Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónason Proposes Pornography Ban
By Charlie Stiernberg – Edited by Sarah Jeong
The Associated Press reports that authorities in Iceland are considering a proposal by Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónason to ban pornography on the Internet. Pornography has been illegal in the country for decades, but the law is vague and therefore seldom enforced. The new proposal would not create any new restrictions, but it would reinforce existing law by expressly defining “pornography” as material with violent or degrading content.
Supporters argue the measure would shelter children from violent sexual imagery and serious psychological harm. Opponents claim the move will unduly censor Internet content, undermine Iceland’s international reputation for free speech, and encourage authoritarian regimes abroad.
The Guardian provides an account of the history and research behind the new measure. The Atlantic Wire argues that an effective Internet pornography ban is technologically impossible. The Daily Mail suggests that David Cameron, an outspoken critic of pornography, will be closely monitoring the outcome of the debate, along with others in the U.K. government.
The details of how such a ban could be enforced are as yet undefined. One proposal would make it illegal to pay for pornography with an Icelandic credit card; another would create a national Internet filter or IP address blacklist.
Critics argue that possible side effects of the measure could include slower Internet access, inadvertent blacklisting, and inhibited freedom of expression. For example, Denmark’s child pornography filter briefly blocked access to Google and Facebook last year. Proponents claim that limiting access to pornography does not amount to censorship, and point out that Iceland’s isolation from continental Europe would make Internet filtering easier to implement.
Following a dramatic crash in 2008, Iceland’s economy is on the mend, aided in part by one of the highest levels of Internet use in the world. Recent economic initiatives aim to make the country a global center of media and technology freedom. Supporters of the ban view the measure as an opportunity for Iceland to be a pioneer. Detractors fear that future digital growth could be threatened.
Around the world, the Internet is regulated to varying degrees by different governmental authorities. For example, service providers in Britain, Sweden and Denmark regularly block child pornography websites. Other countries, including Iran, North Korea, and China censor the Internet at the national level—though Icelandic authorities are resisting such a broad filtering system.
Though Iceland is a country of only 320,000 people, its economic and social experiments often capture international attention. With parliamentary elections in April, however, the current coalition government may not have time to pass a comprehensive measure.