ATVOD and Sex Censorship


A good article and some useful points raised in the discussion – thanks Ian.

It’s important to remember that these latest administrative measures, driven by the quango “ATVOD” (you really couldn’t make this up), are designed to shut down UK based producers of porn videos. They do not not criminalise the individual who may view this content.

The latter has already been “taken care of” by s63 the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, which criminalises so-called “extreme pornography”. This is so vaguely defined that the viewing of almost any “alternative” sex act could constitute a criminal offence.

In 2008, the Home Office stated that this law would result in no more than 30 prosecutions a year; since 2009 there have been over 5500 prosecutions – in one case for the “possession” of a thumbnail photo of a man wearing a gas mask.

The important thing to note about this act is that it potentially criminalises the viewing of images of a large range of activities that are themselves completely legal.

For those who are interested in learning a bit more, I would strongly recommend this blog: and this site

Dave’s latest move is to append a clause banning “rape porn” to the 2008 act. Bearing in mind that that the mere insertion of a sex toy may constitue “rape” for the purposes of this new law, it will be seen that material showing a further range of consensual (and completely legal) BDSM activities will face criminalisation.

Additionally, it is worth remembering in mind here that the offences discussed above may be committed merely by viewing the material without formally “saving” it, or even by receiving it (unsolicited) in an email.

As to the aims of all of this?

From the “campaigners'” point of view, I have no doubt at all that the aim is indeed to salami slice away porn until it is all but prohibited – and most potential consumers have been scared away.

From Dave’s point of view I think there are probably two aims:

1) Short term: getting some good headlines in places like the Daily Mail.

2) Long term: increasing state control over the internet. The interest in porn is no accident, as they probably calculate that it is the internet’s weakest link, which very few people will be prepared to defend.

In a wider sense these legal measures fully conform to the recent trend in politics of blurring the lines between thought and action, fantasy and reality; I sense that somewhere, Orwell must have a sardonic smile on his face.


  1. The interesting thing about ATVOD (the uninteresting thing is that they are a collection of usual suspects quangoids and old media crusties) is that the justification for the arbitrary measures they have imposed- denying porn companies the right to charge debit cards, and imposing crippling fines for having advertising material outside a paywall- are entirely predicated on a delegated power from OFCOM to act on the basis of moral protection of the public.

    As much discussed here, morals are very arbitrary. Only a few decades ago, protecting people from homosexuality itself would have been considered moral. So I suspect that this might be fit for a legal challenge; the “morals” they are acting on are entirely subjective ones, primarily an assumption that sexual material is harmful per se, which is open to all sorts of challenge.

    The problem with this is that in practise, especially in countries other than the USA (with its unique Constitution) it can be extremely dangerous to poke the State with a stick, since even if you have the resources and time for such a court case, winning it can be a pyrrhic victory as the State, angered by being challenged and humiliated, immediately does something worse to you. The classic recent example of this is the Canadian prostitutes who won a victory against the Canadian State by getting the old anti-brothel laws declared unconstitutional. The State has promptly responded by using the opportunity to impose the draconian and repugnant “Nordic Model”- which has made illegal the purchase of any sexual services, thus putting the prostitutes and clients in a much worse condition than before their pyrrhic victory.

  2. Of course it’s all really about being able to control Internet traffic. Once the legal foot is in the door on some pretext or another it will expand from there. As monitoring systems backed by AI increase in capability real time analysis of traffic will become possible – what TPB want is for that to be legal. That’s why the NSA is building those enormous server farms in USA. It’s Bentham’s wet dream come true.

    Interestingly, the TV programme “Person of Interest” is playing with these concepts as it moves through its third season and, in between gratuitious gunfights, some interesting philosophical points are aired.

  3. Well, I’m not so sure. I think it’s all really about stopping people looking at tits and bums. The same as the anti-smokers are really about stopping people smoking, and so on. Prohibitionist movements are generally driven by a genuine desire to prohibit that which they are trying to prohibit. It may well be that they are also people who get a buzz out of just controlling other people for its own sake, and it may be that some people in power see the prohibitonism as a way to expand general State power, or their own power, but overall we should take these people at face value. They hate something (tits and bums, smoking, meat eating, whatever) and they want to erase it from the face of the Earth. As such, there is not a conspiracy (in the sense of being a front for something else).

    • Sure, the activists on this issue may have relatively narrow aims but the increase in government power is the meta activity. I’m not saying that the government actively promotes this as part of an evil masterplan, I’m saying because it fits so nicely with increased government power it automatically gets favoured – by bureaucratic inertia of travelling in this direction as much as anything. The “good intentions” lead us to Hell because that’s the way the wind is blowing. It’s stupidity rather than malice, most likely, equally as corrosive.

  4. I think the thing that gets my goat about it all is why, as a populace, we tolerate this sleazy and underhand form of governance in which State power is just contracted out by enabling acts to quangocrats. I find it at a gut level less tolerable than the, um, “honest tyranny” of old fashioned tyrannies.

    I commented yesterday at Tim Worstall’s about this, regarding as a prior example the infamous Video Recordings Act of 1984, which imposed draconian censorship on the then new video cassette industry. If you dig up the parliamentary “debate” in Hansard, you find a nauseating round robin of MPs from both right and left all thoroughly agreeing about how wonderful the legislation is, and gloating that it isn’t nasty state censorship, because the BBFC will be doing it on the government’s behalf, which is like claiming that I am not a wife beater because I paid my friend to hit her with a hammer for me. The only tiny note of disagreement is Matthew Parris, who questions whether the new law has “got the balance right”… only to conclude that it indeed has. Sigh.

    This is how we are governed. I find it repulsive. It is one of those issues that makes me genuinely angry.

  5. Giving new powers to a government (any government – anywhere) is always a mistake – the promise is always that the new powers will be used “rarely”, “responsibly”, “only in a extreme cases”, but this is never what happens.

    Giving new powers to a government is like giving booze to an alcoholic, or drugs to a drug addict.

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