

    I’m willing to trade some of my liberty for the good of our children. If I end up having traded more of my liberty than I thought I would, I’m not worried, because religious and political liberty will always find a way. Even if we have to go back to mimeographs, underground newspapers, and real-world meetings in secret. (Been there, done that.) The great victories for liberty in the past were all achieved without an internet.

  • Tom Hering

    This isn’t about what might happen to us, individually, in the future. It’s about what’s happening to our children, and our society, right now. Not a potential danger, but a clear and present one. Actual, widespread harm that’s being done as we speak.

    I’m willing to trade some of my liberty for the good of our children. If I end up having traded more of my liberty than I thought I would, I’m not worried, because religious and political liberty will always find a way. Even if we have to go back to mimeographs, underground newspapers, and real-world meetings in secret. (Been there, done that.) The great victories for liberty in the past were all achieved without an internet.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’ve got mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I applaud that Great Britain is doing this (a surprising move, considering the lack of restraint shown at times on their tele programs). Again: it’s not censorship; you can request it if you want it.

    On the other hand, I have two problems with it. First, as has been stated above, the “slippery slope” is a real possibility, and as I’ve said before, the same first amendment that permits pornography is also the same first amendment that permits the preaching of the gospel.

    Second, it should be the responsibility of the parents, not the State, to monitor the behavior and Internet habits of their children. Fifty bucks says that people in Britain, should this be enacted, will figure out ways around it, and that includes underage kids. You’d be surprised at how knowledgable my junior high students are with regard to getting around firewalls and locating proxy servers. A consistent parenting will go much further than any State intervention in keeping children from the problem

    In addition to this, it alarms me that people are falling into the “Government is the almighty savior” category on issues like the one we’re discussing now, as if somehow people by themselves are absolutely powerless to prevent anything unless they turn to Bureaucracy Man (bad comic book image) for help.

    There is a Russian proverb worthy of remembering when it comes to government: don’t call a wolf to help you fight off dogs.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I’ve got mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I applaud that Great Britain is doing this (a surprising move, considering the lack of restraint shown at times on their tele programs). Again: it’s not censorship; you can request it if you want it.

    On the other hand, I have two problems with it. First, as has been stated above, the “slippery slope” is a real possibility, and as I’ve said before, the same first amendment that permits pornography is also the same first amendment that permits the preaching of the gospel.

    Second, it should be the responsibility of the parents, not the State, to monitor the behavior and Internet habits of their children. Fifty bucks says that people in Britain, should this be enacted, will figure out ways around it, and that includes underage kids. You’d be surprised at how knowledgable my junior high students are with regard to getting around firewalls and locating proxy servers. A consistent parenting will go much further than any State intervention in keeping children from the problem

    In addition to this, it alarms me that people are falling into the “Government is the almighty savior” category on issues like the one we’re discussing now, as if somehow people by themselves are absolutely powerless to prevent anything unless they turn to Bureaucracy Man (bad comic book image) for help.

    There is a Russian proverb worthy of remembering when it comes to government: don’t call a wolf to help you fight off dogs.

  • S Bauer

    If the goal is to “combat the early sexualization of children” then this is a case of closing the barn door long after all the horses have galloped away. Children are being sexualized already by all the other forms of media that are far more accessable than internet porn. If parents can’t control the opt-in button on the front of the TV, I don’t see how this action is going to help.

  • S Bauer

    If the goal is to “combat the early sexualization of children” then this is a case of closing the barn door long after all the horses have galloped away. Children are being sexualized already by all the other forms of media that are far more accessable than internet porn. If parents can’t control the opt-in button on the front of the TV, I don’t see how this action is going to help.

  • DonS

    This sounds good, in theory, but the rub is in the definition. What content will require an opt-in, and what won’t? The U.S. Supreme Court famously could not clearly define obscenity, settling for “I know it when I see it”. It’s hard to fairly regulate based on such a standard. Look at all of the problems we have with end-user Internet filters, which tend to often filter out worthy material and sometimes allow other not so worthy material. As time went on, and providers became attuned to avoiding and subverting the original set of regulations, new and more complex regulations would be required, and so on. You all know the drill. And because the Internet is an international phenomenon, not respecting national borders, the problem becomes even that much more difficult.

    I’m very sensitive to the devastation that free access to Internet porn has brought to our families and communities, even (and maybe especially) in the Christian world. However, I just don’t think this will work as intended, and has the potential to become a real imposition on our freedoms.

  • DonS

    This sounds good, in theory, but the rub is in the definition. What content will require an opt-in, and what won’t? The U.S. Supreme Court famously could not clearly define obscenity, settling for “I know it when I see it”. It’s hard to fairly regulate based on such a standard. Look at all of the problems we have with end-user Internet filters, which tend to often filter out worthy material and sometimes allow other not so worthy material. As time went on, and providers became attuned to avoiding and subverting the original set of regulations, new and more complex regulations would be required, and so on. You all know the drill. And because the Internet is an international phenomenon, not respecting national borders, the problem becomes even that much more difficult.

