David Cameron’s crusade against images of child abuse has a whiff of politics

Everyone except a sick minority agrees these images are dangerous and depraved, but it's worth looking at the practical implications of what the Prime Minister suggests


It’s hard not to suspect a degree of political opportunism in the Prime Minister’s decision to turn up the heat on internet companies over images of child abuse. Taking a swipe at Google – a sitting duck in PR terms following the storm over its derisory tax payments – David Cameron warns of tough new laws if big search companies don’t block access to what he has called depraved and disgusting images. And Google has been quick to come to heel.

It sounds like game, set and match to Mr Cameron. After all, except for a small, sick and malignant minority, everyone agrees that generating or collecting sexually explicit images of children is a depraved activity.

It is, however, worth noting that it is illegal already and that the police devote significant time and resources to hunting down merchants in child abuse. If they needed more resources, they should say so, as public opinion would ensure they got them.

It is also worth looking at the practicality and implications of what Mr Cameron wants, which is that search companies should block internet access to a blacklist of terms to be drawn up and regularly updated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

It sounds commendable, until you remember that the introduction of a blacklist is not likely to deter the determined fraternity of child abuse addicts who clearly do not rely on tapping in a few obvious-sounding combinations to their keyboards in order to get hold of the material they want.

It will be easy for those involved in trading such images to come up with new, innocuous-looking verbal combinations that will serve as gateways to the sites in question. At most, a blacklist of terms will deter some confused and curious individuals from pursuing their wrong-headed searches. That is all well and good. However, these pathetic people are the least threatening element in this twilight world.

At the same time, the threatened introduction of censorship to the internet sets a disturbing precedent, calling to mind the blocks on certain terms that the Chinese and other authoritarian governments impose. It is hardly likely that Britain will go from trying to block internet access to pornographic sites to blocking access to religious and political material, as is the case in China. Still, it is a step in the wrong direction and not one that any defender of civil liberties should welcome.

Meanwhile questions remain about the timing of this campaign.  On the surface, the Prime Minister has been galvanised into action by his recent emotive meeting with the parents of Tia Sharp and April Jones, whose killers stored caches of sexually explicit images.

Still, it is difficult not to see the sudden fit of moral indignation as containing a political element. Taking a pot shot at internet companies over this issue wrong-foots Labour – who can hardly fail to back Mr Cameron’s demand for greater state regulation, while finding their own campaign against Mr Cameron’s adviser, Lynton Crosby,  suddenly sidelined.

At same time, a war on child abuse will mollify backbench Tory MPs who still feel angry about Mr Cameron’s support for gay marriage and can reassure their constituents that the Tory party leader is now sounding the trumpet on behalf of the kind of moral crusade that they feel much more comfortable with.

And of course it will do Mr Cameron no harm to cross swords with Google at a time when he is accused of caving in to lobbyists of big corporations. He can, therefore, hardly lose on this one – even if, as is likely, his apparent success in bringing the internet giants to heel does little to curb the evil he decries.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Engineer-(Support, ITIL, Software Vendor)

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Engineer-(Support, S...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Turkey and Qatar must step up the fight against Isis

Benedict Greening

Should America pay Isis ransom money to free hostages like James Foley?

Kim Sengupta
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home