Would the Daily Mail website fall foul of the online porn filters it has championed?

Ban this sick filth. No, not THIS sick filth, obviously.

David Cameron wants to block online porn, the Daily Mail reported approvingly this morning.

 

Now comes the big question: where the line should be drawn. If you're too lax, things slip through the filter; if you're too strict, non-pornographic images or sites get caught in the net. How do you tell what's pornographic and what isn't? "I know it when I see it," said Justice Potter Stewart in 1964. But it isn't that simple.

Despite the best efforts of programmers everywhere, you can't just tell a computer "block any page with an image or video of a female nipple or male or female genitalia" (a rule which, itself, would be hopelessly over-strict; farewell Titian! So long, Leonardo!). Instead, most blocking software uses contextual clues on the page to work out whether the site itself is problematic. That can be obvious: there are few safe-for-work sites which use the phrase "double penetration", for instance. Except this site, now – which explains part of the issue.

Existing filters show that if you want to make the blocking comprehensive, some of the contextual clues used have to be broad enough to make collateral damage certain. Blocking anatomical terms like "vagina" or "anus", for instance, frequently leads to sites discussing sexual health or feminist topics being caught up.

Meanwhile, humans - being cleverer than filters - learn to use terms which can't be blocked because they also have innocuous uses. (Take, at the extreme end, the use of "Lolita" to denote images of child abuse.)

The thing is, even if all the technological quirks were worked out, drawing the line is still hard, just in terms of choosing how prudish we as a nation are. So where do we start blocking?

Pictures of women in their underwear?

 

 

Sexual, nude but non-explicit photos?

 

 

Pictures of women with clearly visible breasts?

 

 

Topless pictures of prostitutes in 1940s Paris?

 

 

Playboy style photo-shoots?

 

 

Non-explicit pictures of people having sex?

 

 

Well, would you want your children seeing that kind of material? Ban this sick filth.

Oh, Daily Mail. Photograph: dailymail.co.uk

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame