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Why David Cameron's crusade against porn is the nanny state at its worst
Let them watch porn, prime minister
 
David Cameron only likes fun of the good old-fashioned kind.
David Cameron only likes fun of the good old-fashioned kind. (Getty Images)

Aside from the Fourth of July, this may be the time of year when Americans are happiest not to be British.

A government-proposed porn filter will soon block online pornography from 95 percent of British households unless they actively choose to shut off the filter — essentially forcing family members to come clean about their desire to watch porn.

This week, Prime Minister David Cameron secured agreements with major internet providers, including Google and Microsoft, that will see them curb child pornography (or at least attempt to) by blocking certain search terms. In addition, Cameron said that nine out of ten households will automatically have pre-set parental controls that block regular pornography.

What began as a crusade against child pornography soon turned into an effort to make sure minors don't watch porn, before leading to controls that would keep adults from watching pornography in their own homes as well. The only way around it is to contact their providers, which means certain households are "going to have to have a discussion, aren't they?" Cameron told BBC Radio 2.

There are several troublesome aspects to Cameron's program, the main one being that it's not entirely clear it will make a significant dent in the consumption of child pornography. Meanwhile, the stringent measures will make it harder to access legal pornography, and perhaps even more innocuous subjects.

With regards to the blocked searches by Google and Microsoft, "Cameron claimed the search queries targeted were 'unambiguous,' but that seems quite frankly impossible," writes Victoria Turk at Vice. "There seems a real risk, then, of the algorithm overreaching and preventing web users from accessing perfectly legal content."

In addition to restricting adults' internet freedom, the measure also reaches intrusively into people's homes, giving New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's nanny state proposals a serious run for their money.

Cameron simply assumes that porn is bad. His position has been reflected in the parts of the British press, where commentators have wrung their hands over what British husbands will do at the prospective of being deprived of their porn.

The headlines from the U.K. are largely about "embarrassed husbands" having to discuss porn with their wives because the little ladies surely don't watch porn and couldn't possibly fathom why their spouses would. Men have clearly kept their porn habit a shameful secret for years, as if watching such smut was akin to accidentally running over the neighbor's dog or breaking grandma's antique vase.

And even if these men (or women) have been keeping secret online porn stashes from their spouses, they should be allowed to continue to do so. The government shouldn't make them have a conversation about porn or any other aspect of their sex lives, even if David Cameron thinks it's something a couple should discuss.

Still, there's no need to fear that such discussions will lead marriages to crumble, nor spouses to spend their nights in shady peepshows. In fact, the worst that will probably happen is that many, many more families than David Cameron ever could have expected will reject these filters, at which point he'll learn that not every household works the same way as 10 Downing Street does.

 
Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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