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Brits declining Web filters don’t love porn, they just love freedom

Common sense has prevailed in England. Only a tiny percentage of Internet users have opted to have their Internet Service Providers block adult material from being viewed on their home computers, going against Prime Minister David Cameron’s grand plan to protect the children, and stop the sweaty stench of Internet smut from permeating our sensitive nostrils.

If someone is deciding to stop you seeing something they consider harmful, without checking with you first, that’s censorship.

Notice I said adult material and not pornography? It’s because while the filters do block porn, they also block other material deemed hazardous to impressionable young (and old, presumably) minds, including sites dealing with drugs, addiction help, gambling, sex education, torrents, crime, social networking, and online dating. By saying no to the filters, all this hideousness can be viewed at any time of the day or night, by anyone with access to the Internet connection.

However, this doesn’t mean the country is full of rampaging, drug-addicted, mastabatory file sharers. No, to me, it means the country is full of responsible adults who care about actual parenting, rather than relying on an unreliable, misinformed electronic nanny employed by the government to do it for them. Better still, those without kids are sticking two fingers up at the “man,” and avoiding a new surge of harmful, politically motivated online censorship.

A misguided moral crusade

Here are the figures according to the UK’s telecoms regulator. Just 5 percent of all BT subscribers, 8 percent of Sky subscribers, and 4 percent of Virgin Media subscribers activated the filters when offered the option. TalkTalk says 36 percent of its subscribers turned on the filter, but as it pre-selects the option, and did so even before Cameron’s directive came into force, the 64 percent who turned it off is probably the more relevant number.

Prior to their introduction, Prime Minister David Cameron was very pleased with himself after convincing ISPs to adopt the filters. He said the Internet was waging “a silent attack on innocence,” and that he was determined to fight it. Worse, he was convinced that Web filters were the answer to his prayers by a misguided, moral crusade waged by religious organizations like Safermedia.

The thing is, anyone who knows his computer’s hard drive from Danni’s Hard Drive will also know DNS filters aren’t very good, and routinely block content which isn’t harmful at all. Against the plan was the Open Rights Group, which created The Department of Dirty video to illustrate the problems and embarrassment a mandatory filter could cause for innocent Web users.

Stop the censorship

That so few people have activated the filters is excellent news, because it could halt the march toward wider, more egregious censorship, which worryingly had already begun. Initially branded an anti-porn – albeit illegal porn under UK law – filter, Cameron’s efforts soon turned into an effort to save the children – and therefore covered all adult pornographic content, illegal or otherwise – which is how the directive was eventually pushed on to ISPs.

No, not all the subjects are pleasant, but life sometimes isn’t.

Even at this stage, the plan to filter the Internet was changing, and in an interview with the Financial Times back in April, a government official said ISPs would soon have to find a way to deal with “unsavory” and not just illegal content. Who decides what is unsavory is the big question, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Someone is deciding to stop you seeing something they consider harmful, without checking with you first, and that’s censorship.

If the general public were fine with such indiscriminate measures, then how long would it be before someone got to work blocking content they didn’t want us to see on political grounds? By ignoring the government’s plea to stop looking at naked people bending over on the Internet, we’re showing them we’re not willing to bend over ourselves, just because we’re told it’s for our own good.

The people have spoken

Governments, please listen. The public has spoken, they don’t want you interfering, and certainly have no wish to accidentally kickstart a new era of censorship. Not only do they want to enjoy a Tori Black opus (or should that be anus?) once in a while, but they’d like to browse sites about dealing with addiction, suicide, and STDs. No, not all the subjects are pleasant, but life sometimes isn’t pleasant. Brushing scary issues aside on the Internet doesn’t make them go away in the real world.

Take this apathy not as irresponsibility, but evidence that the vast majority of people are mature enough to self-censor, and to talk to their kids about life both on and offline. This is no longer a point up for discussion; there’s actual proof in the figures.

Dear governments: if you’re wondering what to do instead, how about focusing your efforts on stopping vile, illegal content from getting on the Web on the first place?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.