Iceland considering an enforced ban on hardcore pornography

7 Mar

First the story:

Advocates say it is a sensible measure that will shelter children from serious harm.

“When a 12-year-old types ‘porn’ into Google, he or she is not going to find photos of naked women out on a country field, but very hardcore and brutal violence,” said Halla Gunnarsdottir, political adviser to the interior minister.

“There are laws in our society. Why should they not apply to the internet?”

Gunnarsdottir says the proposals being drawn up by a committee of experts will not introduce new restrictions, but simply uphold an existing if vaguely worded law.

Pornography is already banned in Iceland, and has been for decades, but the term is not defined so the law is not enforced. Magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse are on sale in bookshops, and more hard-core material can be bought from a handful of sex shops. “Adult” channels form part of digital TV packages.

Iceland’s left-of-centre government insists it is not setting out to sweep away racy magazines or censor sex. The ban would define pornography as material with violent or degrading content.

Gunnarsdottir said the committee was exploring the details of how a porn ban could be enforced. One possibility would be to make it illegal to pay for porn with Icelandic credit cards. Another, more controversial, route would be a national internet filter or a list of website addresses to be blocked.

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Despite its often chaotic appearance, the internet is not a wholly lawless place. It is regulated, to varying degrees, around the world. Police monitor the net for child pornography and other illegal material, and service providers in many countries block offending sites.

Some governments also censor the internet at a national level, although authoritarian Iran, North Korea and China are not countries liberal Iceland wants to emulate.

European countries including Britain, Sweden and Denmark ask internet service providers to block child pornography websites.

But broader filtering has mostly been resisted. A few years ago, Australia announced it would introduce an internet filtering system to block websites containing material including child pornography, bestiality, sexual violence and terrorist content. After an outcry, the government abandoned the plan last year.

Critics say such filters are flawed and often scoop up innocent sites in their net as when Denmark’s child pornography filter briefly blocked access to Google and Facebook last year because of a glitch. 

Anti-porn activists, however, are hailing Iceland as a pioneer. Although the country has largely liberal Scandinavian values, it broke with most of Europe in 2010 by banning strip clubs.

“This is a country with courage,” said Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston and author of the book Pornland.

“Iceland is going to be the first country with the guts to stand up to these predatory bullies from LA [in the porn industry],” she said. “It is going to take one country to show that this is possible.”

But opponents say the project is both misguided and doomed.

“I can say with absolute certainty that this [state filter] will not happen,” said Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, a prominent advocate of online freedom.

She is confident those drafting the anti-porn measures will see the error of their ways. They may also run out of time. Iceland is due to hold parliamentary elections in April, and the unpopular coalition government could be thrown out.

Jonsdottir said the key to protecting children and others is for citizens to better inform themselves about the internet and how it works.

“People just have to make themselves a bit more knowledgeable about what their kids are up to, and face reality,” she said.

Gunnarsdottir, the political adviser backing the ban, just hopes the emotional debate around the issue will cool down.

“I think we should be able to discuss the internet with more depth, without just shouting censorship on the one hand and laissez-faire on the other hand,” she said.

“Is it freedom of speech to be able to reach children with very hardcore, brutal material? Is that the freedom of speech we want to protect?”

Jones Stonestreet from Breakpoint offers his commentary:

This isn’t the push of a lone right-wing candidate or party, but the deliberate consensus of a broad swath of Icelandic society — everyone from the police, to child-welfare experts, to educators. Such images, in the true sense of the word, corrupt the minds of those who view them, and Iceland aims to step in for the good of society.

“Iceland is taking a very progressive approach that no other democratic country has tried,” says researcher Gail Dines. “It is looking at pornography … from the perspective of the harm it does to the women who appear in it … as a violation of their civil rights.”

Imagine that — seeing porn as a civil rights issue! Apparently freedom does have its limits. As I mentioned recently on BreakPoint, when it comes to social experimentation in the name of absolute, unfettered “sexual freedom,” we are using women and especially young people, as human guinea pigs — but giving them no say in the matter.

Of course, many sexual libertines will say, “Why not? It’s the American way — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” Well, our old friend Chuck Colson used to point out that this does not mean that human beings are endowed with the right to feel good, or to act in any way that pleases ourselves. After all, not all pleasure is legitimate such as the pleasure a child molester feels when abusing a child or a bank robber feels when robbing a bank.

“Our founding fathers understood the pursuit of happiness,” Chuck said, “to mean the pursuit of a virtuous life.” Why is this? Because freedom and virtue must go together. As Edmund Burke once said, “Men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Os Guinness hit the nail on the head in his great book A Free People’s Suicide when he said that “the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom.” Guinness said our great democratic experiment requires a Golden Triangle of Freedom — a mutually reinforcing triangle of freedom, which requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, and so on. Freedom unfettered isn’t true freedom — and it becomes slavery and results in moral chaos.

The argument from some for the restriction of porn access on the internet is akin to that of other consumer goods we restrict for the sake of public safety and the good of society.  Consider Mary Eberstadt’s argument that in many ways pornography is/could be the new tobacco.  If social harm is a plausible argument for regulating the tobacco industry, then it’s not hard to make the case for regulating the porn industry (Big Tobacco and Big Porn).  After all, pornography and porn addiction destroys families and marriages, warps the minds of boys leading them to frustrated and destructive behavior in marriage later, and together the family disintegration that ensues has devastating social consequences ranging from poverty to crime to poor health.  Conservatives, of course, will and must operate between the concerns of expanding statist power and cultivating public virtue and the common good.

 

 

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