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Thursday, 20 June 2013

It's Never A Laughing Matter, or Why We're Waging The Wrong Kind Of War On Child Pornography!

When pornography abandons its quality of existential solitude and moves out of the kitsch area of timeless, placeless fantasy and into the real world, then it loses its function of safety valve. It begins to comment on the real world.

ANGELA CARTER (1940-1992)

Welcome Back, Everyone!

Regular readers of my blog may be aware I recently wrote an article, in relation to the perils of child pornography - see the article  here  and how the media is still promoting total falsehoods as "facts".

In the past few days, more "facts" are being touted about, and I wanted to just comment upon them, as it gauls me to see quality publications like the "i" newspaper and The Guardian continue to get things so totally and utterly wrong.

UK readers will have been aware that Stuart Hall - TV pundit and former IT'S A KNOCKOUT gameshow host - has recently been sentenced to 15 months in jail for 14 counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse against a range of girls and young women, that took place between 1967 and 1985. This comes just weeks after two other high-profile crimes of child-killing, namely Mark Bridger (see  here  ) and Stuart Hazell (see  here  ) for details of the respective cases.

Hall will do half of that sentence, and then probably be released after, but on a police tag of some kind, maybe even having to report daily or weekly to a local police station, as well as sign the UK's Sex Offenders Register! The youngest victim, was a nine-year-old. Many have complained that the sentence was too lenient.

It was!

Even though Hall is now 84 years of age, the fact he initially denied any wrongdoing, and said that he would "fight the charges and regain my reputation" after he claimed he was going through a "living nightmare", cannot take away from the crimes he committed. He also slated the accusations, labelling the accusers as "pernicious, callous, cruel and spurious", which was a lie.

So his downfall, has been nothing more than his own undoing. Yet now that Hall is safely locked-away, albeit for a very short period of time (roughly amounting to two weeks for each offence), justice definitely does not appear to have been done. But worse is to come. Now the media, and our beloved (!) Government, are taking it upon themselves to go in all-guns-blazing against the Internet, in a fight to remove any- and every-thing that may be deemed "offensive"! This includes waging a war on Child Pornography, which I have no problem with them fighting to remove. Child Porn is the sickest, most repugnant aspect of real-life, and no one should want even the merest hint of it to be on the Internet.

But there is a problem... Anyone who knows anything about the Internet knows only too well, that as soon as something is put online, it remains online. You can never permanently eradicate files and data from the Internet. It's not possible. The Internet has its own resource of making sure, nothing gets permanently removed or deleted. It's called The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, and you can access it  here. It's free, and it will let you find and locate anything online, that may appear to have been deleted or removed. It's essentially a Google-fied history search engine for any material that may ever have been online at some point in the history of the Internet - all 22-plus years of it. It's aim is to make accessible, files and material that may no longer be online.

This may (and I want to stress that word may) include child pornography!

As I mentioned in my previous article, you can't just go onto Google, or Bing, or Yahoo and type in "child porn images" and get links to such material. It is not that easy, despite what the popular press would love you to think. You only need to take one look at idiots like Amanda Platell (a Daily Mail "columnist") who tried doing just that - see this link  here  to realise that not everything you think you see online is what it appears to be. (Platell claimed to have found a video featuring a minor being stalked and then forcibly attacked by an adult man, but it turned-out to be a simulated, faked sequence from a legal pornographic film. Nothing more, nothing less!)

In fact, the article backfired on both her and the Daily Mail - in a rather spectacular fashion!

First, it was proved that the act of a journalist looking for child porn, was illegal in the first place, as demonstrated by this Huffington Post article  here . Platell is/was technically breaking the law, and even in her role as a "journalist", she can't just go hunting for that kind of material to prove a point, without informing the Home Office and usually the Metroplitan Police too - who also have to approve whether she has the legal right to attempt the search in the first place! As she didn't get in touch with either body, she has opened herself and the Daily Mail to a very nasty lawsuit. Tut, tut, Amanda!

Secondly, the offending video clip was then proven by these articles  here  and  here  to be from a legally filmed porn video. (Legal in the US, that is, but potentially illegal in the UK.)

