Policing our porn

(In the style of the start of The Simpsons:

I will not write about snow
I will not write about snow
I will not write about snow)

Tis the season for slow news and articles gaining coverage that don’t normally warrant it. And this morning while making my coffee I heard a serious debate on Radio 4’s Today programme about an organisation wanting ISPs to block porn so that children cannot see it at home, as it apparently affects their ability to have proper relationships with people. Handily at this time of the morning my children are still in bed, since I would have been unhappy for them to hear the expletive-splattered rant this item caused (as previously identified, I believe I am teetering on the brink of descent into middle-age, and shouting at the radio is a good measure of this).

The morals of this topic have been covered many many times, not least by the fine folk who made South Park: The Movie. It’s one of the finest comedy films ever, and if you’ve not seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But it also carries a message about state intervention and censorship which only the most flinty-hearted could disagree with. However, I thought it was worthy covering this topic today as it’s something I know a bit about:

I am given to understand that some adults like looking at pornography. As long as everything is tickety boo with it (e.g. age of the ahem actors, certain topics avoided etc.), then fill your boots I say. Porn is no more likely to bring down civilisation than spending too long playing Halo or being a member of the Subaru Impreza owners club. How you fill your days is fine by me, just don’t immediately expect I’m going to like the same things as you, and don’t go on about it eh?

Children will always try and find porn. It’s called curiosity, and it’s the job of adults to try and mitigate this curiosity, and give it some context by talking to them sensibly about it. Hiding from the topic, repressing it and generally pretending sex doesn’t exist just gives you generation after generation of sexually repressed adults, which leads to TV like ‘On the Buses’, and none of us ever need that again.

If you are worried about kids looking at porn on their computer at school, don’t be. Schools go to great lengths and great expense to block it from web and email. If kids are really so keen to see it at school that they spend time and energy attempting to circumnavigate these defences, 1) they usually can’t, and 2) they will quickly discover the efforts are huge and they’d be better off pinching a copy of Loaded from WH Smiths or something.

If you are worried about kids looking at porn at home, then do something positive about it. Talk to them. Put some software on the machine to stop them looking at it. Monitor and supervise their web access if you need to. Don’t just back off the topic and get the ISPs to do it. For starters, who are they to decide what is, or is not acceptable? By abrogating your responsibility, you are entrusting your kids’ safe browsing and moral horizon to someone you have never met and whose background/ethics/whatever you cannot judge.

All of these arguments sit nicely with a mildly liberal agenda that seeks not to be too prescriptive, but at the same time empowers people to make their own calls. Which is all rather lovely. However, there is a final crucial point here. I have spent many years working in the vendor space of the InfoSec industry, and almost every company I have worked for has tried to stop porn images by some method or other. Many of you out there in IA will spend your days trying block porn, and I know for a fact some people out there in Public Sector land have people employed to sift email queues looking for mucky stuff (and I am told you get anaesthetised pretty quickly to it too). The reality of it is, the software and the techniques are not fool proof. Over the years I’ve seen all sorts of stuff stopped as porn: bottles, cars, and in one legendary goof, the MD of the Spanish subsidiary of the company I was trying to sell to (he was a good looking chap, but hardly… umm VERY friendly looking). It’s hard enough to stop this stuff, without then putting value calls on it (e.g. one boob = OK, two = not) and then applying it to all web traffic. It’s not realistic and it’s not fair.

InfoSec officers have enough on their plate right now without this too. Take responsibility for your own usage at home and talk to your kids. They will thank you in the long run and it will save the awkward chats when you find out what they’ve been up to in the meantime.

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About Graeme Stewart, McAfee

I work for McAfee as Director of Public Sector Strategy and Relations, UK&I
This entry was posted in Legal, Porn, Security, Sophos. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Policing our porn

  1. Hannah says:

    Completely agree with the message here, love the use of the word “abrogating” in particular.

    HATE the snow on screen, makes my eyes bleed.((humbug))

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