It goes without saying that I have many issues with the new proposals for default-on web content filtering. As many of you will have read, the proposals mean that network level filters for fixed-line broadband will be turned on until an active request is made to remove the filtering. There are so many things that could go wrong with the government requiring filtering for both legal and illegal content and I won’t go into the details here as many of you will know and believe the arguments. But what this, the latest media and political circus, shows is that a classical liberal argument on these and similar issues is still very much needed.
UK mobile phone providers already have default-on filtering with some success and some notable failures. Either way, in this current debate a conflation of issues is taking place to confuse, among others, the general public. First, child abuse images will be policed. This is something that has been and is already taking place. Reporting, blocking and removing these images should happen as a matter of criminal law. Second, filtering of legal pornography will be the default. This is, of course, outrageous in a free and democratic society, never mind the technically impossibility. And finally, child protection online is getting thrown into the mix because apparently the government knows better than all parents.
But the conflation of these arguments are politically pragmatic. It is clear that winning the votes of women and families will be of the utmost importance at the next election for Cameron and his tories to win a clear majority. Additionally, the lead MP on this issue, Claire Perry, is ambitious and a bit bloody minded. This is public choice theory in action – a political agenda created by those who are captured with greater interests.
The importance of the individual to make their own autonomous decisions for themselves and their family has been all but lost in this debate. So called “negative freedom” – the essential freedom of action that is the motor of society, has been sidelined in the news headlines.
A classical liberal voice on this issue would make all the current arguments, shared with much of the left, and then some. Our perspective is the only one which which can clearly articulate some arguments, including the absolute importance of autonomy in a free society. It continues to be a much needed narrative.