Politicians, particularly those enjoying the benefits of office, are understandably concerned with maintaining and bolstering their support with a view to securing an extension of their tenure. The more principled amongst them will try to achieve this through persuading the electorate that they are doing a good job in protecting and advancing the latter’s interests, ideally because they are actually doing so. However, there are, always have been and always will be, those who choose a different tack, and who are prepared to use less well-intentioned means to secure and advance their position. The latter approach tends to predominate when those seeking to retain their power lack legitimacy. This observation, given recent proposals relating to control of the internet and the widespread unpopularity of Westminster politicians, should give us grounds for concern.
Yesterday, The Daily Mail reported that certain MPs have responded to the complaints of some constituents regarding the ease with which children are able to access hardcore pornography via the internet by proposing the blanket application of an automated blocking system preventing access to internet porn. It stated:
“Internet users should automatically be blocked from accessing pornography at home to stop the surge in children seeing adult material, MPs will demand today.
Anyone wanting to view hardcore images online should have to ‘opt out’ of a special filter, according to the panel of MPs and peers looking into child protection.”
The article later draws attention to the fact that there are already a number of free internet filters readily available that parents can download to prevent their children from accessing such sites, which suggests that the grounds for such legislation are lacking. However, it is an observation by the blogger Quiet Man that caught my attention, for he noted that if the state is able to legislate to impose such a filtering system on the internet to protect children, might not it then be tempted to legislate to ‘protect’ the public from views that it deems to be unacceptable?
In recent years the internet has allowed genuine debate to flourish, enabling views that are ignored in mainstream politics and the media to be given an airing, whether they be good, bad or patently mad. It has facilitated the emergence of new types of political activism, and highlighted negative phenomena characteristic of sections of certain “communities” that fly in the face of politically correct orthodoxy. As those who criticise multiculturalism are generally stigmatised as “far-right”, “fascist”, “racist” and even “Nazi” by certain campaign groups and elements within the media which are also attempting to fabricate links between mass murderer Anders Breivik and individuals and groups critical of Islamism and various facets of Islamisation, might not mainstream parliamentarians be tempted to extend censorship into the realm of online politics? Fabricated claims about a “far-right” or “neo-Nazi” threat could be employed as a pretext for automatically screening out websites and blogs that are deemed to be beyond the ideological pale. What implications might such a measure have for freedom of thought and expression in the UK? It would seem that such a move could be very harmful and result in problems being ignored and hidden instead of being addressed and solved peacefully.
A number of politicians may today claim that they wish to introduce this technology to protect children from hardcore pornography, but in the longer term, whose interests will be protected by such technology: those of incumbent parliamentarians, or of the general public? Are they really thinking of the interests of our children, or of themselves?