The Adam Smith Institute has just released a new paper by Nicholas Cowen of Kings College London: Nothing to Hide: The case against the ban on extreme pornography.
In it, Cowen makes a robust case against the current prohibition on acts that are legal to perform--and yet not to record--show it to be expensive, dangerous, and illiberal.
The executive summary of the paper reads:
The ban on possession of extreme pornography was introduced in 2009 and extended in 2015. The law, as drafted, bans depictions of some sex acts that can be conducted safely and consensually between adults, with a
specific risk of prosecution posed to LGBT minorities.
The Crown Prosecution Service reports more than a thousand offences prosecuted each year, implying significant enforcement costs that could be deployed effectively elsewhere.
A significant minority of the British population enjoy sexually aggressive fantasy scenarios but do not pose a specific risk of committing violent or sexual offences.
Access to pornography has increased dramatically in recent years, yet social harms imputed to pornography (especially violence against women) have reduced moderately but significantly.
While some survey evidence claims a correlation between individual use of pornography and sexual aggression, econometric evidence suggests this is not a causal relationship and that, if anything, increased access to
pornography can reduce measurable social harms.
The ban itself represents a potential risk to political integrity. Like the ban on homosexuality in much of the 20th century, prohibitions on private sexual conduct can be used to silence, blackmail and corrupt individuals
in positions of authority and responsibility.
There are better policies for reducing violence against women in the dimensions of criminal justice, education and economic reform.
The prevailing free speech doctrine in the United States shows that it is realistically possible to simultaneously tackle damaging forms of expression and maintain strong protections for innocuous forms.
Sam Bowman, Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute said,
Most people don't want the government in their bedrooms, but that's what extreme porn laws do. This report highlights just how bad these laws really are -- they turn millions of law-abiding adults into potential criminals simply for enjoying
consensual spanking or dressing up in the bedroom. The evidence is very clear that pornography does not drive violence, and indeed it may reduce it. These are badly drafted laws that should never have made it to the statute books, and this
report confirms the urgent need for the government to scrap them."
Nick Cowen, author of the paper said,
The extreme porn ban criminalises depictions of sex acts even if they are safely performed by consenting adults. We have seen the law used, in particular, to target and expose gay men. Each such case represents a personal tragedy and a
disgraceful use of our criminal justice system's scarce resources. The costs of the law are disproportionate to any public benefit, and as implemented cannot plausibly protect women's interests for which the ban was supposedly introduced.
A broad coalition of campaign groups including the National Secular Society has warned that proposals contained in the Queen's Speech could criminalise a wide swathe of speech.
Campaigners say the government's planned Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill must be carefully crafted to avoid damaging freedom of expression.
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship said:
The government's move to counter extremism must not end up silencing us all," "We should resist any attempts to make it a crime for people of faith to talk publicly about their beliefs, for political parties to voice unpopular views,
and for venues from universities to village halls to host anyone whose opinions challenge the status quo. We urge the government to use its consultation to ensure this does not happen.
The government's plans to tackle extremism through a new civil order regime and other measures must not undermine the very values it aims to defend, free expression organisations said on Wednesday.
Index on Censorship, English PEN, the National Secular Society, the Christian Institute, ARTICLE 19, Big Brother Watch, Manifesto Club and the Peter Tatchell Foundation welcomed plans to consult on the matter, following their demands earlier this
The proposals for a new law, outlined in the Queen's Speech, are more ambiguous than earlier proposals made by this government, but nevertheless leave open broad measures to police a wide swathe of speech and should be resisted, the groups said.
The new legislation will include giving law enforcement agencies new powers to protect vulnerable people -- including children -- from those who seek to brainwash them with extremism propaganda so we build a stronger society around our shared
liberal values of tolerance and respect , according to the
background notes accompanying the Queen's Speech.
More specifically, the government proposals are to legislate:
Stronger powers to disrupt extremists and protect the public.
Powers to intervene in intensive unregulated education settings which teach hate and drive communities apart.
A new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity, following consultation.
Closing loopholes so that Ofcom can continue to protect consumers who watch internet-streamed television content from outside the EU on Freeview.
The new proposals should avoid creating an environment that could make it even harder for people of all faiths and ideologies to express their beliefs and opinions, the groups said. Current legislation already prohibits incitement to violence and
terrorism, and a compelling case for broadening them further through civil measures has not been made.
Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship said:
The government's move to counter extremism must not end up silencing us all. We should resist any attempts to make it a crime for people of faith to talk publicly about their beliefs, for political parties to voice unpopular views, and for
venues from universities to village halls to host anyone whose opinions challenge the status quo. We urge the government to use its consultation to ensure this does not happen.
The groups said plans to introduce new laws in this area presented three main risks:
It is still not clear how new legislation would deal with the problem of defining "extremism" in a way that would not threaten free speech.
The government has previously defined extremism broadly as "the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and
beliefs". The continued lack of a clear definition risks outlawing any political expression that does not reflect mainstream or popular views.
Britain already has a host of laws to tackle the incitement of terrorist acts, as well as racial and religious hatred. The government has previously been criticised for the broad definitions of "terrorism" in existing legislation, and
the definition of "extremism" in the Prevent Strategy. The proposed bill must not introduce new vague terminology and widen the net even further.
"The government's approach to extremism is unfocused. Unless we can make them see sense, the range of people who could find themselves labelled 'extremist' by their own government is about to get a whole lot wider," said Simon Calvert
of the Christian Institute.
2. Nature of new civil orders
The government is ambiguous on whether they are still considering "extremism disruption orders" or "banning orders" within the package of civil measures. Though the promised consultation is welcome, these draconian measures
are clearly not off the table.
Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, has said previously that extremists need to be exposed, challenged and countered. The proposed measures would have the opposite effect and should not find their way into the new civil order regime.
"Extremism banning orders could mean political activists -- or any other activists deemed to be 'anti-democratic' -- such as environmental activists -- could be outlawed in future, thereby undermining democracy itself," said Jo
Glanville, Director of English PEN.
Extremist disruption orders (EDO), suggested under earlier plans for the bill, could have a similar chilling effect on free expression and democracy. Under original plans for EDOs, the police would be able to apply to the high court for an order
to restrict the "harmful activities" of an "extremist" individual. The definition of "harmful" could include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress, or the ill-defined "threat to the
functioning of democracy".
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "The prosecution thresholds for EDOs -- as originally envisaged -- are worryingly low -- civil, not criminal -- yet the consequences of granting of such an order,
even if not broken, are likely to be very serious, e.g. rendering the recipient unemployable. Few faced with such a threat are likely to have the resources to mount any defence as proceedings will be at the High Court."
"No convincing case has been made for the necessity of new measures to restrict free speech. Existing measures are already deterring individuals and groups from engaging in open debate on important issues. The plans re-announced today,
though watered down, do not sufficiently address criticism the government has received; they not only threaten to further chill legitimate speech, but may also fuel divisive ideologies and make us less safe," said Thomas Hughes, Executive
Director of ARTICLE 19.
3. International implications
Governments across the world -- such as Russia, Turkey and Egypt -- are increasingly using national security laws to censor free expression, including in the media. The government's moves are likely to legitimise and embolden these efforts,
setting a counter-productive example.
UN and regional human rights experts have jointly raised concerns regarding the potential impact of broadly defined initiatives to counter violent extremism on the free expression of minority and dissenting views. They have called for responses
to violent extremism to be evidence based, and to respect international human rights law on freedom of expression and non-discrimination.
We call on the government to consult widely with all stakeholders, including civil society and minority groups, to ensure that a bill intended to tackle extremism does not undermine one of the values at the heart of democracy: that of free speech
The Queen's Speech contained the following reference to the Digital Economy Bill:
Digital Economy Bill
Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. Legislation will be introduced to make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy.
It seems a bit of a contraction that one of the main elements of the bill is designed to make the UK a world straggler in the digital economy when it comes to adult contents,
The notes reveal a little more about the internet censorship section of the bill which reads:
Protecting citizens in the digital economy
Protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing, and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to impose fines on those who break the rules.
Protection of children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.
The government notes that the bill will apply to the entire UK.
While preventing children from seeing pornography is a worthy aim, age verification is fraught with difficulties, if infringements of privacy and free expression are to be avoided. We will urge caution and advocate avoiding blunt instruments
such as website blocking.
We are also expecting the government to introduce a law that will allow the filtering of websites without prior consent by the end of this year and will be asking whether this is going to be part of the proposed bill.
Offsite Comment: No one can stop teenagers from watching porn -- not even David Cameron
Privacy International is reviving its challenge against the UK government's right to issue general hacking warrants.
The group has filed for the High Court to review the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) decision that ruled the general warrants are legal.
