Everyone remembers learning about Cnut the great at school because all the sniggering that occurred every time his name was mentioned. If there is one legend you remember about King Canute it is that he tried to stop the advancing tide and ended up with egg on his face and seaweed in his pants.
On Radio 4's Any Questions today I found myself listening to the most absurd political debate about pornography and the internet. What was so absurd was the long queue of people eagerly and forcefully making statements about something they clearly had absolutely no understanding of.
There was a very worthy panel. But it was Lord Adonis who sticks in my mind, mostly because he will most likely have a hand in whatever policy they push through.
The Question was: Shouldn't we do something to stop child pornography online with sub questions should all online pornography be controlled or monitored and how do we protect children from accessing pornography online.
It is a really important question and that is why I can't believe the ignorance around the issue at the heart of government.
Lord Adonis made the following recommendation.
ISPs should block all pornographic content (legal and illegal) and people that want to access pornography should have to apply, their details would be recorded and this should deter them from being tempted to access illegal types of pornography.
It seems like a great simple solution right? Almost the entire board and most of the audience agreed with him. No-one there seemed to have any understanding of the internet so unfortunately no-one stood up to tell him is would just be making a big Cnut of himself.
A little while back, after a lot of hard work and debate all British ISPs were forced to block the file sharing site Piratebay.com because it was frequently used to illegally share copyright material.
This was a watershed moment in the evolution of the internet. After this landmark decision the internet will never be the same again...apart from....well.....erm...... if you want to access Piratebay you can just go here http://unblockedpiratebay.com/ or to any one of of 10,000 mirror sites that appeared online within hours of the power being cut. If you look on that link you can even download some software that allows you to make your own pirate bay mirror site - that is a site that goes to piratebay.com, copies ALL of the information word for word in real time and presents it identically under a different web address.
I am not particularly tech savvy but if somehow the found a way to block these proxy sites as they appeared then here are just a few other ways you might access Piratebay. I am sharing this information freely because it is well known by everyone, except it appears by Lord Adonis and co.
VPN - Virtual Private Network. You can get a VPN service for free online and use it instantly. In basic terms a VPN creates a tunnel that goes from your computer, through your ISP and to a third party server that can be operated anywhere in the world. Your ISP (or anyone, hackers, the government, the police, interpol, included) cannot access the information inside of this tunnel. Your ISP has absolutely no way of ever knowing what site you are accessing or what information you are sharing and neither does any other third party. With a VPN even the websites you visit don't every know who you are. I use a VPN every day on my work laptop. It allows me to log into the intranet system at my head office and access private company information while keeping it private from hackers.
A Proxy Server - very simple basically a website within a website. Go to a proxy server site then from the brower inside your browser you can completely anonymously surf the web.
a Tor Network - another type of private network, a small piece of software you download onto your computer that allows you to surf the web entirely anonymously by using direct peer to peer encrypted file sharing. If you want to know how secure a Tor network is then google 'The Silk Road" The silk road is a ebay type site that operates on Tor. It sells everything - drugs, weapons, illegal information. There are hundred of UK sellers on there and advertising and sell drugs or illegal items completely anonymously (payment by untrackable bitcoins) The police can see all this activity, they are fully aware of it but there is absolutely nothing they can do because they cannot track any of the people on there.
Encrypted peer to peer - If you had an internet friend in a country where Piratebay is not blocked you could ask them to download the information you want and email to you in an encrypted form that your ISP couldn't read.
Foreign ISP You could by a sim card from France telecom and use it in your phone to access piratebay
There - I am not internet savvy but I have listed 6 instant ways around an ISP block. I have no doubt that my kids are going to be 10x smarter with the internet than I am.
So Lord Adonis, suggesting that you could somehow control access to internet pornography by blocking it at ISP shows a frankly startling level of ignorance and arrogance that you felt yourself informed enough to comment at all.
Your suggestion makes about as much sense of this: Trying to stop spiders entering your home by putting a police search roadblock on your driveway.
The reason this really annoys me is because we have a very very serious problem. Child pornography and Children being exposed to pornography are horrific things. We need to take this threat very very seriously. This means pumping massive amounts of money into developing technologies that could actually address this problem.
Instead what we have is out of touch digital philistines spending far too long talking a lot of hot air basically just trying to come up with something that sounds about right to keep the Daily Mail reading voters happy that something is being done.
That creates a really dangerous situation. It would be like telling car owners you have put some new technology in their car that makes it impossible for them to crash. Self important buffoons with no understanding of the internal combustion engine can make long pompous speeches about how they are fixing the problem of car crashes. In one sweep you suddenly car drivers stop taking personal responsibility for their driving, they stop being aware of the dangers and acting to minimize them. Seat belts get undone, eyes are taken off the road. You can imagine the consequences.
Pass a law putting an ISP block on pornography and the internet will have created 100,000 work around before the ink is dry.
Where does that leave us? Parents anxious to protect our children from inappropriate online content? It doesn't take much to imagine suddenly hearing parents casually saying "I don't need to check anything that my kids do online now because the ISPs block it all now don't they" Suddenly Laptops are allowed in bedroom with closed doors again. Internet histories stop getting checked, Software that you can install, configure and monitor to safeguard your children stops being used.
And while we sit in blissful ignorance our children become victims of the vile things you can find online.