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Cameron on Internet Porn: Global Alliance to "Stamp Out Vile Images"

There are two primary prongs to Cameron's plan, both based on cooperation with the industry but backed by the threat of legislation if it isn't effective. The first is default-on ISP level filters. The second is a more proactive response from the search engines in finding and removing pornography, and preventing users finding and viewing pornography.

The filters will be operated by individual ISPs, but exactly what will be filtered is not explained. In a separate radio interview Cameron later said that he didn't think Page 3 topless photos from The Sun newspaper would be filtered: that's a consumer choice, he said. In his speech he also noted that "educational content" should not be restricted. Pornography laws have always struggled with the problem of where to draw the line, and exactly who draws that line.

One criticism is that these filters will be difficult for law-abiding people to avoid, but trivial for internet-savvy users. The intention is that from next month, new ISP customers will be forced to opt out of the filters if they want unrestricted access to the internet. By the end of the year, existing customers will also be forced to make that choice.

The second prong in Cameron's plans is greater cooperation from the search engines. He expects Google, Bing and Yahoo to operate a black-list of search terms 'which offer up no direct search returns.' "You have a duty to act on this", he said, "and it is a moral duty."

"What should not be returned", he explained, "is a list of pathways into illegal images which have yet to be identified by CEOP or reported to the IWF." It would appear from this that the ISP filters will also be heavily reliant on lists provided by these two organizations.

Cameron also stated that he would close a loophole in English law that currently means that possession of simulated rape pornography is not illegal. "Well I can tell you today we are changing that," he said. "We are closing the loophole – making it a criminal offense to possess internet pornography that depicts rape."

While there are many organizations and individuals that support Cameron's position, there are many others who do not. One of the criticisms is that it conflates illegal child abuse with adult pornography. Following the prime minister's speech, CEOP chief executive Peter Davies issued a statement supporting "the government’s commitment to stepping up its efforts to stop offenders accessing child abuse images on the internet through increased cooperation with industry." He makes no mention of adult pornography. 

Erstwhile Tory MP Louise Mensche does: "It is not for our government to police consensual simulation, between adults, of one of women's most common fantasies," she tweeted yesterday.

Many of the criticisms, however, are summarized in a comment by Dr Paul Bernal of the University of East Anglia’s law school, reported in The Independent. “Plans like these, worthy though they may appear, do not, to me, seem likely to be in any way effective”, he said.

“The real ‘bad guys’ will find ways around them, the material will still exist, will keep being created, and we’ll pretend to have solved the problem – and at the same time put in a structure to allow censorship, create a deeply vulnerable database of ‘untrustworthy people’, and potentially alienate many of the most important companies on the internet. I’m not convinced it’s a good idea.”

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