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Think of the childrenYesterday, the BBC published an embarrassing leaked letter, sent by a Department of Education official, on the topic of internet porn filters. In essence, the letter asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to agree to a form of words which would exaggerate the level of protection offered – allegedly in order to allow the Prime Minister to claim a victory.

Today, the row over the leak grew, with an anonymous source within DCMS (which has now taken over the issue) telling the Daily Mail that "the Department for Education is part of the problem", implying that while Maria Miller's department is supporting Claire Perry's moral crusade, Michael Gove's team are standing in its way.

The issue is only going to get messier – not because of internal divisions on the topic, but because this is what happens when politicians promise the press they will implement an impossible policy.

The fact is that the impression Perry gives about this being a simple issue of flicking a switch is a false one. As Big Brother Watch point out, the only way to even start trying to filter all pornography is to empower the state to monitor everyone's internet browsing, all the time.

Even if we were to accept such an unpalatable and intrusive policy, it wouldn't actually do the job – for example, proponents of filtering have yet to offer an actual definition of what constitutes pornography or adult material. (It is important to remember that this issue is about filtering legal content, and is totally separate to criminal material, such as child abuse imagery or terrorist handbooks, hence the difficulty producing a definition.)

China is the world's biggest practitioner of internet censorship, and even their vast resources, technical capabilities and enthusiasm for totalitarianism have failed to prevent citizens getting round their systems.

Those Ministers who have flirted with the media by implying they support the Perry position have led people further down the garden path, deploying what is perhaps the worst argument in politics: "won't somebody think of the children".

In doing so, they have now created a monster which threatens to devour them.

The Daily Mail, for example, has publicly committed its support to a policy which Ministers are starting to realise can never happen. How will they react when they are publicly let down, as they inevitably will be? This leak is only the start of what will be an embarrassing backfire – all caused by fantasy policy-making.

Of course, there is plenty of stuff on the internet which is legal but kids still shouldn't be exposed to - somebody should indeed think of the children. What Claire Perry and her allies have yet to realise is that the only authority who can and should do so is the children's parents, not the state.

2 comments for: Claire Perry’s porn filter is fantasy policy-making, and it’s coming unstuck

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