The news that ISPs will be asked to provide opt-in, in contrast to opt-out, services in regards to pornography raises a range of questions rather than answers.
For one, the reporting around the issue indicates that it will most likely be a voluntary code; this in turn, makes you wonder how it will be enforced.
Secondly, where do you draw the line? If you start to provide opt-in services for online pornography, do you then do the same for things such as violence, or films with scenes analogous to pornography? This is a key area of contention. Personally, I believe that liberty needs to be respected within the context of equality.
Thus, for this, liberty needs to be constructed through emphasising with a variety of perspectives/contexts. Some people love pornography, others hate it. Thus, liberty requires an accommodation of the many related perspectives. This isn’t straight forward when addressing regulation of such content on new media platforms such as the Internet.
As I already mentioned, there is the issue of where you stop. This can seriously undermine freedom of speech, as the moralists involved in the campaign can use the regulation as a stepping stone for further regulation of areas they believe to be threatening their view of morality.
However, the regulation would not prevent people from accessing pornography, as long as the consumers met certain criteria. Therefore, this could allow for the necessary compromise. Regardless, the problems mentioned above need to be seriously considered when assessing the merits of such proposals.
It also opens up the question of why Internet pornography is deemed bad enough to regulate, where there are already parental controls available on computers and ways to track computer usage; but newspapers that contain reams of soft pornographic images that kids can easily buy and access are not questioned by the ‘rulers’ that be. Of course, there is the question of Murdoch; he likes regulation of content online as he sees it as a breach of copyright law. But when it comes to those who oppose Page 3, often for the same reasons as those who advocate for the opt-in services, Murdoch uses his Page 3 girls to make fun of those against as “ugly feminists”. Clare Short’s book on her bid to ban Page 3 from newspapers is a great read when it comes to this.
There are clearly several issues that need more consultation and understanding. Regulation could work, I can see the benefits of such proposals, but then there are the issues of what other aspects you regulate so strictly online. There is the question of why it is ok to regulate pornography online, but not Page 3 or ladmags within newsagents and the like. These are all contentious issues that I doubt will be discussed in the talks to draw up a code of conduct to implement the opt-in service.
An equality of liberty, where everyone’s viewpoint is accomodated for in a consistent way, is what should be aimed for. We will have to judge the announcements and enforcement with caution.