At the moment the government issues general warrants to organisations such as GCHQ, allowing them to hack computers and phones of both UK and non-UK residents without the need for judges to sign-off the warrant first.
Privacy International is worried about the scope of general warrants, saying that it could mean an entire class of unidentified persons or property, such as all mobile phones in Nottingham could be hacked. It said that:
The common law is clear that a warrant must target an identified individual or group of identified individuals.
The Snoopers' Charter, currently under consideration in parliament, is set to write this general government hacking capability into law.
The Daily Mail reports that the government is set to introduce a new bill with a raft of measures to counter muslim extremism.
Among those measures is the enabling of TV pre broadcast censorship. Ofcom is to be given given extended powers to suspend broadcasts deemed to include unacceptable extremist material .
The Daily Mail article also reveals that a covert Home Office unit has been established to influence the views of young British Muslims using online propaganda tools. The secret campaign aims to bring about attitudinal and behavioural change
and a different voice from Islamic State's persuasive online propaganda.
The Research, Information and Communications Unit (Ricu) had one initiative in which it advertised itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees. Employees had face-to-face conversations with students without
them knowing it was a government programme. The official description of the group is:
Established in 2007, the Research Information and Communications Unit (RICU) is a cross-departmental strategic communications body based at the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism (OSCT) at the Home Office. RICU aims to coordinate
government-wide communication activities to counter the appeal of violent extremism while promoting stronger grass-roots inter-community relations.
Offsite Comment: Government floundering with a legal definition of 'extremism'
It's now reported by the Guardian that the counter-extremism bill, cast as the centrepiece of Cameron's legacy programme of legislation, is floundering because the government can't seem to find a legally robust definition of
It is understood that the bill, to be announced in the Queen's speech on 18 May, has been through dozens of drafts and Whitehall officials are still struggling to find a definition of extremist that will not be immediately
challenged in the courts.
The Haystack is a new documentary , released today by
Scenes of Reason , bringing together leading lights for and against the UK's Investigatory Powers Bill. This unprecedented piece of legislation, which is now under parliamentary scrutiny, seeks to affirm and expand the surveillance remit of
UK security services and other departments, including new powers for the police to access internet connection records -- a database of the public's online activity over the previous 12 months.
The film provides an excellent roundup of arguments on both sides of the tortuous surveillance debate, including Conservative MP Johnny Mercer echoing the well-worn refrain, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Jim Killock of
Open Rights Group , speaking at the film's launch, quipped that Mr Mercer might feel a bit different if it were the left-wing government of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell wielding these powers. Indeed, as far-right parties attract support
around Europe and the world, the likelihood increases of tremendous state surveillance becoming the plaything of ever more abusive regimes.
The immense capabilities contained within the bill are unpalatable in the hands of any authority -- they are all too easily harnessed to undermine perfectly reasonable political opposition and judicial work. By way of example, the film outlines
one such case where the current UK government improperly gained access to privileged details of a court case against it. In this light, the bill seems an intolerable threat to democracy and free expression.
Voices of concern from the security community , such as Sir David Omand, ex-GCHQ chief, explain that precautions against terrorism require more spying. Others reject this, noting that security services have failed to act on intelligence when they
do have it -- spending enormous sums on digital surveillance only reduces their efficacy in the realm of traditional detective work. Moreover, those costs, to be borne by government and industry, are excessive at a time of cuts to other public
services designed to protect us from more conventional enemies, such as disease.
The debate is winding -- this film helps straighten things out.
Of course John Whittingdale should be free to enjoy a relationship with whom he so chooses, but surely he shouldn't be denying freedoms to Brits to enjoy their own choice of adult fun.
Whittingdale's Department of Culture, Media and Sport is currently pushing through legislation to censor internet porn. (of course in the name of 'protecting the children'). Not to mention the fact that Whittingdale is on a personal crusade to
bring the BBC under the control of the government propaganda department.
The department's (just closed)
consultation document on proposals for internet censorship lists a number of alleged harms that have been linked to over-exposure to pornography. The DCMS states:
Many people worry that young people will come to expect their real life sexual experiences to mirror what they or their peers see in pornography, which often features ambiguous depictions of consent, submissive female stereotypes and unrealistic
i wonder if this statement should be updated a little
Many people worry that young people will come to expect their real life sexual experiences to mirror what their MPs or peers get up to, which often features ambiguous depictions of consent, dominating female stereotypes and unrealistic