On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a sweeping censorship plan that would block internet users in the United Kingdom from accessing online pornography unless they specifically request otherwise. British ISPs will be obliged to contact each of their customers to ask whether they want their content filtered, and if no answer is forthcoming, the filter will be applied by default. Speaking of how "online pornography is corroding childhood," Cameron also proposed that search engines stop showing returns for child pornography – and in doing so demonstrated a lack of understanding of the medium.

In an impassioned speech, the British PM heralded plans to clean up the internet. Key parts of the plan include forcing British internet users to specifically request access to pornography, or else have such sites blocked. It was also proposed that search engines such as Google and Bing should filter search results so they can't be used to find child porn. Finally, Cameron proposes making it illegal to possess or view online porn that depicts simulated rape.

Let's take a quick look at some of the issues these initiatives will raise.

Who decides what is porn?

The UK government will have to be responsible for an internet blacklist. But how, for example, do you account for a general image server like imgur.com, which handles a vast amount of user-uploaded content, including, but certainly not limited to, porn? Does the entire domain get blocked? How many naked pictures have to show up on an internet forum before the whole site is blocked? The logistics are nightmarish.

Filters can be circumvented anyway

Anyone who has visited China recently, with that nation's internet censorship regime, might be surprised to learn how many Chinese people have profiles on the banned Facebook site. A proxy server is all you need to bring traffic in from censored areas on the internet, children Cameron hopes to protect from adult images may yet prove themselves to be experts in the art of porn-hunting in the same way they always have done. (And there may be an argument that parents that welcome the action may turn a blind eye to their children's online activities as a result – Ed.)

Most child pornography is already off the web

Online paedophiles, like drug dealers and gun runners, are well aware of the consequences of their activities online. In this age of universal surveillance, you'd be absolutely mad to search for illegal pornography online. No, the majority of illegal internet sites are now located on the much more anonymous dark net or deep net, parts of which which have specifically been designed to prevent censorship. And if curious kids are going to have to install a Tor browser and access the deep net to find regular porn, they're much more likely to run into the really nasty stuff.

The shaming of porn viewers

First, they came for the masturbators (and I am speaking out, for obvious reasons). The very fact that your web will effectively be censored unless you specifically ask your provider for access to porn raises all sorts of issues. For starters, the famous British gutter press will be delighted to reveal the names of famous people who have asked for the filter to be disabled. Somewhere, there will be a very useful list of people who are porn users, and one day it will leak. Not to mention inter-familial issues: family members who want access to porn will no longer be able to get it without consulting with their partners. It's not a problem for all, but a big problem for some.

And finally, there's this ...

Government control of the internet is a powerful weapon against democracy

You only have to look as far as the Arab Spring to see how powerful a tool social media can be in organising protests and uprisings, - as well as how quickly governments can move to restrict access to sites like Twitter when they started to feel threatened. Since the Snowden leaks, it has become very clear that even "upstanding" Western governments like America's and Britain's have scant regard to civil liberties and constitutional due process when the vague and subjective notion of terrorism can be used as an excuse. This proposed legislation gives the UK government a simple process and mechanism by which entire domains can be blacked out: a mechanism potentially open to abuse.

Since delivering the speech on Monday, Cameron has already admitted his plans are vague at present, but hinted that he may expand beyond porn to other sites he sees as harmful to children, including "perhaps self-harming sites."

It's hard to say whether Cameron's motives are those of a noble simpleton trying to cure children of indecent thoughts with a wave of a wand, or part of the broader effort of governments and corporations worldwide to get some semblance of control over the internet. Certainly the free flow of information has fundamentally changed the way media, government and citizenship works in the modern age, and pre-existing institutions are right to fear its capabilities.

No one is arguing that protecting children from pornography is not a worthy end, but the measures proposed demonstrate a misapprehension of the way the web and the inter work. And the rest of us stand to lose when those in power can decide what we can and can't read and watch.

I, for one, am going straight to the dodgy end of my bookmarks list to stage a personal protest, and I encourage the rest of you to do the same.

Source: The internet and pornography: Prime Minister calls for action