07/31/2013 09:43 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Banning Child Porn Won't Hide it From Pedophiles

Laptop computer with a red ethernet cable forming 'XXX', coming out of the back on a plain background
Getty Images
Laptop computer with a red ethernet cable forming 'XXX', coming out of the back on a plain background

It's not a coincidence that David Cameron has been forced to turn to Chinese corporations in trying to implement his ridiculous ban on porn -- this is a relationship between government and citizen that has already been perfected by the world's premiere communist regime. MP Joy Smith's has attempted to align herself with the second of two prongs of this amoral censorship campaign, but before addressing that let's begin with a practical demonstration regarding the first.

Try to find some child pornography. Go on. Head to Google, or Bing, or even a porn-specific search engine, and try to devise a search string capable of returning pedophilic images or video. I'll wait. Once you're done, we'll meet back up in the next paragraph.

So, how was your little adventure? Filled with the sorts of criminal images that arm-flappers like David Cameron would have you believe are positively roiling on the surface of the Internet? Of course it wasn't. The recent claim that 1.5 million Britons have stumbled onto child porn accidentally was, of course, utter nonsense, but it is the justification for proposing sweeping legislation, the specifics of which even Cameron doesn't know.

In reacting to the story of murdering pedophile Mark Bridger, who was an avid viewer of child pornography, Cameron leapt to abandon his conservative ideals and swing the hammer of censorship without stopping to ask the single most pertinent question: How did Mark Bridger find this child pornography in the first place?

Many years ago, back when Google was still struggling for venture capital, it was possible to stumble onto child porn. Soon enough though, private self-regulation and a bit of government intervention drove this filth underground, where it remains today. In the context of the Internet, "underground" refers to the Deep Web. This is an area of the Internet which is basically defined as comprising all data which, by accident or design, cannot be indexed by search engines like Google -- and it is enormous. Nobody knows exactly how large it is, but it's almost certainly several times larger than the Internet, as available to the average user.

The Deep Web is home to everything from the complete catalogue of the US Library of Congress to the most comprehensive databases of pirated media to, yes, the digital sewers filled with illegal pornography. Its darkest recesses are only accessible through a technology called onion routing. As the name implies, data doesn't flow directly from server to consumer, but gets bounced around between different intermediaries on the way -- like the layers of an onion. This makes it, hypothetically, impossible to track from source to destination.

These sites can only be accessed with special encrypted browsers and are notoriously difficult to find, their randomly generated URLs often passed only to trusted online friends. It's such an air-tight system that the Silk Road, a BitCoin-driven online drug market, has operated with impunity for years despite openly flaunting its activities before the entire U.S. security establishment.

If U.S. national security and its over-funded drug war can't shut down an onion website doing thousands of financial transactions and sending physical substances through the mail, how likely are the British or Canadian telecom industries to be able to stop illicit file transfers? I'll even repeat that question under the assumption they continue to contract the services of Chinese corporations with real experience helping governments to oppress their own people.

Now, Joy Smith is at least good enough not to waste our time talking about illegal porn, and only expresses envy about the second of Cameron's plans to curtail freedom in the UK. She wants to protect our children from stumbling onto porn of any kind, or from being able to access it intentionally before they are of age. That's at least just a fundamental misunderstanding of her powers as a member of government, as opposed to a Cameron-style delusion about the state of technology. It will still run afoul of some painfully foreseeable problems, however.

Firstly (and the importance of this can't be overstated): Parents watch porn. Adults will lock their liquor cabinet to keep their children from getting drunk, but history shows us they will not give up the booze altogether. That is what Smith's initiative would demand: flag your home as a no-porn zone, throw out the liquor entirely even when lockable cabinets like Net Nanny already exist. If Ms. Smith's crusade ever gets off the ground, she will be sorely disappointed at the number of family homes which opt in to porn and render her efforts utterly inert.

Beyond that, though, the most basic possible point to make about free expression is that censorship is a cancer on government institutions, an evil unto itself regardless of how vile its targets might be. As we are already seeing in Britain, which now wants to ban things like drinking and tobacco-related websites, there is simply no possibility that morally righteous crusaders will restrain themselves at filtering porn alone. Once we open the gates to government censorship of the Internet, all bets will be off.

Even if they were to restrict themselves to purely illegal activity, which they in no way intend to do, just how illegal would something have to be to run afoul of this infallible government arbiter? How long until the filter starts enforcing copyright complaints? How long before this becomes an avenue for blocking supposedly libelous speech against government officials?

If these people are really interested in protecting children, they will switch to helping parents use a freely available, client-side web filtration program -- or hell, just buy an unlimited national license of a paid one. That would almost certainly be cheaper than these ill-informed schemes to change the very nature of the Internet. Such a program does not so easily lend itself to government misuse for censorship and surveillance, however, and as such will not get off the ground. If Smith's plot goes forward, it will not achieve any of its goals -- but will not really be intended to. It will be Trojan horse legislation made possible by self-interested corporations and dark-hearted censors -- with helpful boosting from well-meaning ignoramuses.

I certainly don't relish the idea of a child growing up suspended in the Internet as it exists today. Parents should be pro-active in controlling what their children access online, and their government can absolutely help them to do this, easily, and without the need to expand their own powers. That's not what is being proposed. What's being proposed is a grotesque confluence of ignorance and opportunism, fear-mongering and the hoarding of power.

It must be fought tooth and nail.

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