Porn Ban

The British government wants to control its citizens' porn viewing habits

Its Digital Economy Bill would effectively create a hackable register of pornography users and block 'unconventional' material.

The British government has already won the power to record everything we access on the internet. Now it wants to have a say over what we are and aren’t allowed to look at online.

The Digital Economy Bill currently moving through Parliament will require commercial pornographic websites (including advertising-supported “free” sites) to check the age of users, effectively creating a pornography register. This issue isn’t new: the recently passed Investigatory Powers Bill already means it will soon be impossible to visit a porn site (or any website) without someone having a record of it.

But the latest bill raises another issue because it would also ban online access to imagery of many forms of “unconventional” sexual activity. It threatens not only our right to privacy but also our right to view legal and consensual but less mainstream sexual acts. And the test for what acts we would be allowed to watch would be based on a law dating back to 1959.

The aim of the bill is ostensibly to prevent children from accessing pornography. Age verification may be defendable if it could be done without submitting sensitive information. But it seems likely that it will involve registering a credit card with pornography platforms, increasing the number of sources holding information about our online viewing habits. This would create another point of weakness that could easily be exploited by hackers to capture credit card details or to blackmail those registered to porn platforms.

What’s unconventional?  

The bill would also give the power to decide what pornographic content we can and can’t watch to the notoriously straight laced British Board of Film Classification. This body, which sets the age certificates for films, would be able to investigate, fine – up to £250,000 or 5% of turnover – and potentially block websites that allow access to images and videos deemed obscene. This would have the effect of preventing adults from viewing sexual acts that are otherwise legal to engage in.

The British Board of Film Classification’s current pornographic R18 category is reserved for explicit works that contain consensual sex or more extreme fetish material involving adults. This sounds broad but the body’s list of unacceptable content includes material where adults role-play as non-adults, acts that could cause pain whether real or simulated, and strong verbal abuse, even if consensual.

The most consternation comes from the fact that the British Board of Film Classification’s decisions are based in part on what is judged obscene under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. This act is well-recognised as out-of-date and difficult to interpret. Prosecutions under the act have demonstrated that the public conception of what amounts to obscene behaviour is notoriously difficult to pin down. When the Crown Prosecution Service confidently prosecuted Michael Peacock in 2012 for producing DVDs featuring urination, fisting and sadomasochism, the jury found him not guilty – effectively finding that these acts were not obscene.

Yet the Crown Prosecution Service’s list of acts that may be suitable for prosecution still include sadomasochistic material which results in more than minor injury, bondage, perversion or degradation (including drinking urine and coprophilia) and fisting. For prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act it would be for a jury to use their own common sense to determine whether the materials were obscene. Yet now it seems this guidance will be used to decide what pornographic materials would be accessible in the first place.

Unless they cause actual bodily harm, sexual acts such as fisting, bondage or other forms of “perversion” are perfectly legal for consensual adults to engage in. So why should we be prevented from viewing them performed by other people in the privacy of our own homes? Why should the moral judgements of the British Board of Film Classification based on a law from the 1950s echo across the internet?

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act guarantees the right of freedom of expression and any interference with it must be justified and proportionate. The government believes the overarching aim of protecting children from viewing these materials can be used to defend age verification. But it won’t prevent web-savvy teenagers from accessing pornographic material. And it cannot justify preventing adults from watching less mainstream forms of porn.

This bill has been poorly thought out and intrudes too far on the rights of adults to consume images of perfectly legal sexual acts. Couching it in the rhetoric of child protection may give it social credence but this is yet another step too far in monitoring our online life.

Samantha Pegg, Senior Lecturer, Criminal Law, Nottingham Trent University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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