Thirdly, the Daily Mail - and to be fair, other papers too - are still claiming that the problem is all Google's fault...

...Which it isn't. (See my previous article on why.)

The Daily Mail seems adamant that it's all the fault of the ISP's (Internet Search Providers) who are to blame, for child porn even being accessible in the first place. Ergo, if they removed all of the links and files, there'd be no child porn. Ergo there would be no more sexual abuse of children. Ergo no more high-profile cases like that of Stuart Hall, Jimmy Savile, et al.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned back at the start of this article, the existence of online child porn is not that simple. You can't just Google it. You can't just eradicate all of it. You can't just sanitise the entire Internet, and then naively assume that there'll be no more heinous crimes and and no more predatory sex offenders. What you are thinking of there, is a simplistic solution to a very non-simplistic crime.

Just as eradicating all legal pornography will not stop children and teenagers from wanting to see sexual material to get turned-on with, so you can't just remove it all and assume the world will be a better place.

Andreas Whittam Smith - ex President of the British Board Of Film Classification - wrote an article in the "i" newspaper on Wednesday 19th June. In it, he quoted Maria Miller, the British Government's Culture Secretary, in which she said:

What has been agreed today, is a fundamental change in the way the industry will approach child abuse images and removing them from public view.

What has been agreed, is that ISP's such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter (not an ISP, but what the heck!) agreed to donate £1 Million Pounds Sterling (around $1,545,000 US Dollars) to the Internet Watch Foundation (see  here  ) to aid them in removing child pornography and other "objectionable material" from the Internet.

Now, I am all for removing truly objectionable material such as child pornography, from online. No one, not even the most ardent nor liberal of anti-censorship supporters, can possibly object to this, but a Million Pounds will do next-to-nothing. Child Porn is not easy to access. It is not easy to find. It is not sign-posted in obvious places. And the Internet does not solely consist of the pages that Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Opera can access, via web addresses. There is also the Usenet service, VPN - Virtual Private Networks, and many other ways to access material online, that don't need or use a web address. Whilst they all form part of the Internet, they do not get indexed in the same way, and - for the vast majority of people - they don't even know such places exist.

If you are in your 30's or 40's, then you will probably remember the old days, pre-the Internet, when we had dial-up modems, reaching such tremendous speeds as 14.4, 28.8, 33.6 and 56kbps. That's right, a maximum of 56 kilobytes per second. (Just over half a megabyte!) You had to connect your modem to your telephone socket, and to your PC, dial a physical number, wait for it to connect, then log-in, usually using something like Compuserve or AOL software to do so, and paying £25-£40 UK Pounds Sterling each month for the luxury to do so. Downloading 100 e-mail messages, could take 20-30 minutes! Anyone using dial-up modems will tell you, it was not fun, and it certainly wasn't fast. (Trust me on this, you youngsters don't know how lucky you are, with Internet speeds these days!) And it tied up your phoneline at the same time.

But pre-Internet, people used BBS's or Bulletin Board Services. These were essentially message boards, on thousands of subjects, and a place where like-minded people could chat, leave messages, and upload or download programmes and images. (Sound and video clips were a luxury!) It was all fairly anonymous, and it wasn't easy to locate a lot of things.

And there was a dark-side to BBS's: servers. (See  here  for a short guide to them.) If you ventured into the servers, you went there for a reason, and it was usually not for legal ones! allowed people to post material of a sexual nature. Here you would find all manner of posts, pictures and files of a pornographic and illicit kind. This was also where computer hackers and phone phreaks would hang-out too, exchanging tools and techniques on how to obtain information about suspect techniques for operating above-the-law.

It was the then-equivalent of the underbelly of the Net. The adult playground. If you were an underground person, this was your digital paradise of perversion!

And it was here, where - if you knew someone who knew someone, who knew a friend of a friend - you might get invited if you were wanting hardcore material, of adults doing things to other adults, or of adults doing things to minors. This was where porn in all its form was passed around, and transferred. Whilst for most modern Internet users, BBS's and servers are rarely ever used, though they still exist. And these are the places wher some (though not all) paedophiles can frequent, and exchange or search out the material that satiates their needs. These places do form part of the Internet, but are not indexed and filed by places like Google and Yahoo, except in the vaguest of manners.

