As the world awaits the birth of the "Royal Baby," actual news is breaking in the United Kingdom. And there, of all places, it has to do with stronger regulations on pornography.
In a speech today, Prime Minister David Cameron confronted the pressing harms that Internet pornography poses to children, and outlined measures to properly mitigate those harms.
Cameron began by saying:
I want to talk about the internet, the impact it is having on the innocence of our children, how online pornography is corroding childhood and how, in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.
I’m not making this speech because I want to moralise or scare-monger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come.
He made very clear his support for all the advancements the Internet has facilitated: improved education, greater economic benefits, easier debate, and much more. But it is increasingly an "unregulated space" that makes it more difficult to protect children and their innocence:
The first challenge is criminal: and that is the proliferation and accessibility of child abuse images on the internet. The second challenge is cultural: the fact that many children are viewing online pornography and other damaging material at a very young age and that the nature of that pornography is so extreme, it is distorting their view of sex and relationships.
So while "a free and open internet is vital," its considerably unregulated nature forces us to be "more active, more aware, more responsible about what happens online." Cameron meant this for all of society: "government, parents, internet providers and platforms, educators and charities."
Cameron offered reasonable regulations to the criminal challenge, including enabling police forces "to use the digital hash tags from the database to pro-actively scan for, block and take down these [illegal images of children] wherever they occur." But, he said, this isn't just a job for police; internet providers and search-engine companies also have a role to play.
He said, "A new UK-US task force is being formed to lead a global alliance with the big players in the industry to stamp out these vile images." Included in the alliance are Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo -- all search engines that block illegal searches with warning pages.
But, argued Cameron, more needs to be done: "These warning pages should also tell those who've landed on it that they face consequences, such as losing their job, their family, even access to their children if they continue."
Moreover, Cameron called for a blacklist with no direct search returns for searches that were "abhorrent" and "malevolent." He asserted that if the search-engine companies don't act upon their "moral duty" by October, "we are already looking at the legislative options we have to force action."
Regarding the cultural challenge, Cameron acknowledged that "young people have always been curious about pornography and they have always sought it out." But times have changed for the worse:
...it used to be that society could protect children by enforcing age restrictions on the ground whether that was setting a minimum age for buying top-shelf magazines, putting watersheds on the TV, or age rating films and DVDs.
But the explosion of pornography on the internet -- and the explosion of the internet into children’s lives -- has changed all that profoundly.
It’s made it much harder to enforce age restrictions and much more difficult for parents to know what’s going on.
Since Internet access has expanded beyond PCs with dial-up modems, and onto cellphones and tablets with live-streaming and other high-speed connections, greater controls are needed. So for cellphones, there are now adult content filters that require proof of being at least 18 in order to deactivate. Additionally, almost all providers of public Wi-Fi will also have family-friendly filters by next month.
For private Wi-Fi connections, Cameron signaled that there would be "default 'on' filters": "By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account, the settings to install family friendly filters will be automatically on." And the filters can be flicked off only by the account holder, who must be an adult.
For customers with existing accounts, by the end of next year, they will be presented with "an unavoidable decision about whether or not to install family friendly content filters."
In sum, "I want Britain to be the best place to raise a family," Cameron concluded. "And I will do whatever it takes to keep our children safe."
As one friend has mentioned, it seems Cameron is outflanking the GOP on the right of this issue. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the British public reacts.