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Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: Porn or no porn?

<i>Pornography of all types pre-dates the internet by a few millennia,
so why do so many people consider the medium the cause of unsavoury
behaviour? Peter Cochrane considers some common knee-jerk reactions</i>

The last five years have seen thousands of arrests across the planet relating to child pornography with the confiscation of tens of thousands of obscene images stored on computers. The most recent crack down meant it felt like hardly a day went by without a public figure being arrested. All are tracked down by their credit card details recovered from hard drives by the police, across several nations.

Many of those arrested deny the charges and you have to wonder at their
stupidity in using their own credit card, their morals in wanting to
participate in this awful trade and the likelihood that they may be in
fact innocent. What if their card details were stolen? Only time - and
the courts - will tell.

Humans have engaged in all forms of pornography for thousands of years.
In Elizabethan England, for example, young girls were often married at
the age of 11 or 12 to much older men. In ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece
and China sexual practices and publications were at least the equal of
those today. Only we now have the technology to far surpass any of the
artistic rendering and static images of the ancients as well as a vastly
superior distribution network.

When photography first became commercially available a very old
industry soon realised the potential and a new phase began for pornography.
The ability to create high quality images was suddenly available for
widespread and rapid distribution. Soon the dirty-mackintoshes and postcard
sellers arrived, followed by the development of movies, TV, VHS, PC,
internet, camcorders and digital cameras.

Today the porn industry is ubiquitous, easily accessible and at prices
all can afford. It is a global industry that overshadows Hollywood and
rivals the production and supply of many manufactured goods. It is also
that component of cable, satellite and hotel TV that makes them sell.
In general everyone denies viewing but the figures tell a different
story. In some sense we are all guilty depending on how pornography is

Some years ago I was engaged in net porn studies covering areas
including availability, lack of national control, the meaningless nature of
international borders and legal ineffectiveness. But the most important
aspect was the all too apparent threat to children and the need for safe

At first it was necessary to search for porn and the content and access
was crudely presented. But over the past decade the industry has become
very sophisticated with the best-engineered sites and interfaces. You
no longer have to try hard to find good quality porn. And once you have
clicked they can lock you in. Images appear thick and fast on your
screen. Not surprisingly the dominant searches on the web rapidly became
sex related, only to be overtaken by MP3 in recent months.

As I travel the planet I occasionally scan the adult pay TV channels in
hotels and homes and from time to time search the web. As far as I can
see there is almost everything imaginable for free, and mostly
harmless, in the strict sense, to normal adults. The content is vast in breadth
and depth with a wide range of depravities you wish you hadnt seen.  I
once recall watching a TV programme about landmines and what they do to
people and I wish I hadnt seen that either. But, in both cases, I
think we need to see a sample, to get the idea, to understand what is out
there - what is good, bad and evil.

Should we be worried about all this? Should we try to clamp down or
should we just ignore it and continue to liberalise and relax our laws and
policing? In reality there is little or no chance of invoking any
effective control.

So what of those evil people who seek to involve children and other
innocent groups? The immediate reaction is to say we must stop them by
applying absolutely draconian controls. However, like much of our new
economy, I suspect we should do the opposite. We should encourage these
individuals and groups to make themselves known on the web. We need to
gather and record their details, find out where and who they are. They are
never going to go away. If we legislate, we drive them underground
where they are very difficult to track down and become an even bigger

Rather than panic at the rising tide of porn, and despite the fact that
years ago someone tried to abduct one of my children, I think we should
relax, draw a line at which society deems to be acceptable (and that is
now almost certainly whatever consenting adults choose to do in
private) and focus our limited resources on those dedicated to harming the
young, innocent and defenceless.

The really good news is this: We can do this at very low cost and very
effectively over the web. And a really wise move would be to invest in
the development of all technologies that can be used to guard and
protect our children.

We should also try to keep a real perspective and remember that the
upside of the web is massive compared to the pornographic downside. Paper
images, letters, photographs and movies via the postal system are a
really uncontrollable proposition. This is a global activity that can be
more easily controlled by the net when it's on the net.

<i>Written over a coffee at Starbucks having just received a spam porno
email and after walking by a collocated electronics and 'adult' store
in London. The porn store was empty and the electronics store was full!
Despatched to from my G4 laptop via my Motorola 2.5G
Timeport over a 9.6Kbps dial-up connection.</i>

<b>What do you think? You can contact Peter by emailing <a
href=" to Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense column"> </a></b>.</b>

Peter Cochrane is a co-founder of ConceptLabs CA, where he acts as a
mentor, advisor, consultant and business angel to a wide range of
companies. He is the former CTO and Head of Research at BT, as part of a
career at the telco spanning 38 years. He holds a number of prominent posts
as a technologist, entrepreneur, writer and humanist, and is the UK's
first Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology.
For more about Peter, see: <A

For all Peter's columns for, see: <A

Peter Cochrane

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