    I’m very sensitive to the devastation that free access to Internet porn has brought to our families and communities, even (and maybe especially) in the Christian world. However, I just don’t think this will work as intended, and has the potential to become a real imposition on our freedoms.

  • Tom Hering

    When I had cancer, no doctor ever promised me I’d be cured, or that my treatments wouldn’t have bad side effects. But a cancer is a cancer, and it’s foolish not to deal with it aggressively.

  • Tom Hering

    When I had cancer, no doctor ever promised me I’d be cured, or that my treatments wouldn’t have bad side effects. But a cancer is a cancer, and it’s foolish not to deal with it aggressively.

  • jim_claybourn

    The slippery slope argument is a fallacy.

    Anytime anyone selects one thing instead of another, there is “censorship” of some kind. A library decides to buy one book instead of another. A tv network picks one show instead of another. A radio station plays one song . . . etc, etc.

    I’d prefer to have opt-in rather than the current opt-out. If I don’t want premium channels on my cable service (HBO, Showtime, etc) I don’t receive them unless I order them.

    Lead me not into temptation.

  • jim_claybourn

    The slippery slope argument is a fallacy.

    Anytime anyone selects one thing instead of another, there is “censorship” of some kind. A library decides to buy one book instead of another. A tv network picks one show instead of another. A radio station plays one song . . . etc, etc.

    I’d prefer to have opt-in rather than the current opt-out. If I don’t want premium channels on my cable service (HBO, Showtime, etc) I don’t receive them unless I order them.

    Lead me not into temptation.

  • Joe

    Tom – I am sorry but your analogy fails. No body choses to get cancer, yet the “cancer” that is porn is something one choses. It is simply not the gov’ts job to help you make correct choices nor is it the gov’ts job to parent you children for you. Also, your cancer treatment did not have negative side effects for other completely unrelated people.

  • Joe

    Tom – I am sorry but your analogy fails. No body choses to get cancer, yet the “cancer” that is porn is something one choses. It is simply not the gov’ts job to help you make correct choices nor is it the gov’ts job to parent you children for you. Also, your cancer treatment did not have negative side effects for other completely unrelated people.

  • Joe

    obviously that should be chooses.

  • Joe

    obviously that should be chooses.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Gee, I wonder how the muslims in Britain feel about this.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Gee, I wonder how the muslims in Britain feel about this.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 12, did any of us choose to have an internet that provides easy access to pornography? No, but we got one anyways.

    (From TechCrunch: 89% of porn is created in the U.S.. $2.84 billion in revenue was generated from U.S. porn sites in 2006. $89/second is spent on porn. 72% of porn viewers are men. 260 new porn sites go online daily.)

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 12, did any of us choose to have an internet that provides easy access to pornography? No, but we got one anyways.

    (From TechCrunch: 89% of porn is created in the U.S.. $2.84 billion in revenue was generated from U.S. porn sites in 2006. $89/second is spent on porn. 72% of porn viewers are men. 260 new porn sites go online daily.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Oh, those wacky Brits! Only they could combine right-wing culture-war ideals with left-wing statist tactics! … God willing. Let’s hope our GOP leaders over here don’t read the newspaper, hmm?

    Anyhow, Veith’s intro contradicts itself. On the one hand, Veith says “there would be no need for an adult to get around it, since he would merely need to ask for access to this material and he would have it.” On the other hand, Veith suspects many adults “would be ashamed to sign up for it”. That right there is sufficient reason for someone not to look for a way “around”. To say nothing of not wanting the government to have a record of official porn-watchers.

    I’m really interested in how this “opt-in” works, also. Is it per house (i.e. per internet account)? Per device? When you have multiple people (especially multiple adults) on an account or device, how is the decision made? What if one parent wants to get porn, but the other doesn’t? Should the winner be the one who wants it (if so, then the non-porn-viewer is in the same situation she was before the block, of just having to avoid the porn that’s available)? Should the winner be the one who doesn’t want porn (at which point claims of free speech not being violated aren’t technically true)? Should it just be whoever called the government office last to update the opt-in status? We’d better hope everyone affected by these opt-in decisions is in agreement!

    And what is the end goal here? The article says it’s “to combat the early sexualization of children by blocking internet pornography unless parents request it”. But what will this law accomplish for children of porn-viewing parents? Nothing, that I can see. The article mentions two British youths arrested for a “sadistic sex attack” that were “said to have had a ‘toxic’ home life where they were exposed to pornography” but, um, why would that change under this new law? They apparently had neglectful parents before, and those parents are apparently the kind who are likely to opt-in, so …

    And I’m still not at all convinced that the law will do anything for situations where the kids want to view porn but the parents do not. That’s a parenting issue, not a technological one.

    The only situation I could see this improving is one in which no one wants to view porn in the house, but it occasionally, accidentally turns up in innocent browsing. But then, there already are effective software filters for those situations.

    So what does this law do? It makes people feel better and increases government activity and power. It gathers together moralists and statists, and makes everyone else timid to speak against it for fear of being made out to be “pro-porn”. And who wants to stand up for those icky porn people?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Oh, those wacky Brits! Only they could combine right-wing culture-war ideals with left-wing statist tactics! … God willing. Let’s hope our GOP leaders over here don’t read the newspaper, hmm?

