At Index on Censorship, I spotted an excellent article by Julian Petley which explores the dangerous absurdities of the "extreme pornography" clause of the new Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.
Petley makes the point that this legislation falls squarely within the British tradition of attempting to stem the inflow of "foreign smut". Other western governments, after all, have not sought to ban images of legal and consensual activities, however unappealing to majority tastes. But by making the mere possession, rather than the creation or distributing, of contraband material a criminal offence, the new law sets a dangerous precedent. For the first time, merely looking at a picture with a particular mental attitude - sexual arousal - will be punishable by up to three years in prison, however blameless one's life in other respects.
Petley also discloses chilling evidence of police enthusiasm for making full use of the new laws, especially as it will give them a "tool to deal with individuals whose behaviour may be causing concern" for entirely different reasons. The possibilities for abuse are limitless.
Of course, this legislation didn't come from nowhere. Partly, it is a response to a campaign in the Daily Mail. Among other things, the lack of principled opposition in the House of Commons reveals the depth of intolerance that still exists towards those perceived as sexual deviants. The legalisation of homosexuality, after all, was not wildly popular at the time. Recently the tabloid press have unthinkingly condemned Max Mosley's unconventional tastes, and the women who helped make his dreams come true have been universally, and inaccurately, dismissed as "prostitutes". I wonder if the News of the World's notorious tape of the incident will fall foul of the new law? So widely and vaguely drafted is it, no-one really knows. But it's already apparent that the legislation has already caused real confusion, distress and fear among many harmless and law-abiding people.
But there's a wider point, too, as Petley points out:
The anti-pornography clauses of the Criminal Justice Act 2008 furnish a particularly striking example of how the government, having abandoned any pretence at regulating corporate behaviour, is ever more obsessively determined to micromanage people’s personal behaviour.
Ain't it the truth?