Essentially, is a hideaway! And if that's the case, then no amount of complaining from Maria Miller, nor the Daily Mail, is going to stop child sex abuse images and videos from being produced, from being uploaded, and from being passed around by paedophiles, to other paedophiles.

In some parts of the world, child sexual abuse is not seen as being quite the abhorrent crime that we, in the West, see it as. Again, without wanting to open myself up to a potential libel suit, there are countries where child sex trafficking and child sex tourism takes place - sometimes quite brazenly - for anyone who is willing to pay enough hard currency for the pleasure. And worse still, some country's police and governments turn a blind eye, or facilitate, such odious acts. If you pay them to look the other way, they will do so! Thankfully, the Stop Child Trafficking charity is doing a lot of good work, to try and stop children from all over the globe being trafficked*, but like the IWF, it can only do so much.

As awful as it seems, the world is not the nice, pleasant, fluffy place we would love to convince ourselves (and our children) it is. Outside of your home, out there in the real world, there are many deeply unpleasant, sick and disturbed people. The same applies online. The Internet is great. It can be a force for good. But it can also be a force for misuse, for evil, for the peddling of offensive and unpleasant material.

Remember how in the film THE TERMINATOR (1984, James Cameron) and its stellar sequel TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991, also James Cameron), the Resistance fought against the evil creators of Skynet - the all-powerful, all-knowing, computer that turned against humans, and decided to wage war on its inventors? That's no longer fictional. Unfortunately, for us, we humans created the real-world equivalent, when we created the Internet.

We've created a place that we can no longer wholly control; that perpetuates and propagates itself; that learns; that mushrooms, embellishes, expands, enhances itself on a daily basis, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day! Each day, more and more material is uploaded, that gets passed around by millions upon millions of us, from one site to another, from country-to-country! We've created a virtual Pandora's Box!

And now, we're trying to control it, and to close it.

And we can't!

In our own, ever-so-slightly fucked-up way, we've begun the process of our own demise! And we are determined to put that blame on one thing - the Internet. It's the Internet's fault that our children look at porn, when they're only eight-years-old. It's the Internet's fault that monsters like Stuart Hazell, and Stuart Hall, and Mark Bridger and Jimmy Savile existed. It's the Internet's fault that would-be Jihadists can get training in how to be suicide bombers. It's the Internet's fault that guns kill people. What hope have we got, as a species, if we try and apportion blame on all of society's ills, to something we created in the first place?!

And on that dour note, I will leave you all to contemplate things! Take care, out there, folks!

* = If you want more information on what the Stop Child Trafficking charity is doing, to help and aid children all over the globe who have been trafficked, please visit their website  here.  Thank You!

ADDENUMDUM: A great article  here  , brought to my attention by Dave of the  MelonFarmers  site! Thanks!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The British Board Of Anti-Censorship: Something To Consider...

Hello again!

I attended a 100 YEARS OF THE BBFC event last night, where BBFC Examiner Ian Mashiah, gave a talk and question-and-answer session with the attendees, about the BBFC's work, its history, and some interesting case studies. (Who would know that even Disney have fallen foul of the BBFC in the past?!)

Although I like to think I know a fair amount about the BBFC, and the history of film censorship, even I learned a few things, through this event.

One of which was that local councils can overturn or re-classify any BBFC certificate, if they so wish to do so. Thus, any local council, can, upgrade a rating, downgrade one, un-ban a film, or ban one that's been passed by the BBFC, for any reasons they like. Although almost no councils do this, it is an option open to them. The vast majority tend to leave this area of culture to the BBFC themselves, as it's simply less hassle and less grief. It also saves councils time and money. Something they are all in short supply of, no matter where you live in the UK.

