David Cameron announces plans to block pornography

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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The Prime Minister has announced plans for every household in the UK is to have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it.

There are in fact laws already to outlaw the possession of such images and those laws are great deal older than may be first thought. The Obscene Publications Act 1857, and its successors the 1959 and 1964 Acts may have had as their primary purpose, the protection of the public from any material that might “deprave and corrupt”  but the original 1959 and 1964 Acts have been updated to deal with internet offences. See Section 168 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which amends section 1(3) of the 1959 Act. These Acts are still used in prosecutions.

Relatively recently (in a case handled by Myles Jackman of Hodge, Jones and Allen) we have seen an unsuccessful prosecution involving the use of section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which prohibits the possession of an extreme pornographic image. However there are defences to section 63, which may apply if the maker of the image can prove that the actors are willing participants. A further aim of the government is to try to prevent access to child pornography. Sadly this is a multi-billion dollar industry. The statistics published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre demonstrate the dramatic increase in arrests arising out of this kind of crime.  Anecdotally, one can chart this also by the sheer number of reports in the news of individuals being prosecuted for possessing abusive images of children.

The problem is recognized globally by Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which enjoins member states to protect children of exploitation of this nature. In addition, a recent NSPCC study revealed the prevalence of 'sexting' among teenagers. 'Sexting' is the creation, exchange, sharing and forwarding of sexual messages or explicit images through mobile phones and/or the internet. Research indicates that between 15% and 40% of young people, under-age teenagers themselves, have been exposed to this. It can be seen as a form of cyber-bullying, whereby typically a male will pressurise a female into sending sexually suggestive images of herself to him (or he will film or photograph her performing a sexual act upon him with or without her consent). These can then be used to 'blackmail' the subject with the risk of dissemination of the images to his (and the subjects) social circle and beyond. So prevalent is this practice that the study found that exposure to these home-made pornographic images is now as common among young people as exposure to 'traditional' sexual or pornographic content on-line, and more prevalent than conventional cyber-bullying.

According to the report, 'stranger danger' is something in this country which seems well understood by the 13 to 15 years old girls who were involved in the study; it is in fact the peer to peer approaches for sexually explicit images which are more demanding of them.  

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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