    Anyhow, Veith’s intro contradicts itself. On the one hand, Veith says “there would be no need for an adult to get around it, since he would merely need to ask for access to this material and he would have it.” On the other hand, Veith suspects many adults “would be ashamed to sign up for it”. That right there is sufficient reason for someone not to look for a way “around”. To say nothing of not wanting the government to have a record of official porn-watchers.

    I’m really interested in how this “opt-in” works, also. Is it per house (i.e. per internet account)? Per device? When you have multiple people (especially multiple adults) on an account or device, how is the decision made? What if one parent wants to get porn, but the other doesn’t? Should the winner be the one who wants it (if so, then the non-porn-viewer is in the same situation she was before the block, of just having to avoid the porn that’s available)? Should the winner be the one who doesn’t want porn (at which point claims of free speech not being violated aren’t technically true)? Should it just be whoever called the government office last to update the opt-in status? We’d better hope everyone affected by these opt-in decisions is in agreement!

    And what is the end goal here? The article says it’s “to combat the early sexualization of children by blocking internet pornography unless parents request it”. But what will this law accomplish for children of porn-viewing parents? Nothing, that I can see. The article mentions two British youths arrested for a “sadistic sex attack” that were “said to have had a ‘toxic’ home life where they were exposed to pornography” but, um, why would that change under this new law? They apparently had neglectful parents before, and those parents are apparently the kind who are likely to opt-in, so …

    And I’m still not at all convinced that the law will do anything for situations where the kids want to view porn but the parents do not. That’s a parenting issue, not a technological one.

    The only situation I could see this improving is one in which no one wants to view porn in the house, but it occasionally, accidentally turns up in innocent browsing. But then, there already are effective software filters for those situations.

    So what does this law do? It makes people feel better and increases government activity and power. It gathers together moralists and statists, and makes everyone else timid to speak against it for fear of being made out to be “pro-porn”. And who wants to stand up for those icky porn people?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, I can’t help notice that the Australian article Veith links to, indicating that “Great Britain is going through with it”, is a month old, from December 19, 2010.

    I went to the BBC site to learn more about how the opt-in would work, but guess what? No stories about Britain’s moving forward!

    I did find this BBC story with a dateline the day after the Australian one “Internet porn block ‘not possible’ say ISPs“. So that puts a damper on things, no? I don’t think anyone has moved forward on this idea at all. And I think there are very good technical reasons why.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, I can’t help notice that the Australian article Veith links to, indicating that “Great Britain is going through with it”, is a month old, from December 19, 2010.

    I went to the BBC site to learn more about how the opt-in would work, but guess what? No stories about Britain’s moving forward!

    I did find this BBC story with a dateline the day after the Australian one “Internet porn block ‘not possible’ say ISPs“. So that puts a damper on things, no? I don’t think anyone has moved forward on this idea at all. And I think there are very good technical reasons why.

  • Grace

    It may not be possible to stop pornograhy on the internet, but I certainly wish it would be outlawed.

    On the news today – one needs to ask, “where did these young children become so blasé, as to take off their clothes, and perform in such a way?” – children use the internet, they google, many parents watch pornograhy, if they didn’t this wouldn’t be a problem.

    Video and article below:

    Sexual acts reported between 2nd graders in Oakland school | abc7news.com

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=7911788

    I don’t know who’s fault it is, but one still has to ask the question:

    “where did these young children become so blasé, as to take off their clothes, and perform in such a way?” – “where did they learn it?”

  • Grace

    It may not be possible to stop pornograhy on the internet, but I certainly wish it would be outlawed.

    On the news today – one needs to ask, “where did these young children become so blasé, as to take off their clothes, and perform in such a way?” – children use the internet, they google, many parents watch pornograhy, if they didn’t this wouldn’t be a problem.

    Video and article below:

    Sexual acts reported between 2nd graders in Oakland school | abc7news.com

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=7911788

    I don’t know who’s fault it is, but one still has to ask the question:

    “where did these young children become so blasé, as to take off their clothes, and perform in such a way?” – “where did they learn it?”

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  • WebMonk

    I haven’t chimed in here because the focus has been on the “ought they do this” of this situation rather than the “can they do this”.

    Suffice it to say the answer to “can they do this,” is either “no” or “only in a half-assed, ridiculously incomplete way”.

    Like tODD said, there are a lot of real-life issues that get pulled in when looking a the nuts and bolts, and the additional concerns put this pretty firmly into the “they ought not” category because of all those extra consequences.

    And that’s even ignoring the fact that it’s technically not even close to feasible for them to do this.

  • WebMonk

    I haven’t chimed in here because the focus has been on the “ought they do this” of this situation rather than the “can they do this”.

    Suffice it to say the answer to “can they do this,” is either “no” or “only in a half-assed, ridiculously incomplete way”.

    Like tODD said, there are a lot of real-life issues that get pulled in when looking a the nuts and bolts, and the additional concerns put this pretty firmly into the “they ought not” category because of all those extra consequences.

    And that’s even ignoring the fact that it’s technically not even close to feasible for them to do this.