There are a couple of infamous exceptions, both of which were involving Westminster Council in Central London. The first, was David Cronenberg's drama CRASH from 1996, which Westminster famously banned after they deemed it likely to "deprave and corrupt" audiences. The fact that every other Council in London let the film be shown, uncut and uncensored, with its BBFC 18 certificate, seemed to be a rather silly decision in hindsight. The second, was when  Frightfest , the London horror movie festival was due to run A SERBIAN FILM in July 2010, but word-of-mouth about its extreme content got passed-on to Westminster Council, who demanded to view it, and then promptly banned it, unless or until the BBFC had approved it. The BBFC didn't, as many of you will know, and it was classified with heavy cuts, but not before the Frightfest organisers pulled the film in its entireity, stating that they weren't prepared to show a censored version of an artist's work. (The irony was that they were more than happy to play a censored, BBFC-classified version of the 2010 remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, so their argument was flawed-at-best, and was probably more to do with potential fall-out from A SERBIAN FILM itself, and negative press reaction, than an actual stand against censorship of film as a form of art!)

But this raises an interesting question: if enough people lobbied their local councils, could local councils be pressurised, lobbied or coerced into actually allowing banned works to be shown in certain cinemas around the country, under certain conditions and guises? If there was enough demand from audiences, could cinemas get away with allowing works like A SERBIAN FILM or THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II: FULL SEQUENCE to be shown, uncut and uncensored, to over-18's or over-21's?

I think this is an area that should be investigated further, by those who are vehemently anti-censorship and those who are simply film fans. It's been done before, when ex-BBFC President James Ferman famously allowed London men's clubs, aka Sex Cinemas, to show a version of Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1976 opus SALO: OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM on a "club" basis. This essentially meant that the "clubs" were given special licensing conditions that allowed them to show a film, strictly to members, that would otherwise be banned or not be publically acceptable. According to the BBFC:

Following this advice, United Artists sold the rights on to Cinecenta, who were advised by Ferman to show the film without a certificate, on a club basis, so it could be seen uncut as Pasolini had intended. The police prosecution was an embarrassment, and Ferman intervened and spoke to the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions. By that time the campaign to bring films within the scope of the OPA, which was led by Ferman, had borne fruit in the Criminal Law Act 1977, and the indecency charges were dropped. The film could now be considered as a whole, and its cultural and artistic value could be taken into account. Nonetheless, it was made clear to Ferman that charges might still be brought under the ‘deprave and corrupt’ test of the OPA if the film were to be shown uncut. Ferman therefore agreed to take advice from two distinguished QCs and to assist in the editing of a special version for cinema clubs. In 1979, the DPP agreed that proceedings need not be taken against this reduced version. The cut version prepared by James Ferman for club screenings lost nearly six minutes of footage, removing - amongst other things - some of the most extreme violence at the end of the film, and certain elements of sexual behaviour that were believed to be vulnerable to prosecution. It also added an on-screen to legally 'explain' the context of Mussolini's regime at Salo and the writings of the Marquis de Sade. This version was shown at club cinemas throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. The club version was, however, never formally submitted to the BBFC for classification, presumably because there was by that stage no commercial benefit in considering a wider theatrical release.
(For further information on this case, see the BBFC Case Study  here  at their site.)

So, this isn't setting any kind of precedent, but it is something that almost never happens. As I said earlier, I think that this is an interesting area that needs further exploration. Clearly, you're not going to see the likes of uncut or banned films at your local Multiplex. No offence to them, but they aren't the kind of establishments who would consider playing films as controversial as SALO, A SERBIAN FILM, or the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. However, most towns and cities have an arts cinema, one that specialises in foreign-language films, unusual and rare films, and which the programming is made by people who really do know and love all manner of films. They are the cinemas who would be best to programme such material. As long as you could convince your local council, that by playing the film(s) you want to play, that you won't be "depraving" or "corrupting" your audiences, and that the cinema makes it absolutely clear that no one under 18 (or in many cases 21) from viewing these films, then - in theory at least - there's a possibility to see banned or contentious films, and see them where they were meant to be seen!

The 21 age-restriction, is to clearly delineate to everyone attending that the works you intend showing, are absolutely and unashamedly NOT for mainstream audiences, and are specialist works that are not generally fit for public consumption. Most councils will let you show a banned film, but will require the cinema/establishment to show it with a strictly enforced over-21's policy. More often than not, they will also ask cinemas to set-up some kind of temporary "membership" scheme, where people pay a nominal fee, such as £1 UK Sterling, and pre-purchase the tickets, once they have been vetted as being over the age of 21. Tickets are almost never sold on the day of the performances themselves, and ticketholders often still need to bring I.D. with them, to the screening. All of this sounds like a lot of hassle, but it's meant as much to protect audiences as it is to protect the council who may award a temporary "club" licence to show banned or uncertificated works.

Other countries may find that their rules differ.

Considering that it was a BBFC Examiner who had told us this, I find that quite astonishing, albeit in a good and positive manner! I think this is something I want to persue further, with my local council, and with my local arts cinema near where I live. I think it would be great if we could have a weekend marathon of banned and contentious cinema! Outside of those two great London institutions, the  Prince Charles Cinema  or the  British Film Institute  at the Southbank, seeing uncertificated works at cinemas, is almost impossible these days.

Food for thought, nonetheless!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Child Porn: How Daytime TV Gets It So Wrong!

Welcome Back!

Having been rather ill the past few days, I caught an episode of the British daytime TV panel-discussion show THE WRIGHT STUFF (see  here  for more info), on Channel 5 on Friday 31st May.

Their first discussion was based on that day's Daily Mail front page in which the editor was outraged about why Google wasn't blocking child porn. (This came about because a paedophile by the name of Mark Bridger, who murdered the five-year-old girl April Jones, was convicted of her murder earlier this week, and given a life sentence, with no chance of parole. See  here  for more details on the case.)

Unfortunately, I was really disappointed with what should have been a very serious discussion on the issues of child pornography, which turned-out to be a lot of misguided misinformation, and a complete lack of understanding about what search engines restricting child pornography actually entails. So I e-mailed THE WRIGHT STUFF and explained to them why their discussion was so completely and utterly wrong. Here's what I wrote:


Firstly, child pornography is not something you can just Google. That is to say, you can’t just type the words into any search engine such as Google, and get access to it. So, we need to first of all stop the complete misunderstanding that such material can be easily accessed by anyone, everyone.

It can’t.

The average computer user, will almost never be able to access any kind of child porn, no matter how hard they try looking for it. It simply is not that simple to gain access to it, to view it, or to download it. Even most well-trained, computer-literate professionals could not access such material if they tried, because it just isn’t available that easily, despite what papers like the Daily Mail would like to have everyone believe. Finding one indecent image may be possible, though it’ll take a long time to truly track such material down, should you be that way inclined. Finding an entire collection, however, is a whole different issue altogether!

Secondly, we need to stop confusing ordinary pornography with that of child pornography. Ordinary pornography is divided into two types: softcore and hardcore. Softcore material, can be anything from Page 3 (see  here  for information, if you don't know what this refers too) through to magazines like Penthouse or Playboy, and can be easily accessed by anyone, but it is not illegal for adults to own such pornography, nor is it illegal to view it, in your own home – whether that be in the form of a DVD, a videotape, an online computer video clip, or in printed media such as books and magazines. A caller into your show, by the name of Andrew made the claim that it was illegal to own pornography in the UK. He was completely wrong!

It isn’t illegal. However, certain types of pornography, more commonly referred to as hardcore pornography, can be illegal to own or view, depending on what is being depicted or shown. Material featuring animals and under-18’s being two prime examples of material that would likely be punishable by English Obscenity laws. But even taking that into account, some hardcore pornography is still legal to own.

Jeremy Edwards (British TV actor from shows like HOLBY CITY and HOLLYOAKS) asked why can’t these Search Engines just simply ban all such material? The simple answer is this: because most child porn is not accessed via websites that are categorised as “child porn websites”. The vast majority of child porn is disseminated via e-mail, via other child pornographers, and via other person-to-person contact, e.g. a friend of a friend of someone who has access to this kind of material in the first place. It’s a fallacy to think that child porn will simply be labelled as child porn or non-child porn. Computers aren’t that clever... yet!

Child-porn comes in many different forms, from written material (fictional stories on a website) to pictures, through to the most distasteful, such as actual video clips. Unfortunately, computers can’t yet distinguish the difference between offensive writing and non-offensive writing, and nor can they differentiate the difference between two similar images, in the way humans can.

So an innocuous photo of, say, children on holiday, who happen to be at the beach, and are thus in swimwear, cannot be differentiated from a photo featuring an abused child in their underwear. To a computer, both feature children, but it doesn’t have the knowledge to learn what counts as acceptable material and what counts as offensive material that needs to be removed and banned. Likewise, someone writing “I raped a child and enjoyed it” and “The Vikings raped and pillaged the land” both use one word, but in two completely different contexts – one potentially offensive, one entirely innocuous. So computer technicians can’t tell a computer to look for keywords or key phrases, because too often, the computer will remove material that is completely innocuous. (This has been trialled in the past, and it didn’t work, as it caused more problems, than it actually solved!) And child pornographers know not to label that material with such names anyway. It’s not like they’re going to have files called “Child Porn Pics: Volumes 1-4” available for download! Again, that just doesn’t happen, except in the blinkered minds of the Daily Mail!

Mr Edwards also said that they (the Search Engines) need to employ people to go through child porn and to remove it. What he fails to realise is that this takes vast amounts of time, and vast amounts of people to do this. If you had one million people, working 24/7, 365 days a year, from now until the end of time, working at full-speed and never making a single mistake, it would still not be possible to remove everything that was illegal, from the Internet. As soon as you remove one site, two or more others will spring-up in their place. You remove one indecent image, another hundred are uploaded and online seconds later. It simply isn’t humanly possible to get any amount of humans to go through everything offensive, and permanently remove it.

The other problem, is that such a task requires a judgement to be made. What may be seen as offensive or distasteful to one person, may not be to another. How many times have we seen people complain about an art exhibit or photo, and fifty percent of the people who saw the exhibit or photo want it banned, whilst the other fifty percent saw no problem with it? Does the image of the Venus De Milo count as pornography? Some will say yes, others will say no. A computer can’t judge taste or decency. It can’t factor into the equations issues like cultural sensitivity, context, or tone. It can’t compute subjectivity. A computer deals in yes and no, ones and noughts, on and off. Anything else, and it can’t do it! Computers, even in the 21st Century, really aren’t that clever!

Kay Adams (Scottish TV presenter seen on daytime TV show LOOSE WOMEN!) quoted a figure of 26 million child pornography images currently being online. Now add on all the video clips that may exist, or pseudo-pictures that have been created, e.g. a drawing of a child being sexually abused, and the figure could easily double, triple or quadruple.

And that figure is only as good as right now; right this second.

In five minutes time, that figure may have increased by a further thousand. In an hour, another 10,000. In 24 hours, another million.

Humans and computers simply could not shift through that amount of data, and expunge it all. If we did, then by the time we’d finished the job, we’d be starting all over again, as another 26 million offensive pieces of material would be online, replacing the previous 26 million.

And don’t forget, the Internet grows every day.

It’s not like a building or a person, where it can only grow so much or expand so far. The Internet is not unlike the human brain. It’s theoretically possible to that the human brain could retain all the knowledge in the world, if it wanted too. The only limits would be the person learning all the knowledge, and time. It would take too long to learn that much data, let alone to be able to recall or use it in any kind of meaningful manner, so we humans learn what we need to do, and discard/fail to learn material that is irrelevant to us.

Likewise, the Internet keeps on growing, and it won’t ever stop. It can’t ever grow too big. It can’t cease expanding. It has limitless time and energy to effectively be as sophisticated and clever as we want it to be, and the horrible irony, is that there’s no off-switch. The human brain could learn everything, but eventually the human host would die. That doesn’t happen with the Internet. It can’t die. You can’t stop it, or pull the plug on it. It just keeps growing, and growing, and more and more data is passed around, every second of every minute of every hour, of every day from now until the end of eternity. The Internet will still be around, in one form or another, after we have all died.

Mr Edwards is wrong to argue that companies like Google aren’t “putting something back” and “aren’t trying”. They are. No sensible, decent computer company, or adult, wants the Internet to have child pornography on it. Or bomb-making sites, or hate-sites. We all want it to be eradicated, but it really isn’t as simple as just writing a computer programme to ferret out the offensive material, and leave the innocuous or legitimate material accessible. And as Kay Adams rightly pointed out, if you start removing it from one country, another country will allow it to be online on sites based in their country. Alas, in some countries, child porn isn’t seen in the same way the Western World sees it. I’m not going to name any specific countries, but I’m sure we’ve all seen documentaries where child sex exploitation gangs work, and where child sex is freely purchasable for the right amount of money.

He was also wrong about the “barriers” that are being put-up by child pornography sites. These so-called “barriers” aren’t being put online by Search Engines and Internet Providers, but by the sites themselves. They are probably nothing more than disclaimers, that probably say something along the lines of “This website is for adults only, and any material that features within it, may not be legal to view in all countries”. That’s not a barrier, and most websites that feature that kind of “barrier”, often just need you to tick a box, and voila, you gain access to the site! So, you can’t just “stop it” as he claims!

Natalie Cassidy (a British TV actress, famous for her role in the long-running soap/drama EASTENDERS) then talked about “these search engines must know what goes onto them”. Again, it’s not that simple.

A Search Engine is nothing more than an electronic catalogue or listings guide. It doesn’t differentiate between good, wholesome sites, fun sites, vaguely suspect sites, and illegal sites. It simply catalogues and lists everything – good, bad or otherwise. So, in answer to her concern, “no”, a Search Engine wouldn’t know what is being catalogued, and only if a human being sat through and checked every single entry on that catalogue, can you – again, as a human being would – sift through the listings, and be able to keep the good sites, and remove the bad ones. But we come back once more to human beings working to sift through a catalogue of material, that could be 100,000,000,000 sites in length, and another million are added every day. It woudn’t be possible to do this job, even if we wanted too.

Anyone who’s gone onto Google and looked for, let’s say, lists of estate agents, and Google comes back saying “I’ve found 13 million possible sites” will see what a Herculean task would await us! If we find 13 million sites on just the topic of estate agents, as soon as you start thinking of every other possible subject that can be searched for, then you realise just how impossible the task would be. Even if you could catalogue every single possible subject someone might search for, then you have to go through each of those subjects, and see if the search engine’s catalogue of sites are good or bad.

She also talked about “responsibility”, as in the Search Engines being liable for what they link too. Again, the Search Engines are merely gigantic, electronic catalogues. If anyone chooses to abuse that information, by using it to look for stuff that is not appropriate, or breaks the law, the Search Engine company cannot be liable, just as it would be wrong for a Library to be prosecuted for loaning books on medicines and science, but which someone uses the information in those books to build a bomb or to learn how to poison or kill someone! Would a garage be liable if you buy a car, and then chose to use that car to mow down and kill your next-door neighbour? No, of course, not. So nor can a Search Engine.

Paedophiles may be seemingly solitary people, but they will probably be part of a much wider network of people who peddle child pornography online. It is extremely unlikely, that any human being could just wake-up one day with a sexual interest in children, and then go online and find material that fulfils their need. Paedophiles are often victims of sexual abuse themselves. But even if they aren’t, in order to access child porn, they need to have contacts: people who know other people, who know other paedophiles or other adults with the same interest in children, who can give them access to the material they want. It’s very much a case of who you know, not what you know. As I said at the start, you can’t just dig-up child porn of any kind online, by typing words into a search engine!

Your second caller, Andrew, spoke a lot of mistruths and misguided information. His declaration that owning porn was illegal, and then citing the Obscene Publications Act as the reason, was completely and utterly wrong in every possible way! It is one hundred per cent NOT illegal for adults, to own softcore pornography, nor to view it, nor to make it. What is illegal, is to own, purchase or view certain types of hardcore pornography, though not all types. Considering Andrew said he owned some sex shops, he seems very misguided on the laws relating to the ownership of pornography, and the various recent changes in law on this subject.

He then went on to discuss how 12, 13, and 14 years old's can access any kind of pornographic material they wish to see, online. Technically, that is true, but then my counter-argument would be “Where are the parents?” I find myself getting greatly annoyed that everything has to be banned or restricted, “because a child might access it”!


A good parent would be doing everything in their power, to stop kids from accessing anything – drugs, pornography, whatever else – that wasn’t appropriate. Now, I appreciate that with all the good will in the world, no parent can stop their child from doing something naughty or illegal, if that child is determined enough. We’ve all done something wrong when we were young: snuck into an age-restricted film, seen a pornographic magazine, smoked, took drugs. Whatever it was, every child is going to be guided by their parents as well as their peers. Rather than constantly demonising pornography, let’s be more like Sweden. Let’s be open about what pornography is. Let’s stop being so prudish about nudity, about seeing each other’s naked body’s. Let’s teach our kids about pornography. Explain it to them, and stop frightening them that anything to do with sex is evil and wrong, and something they must neither talk about nor think of! Show them that not all porn is disgusting, violent and degrading filth – it isn’t. Let’s explain that pornography comes in many forms, from the very gentle to the very extreme. Let’s teach them that there’s a time and a place to view porn, and that what goes on in porn, is not necessarily a reflection of real-life. Let’s educate our kids, and teach them that the human body, and love, and sex are wonderful things, and not something that has to be hidden away!

Andrew’s other suggestion, that people should have to ask their Internet Providers for access to adult material, is not something I would have a problem with! I suspect a fair amount of adults would, but even if they didn’t, that is absolutely not going to change or stop child pornography from being accessible. Every single thing that gets banned, someone, somewhere finds a way to get hold of it, and supply it – be it medicines, drugs, pornography, alcohol, tobacco or any one of a hundred other “banned” items. So his idea simply wouldn’t make a real difference.

His statistic that 80-90% of all porn access, will magically disappear, is – to be frank – laughable! What will happen, is that porn will simply go underground once more, like in the 1960’s and 70’s, and it’ll be even more unregulated and even more secretive. That’s the very things you don’t want to happen to child porn. The more out in the open it is, the more the police, the CIA, the FBI, and Interpol have of finding it, stopping it, and prosecuting those who produce and peddle it! As I said earlier, child porn is not as easy to access as papers like the Daily Mail would like you to think it is! You’ve got more chance of getting hold of some of the most illicit drugs known to mankind, online, than you will have in finding a single piece of real or actual child pornography!

I detest any publication that frightens people about the Internet. Like everything else in life, the Internet is not something that you just shove into your kids lives. You have to guide them, and teach them. Explain to them, that they may find or see material that shocks or upsets them. If they do, then they need to be able to talk about it openly with their parents or teachers or another trusted adult, rather than telling them that they shouldn’t have been seeing that kind of thing, and chastising them for it. Sometimes pornographic material will spring-up onto your screen, without warning. Alas, that is a problem, but don’t vilify your child when it happens. Be calm, rational and reasonable. Not only will it make your child a better adult, it will make you a better parent/teacher, etc.

Ultimately, pornography exists, whether we like or agree with it, or not. Likewise, so does child pornography. Whilst we should do everything we can humanly do, to stop child pornography, and child sexual abuse, child trafficking, and all the other related ills, we also need to come to terms with pornography in general. We Brits have such an unhealthy relationship with it. Yet, almost every other European country, not only has a healthier response to pornography, but also to the way, sex and nudity are depicted in the media. It’s only us Brits that decry it as filth and sleaze, and a bit of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. What kind of values does that give to our children, when the merest hint of male or female nudity is to cry foul, and get angry at whatever medium the nude appendage has been depicted in?

Maybe the reason the worlds of pornography and child pornography, are so secretive, so buried, so dark and disturbing, is because we have made it that way? Maybe we need to take a good, long, hard look at who we are as a society, and ask ourselves a lot of tough questions, before we will ever find any answers!


So, what do you folks think? Do you think that the Daily Mail has got it wrong (again)? Is child pornography something that search engines can easily ban? Or do we feel that we need another plan, another idea? Bearing in mind anything that you put online can never be erased, and will be there, somewhere on the Internet for anyone to access at any time in the future, do you think the Internet is policeable, for want of a better word? Does it need more censorship, more material being banned/censored?

Feel free to get in touch, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading! See you again, soon!

ADDENDUM: Thanks to the MelonFarmers site for pointing me to  this  excellent article, in which statistics demonstrate how unlikely it will be that you will ever be able to find actual child porn on the Internet!