Egypt’s state prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmud, has ordered a ban on Internet pornography. Again.

The interior, telecommunications and information ministries have been ordered to "take steps to block any pornographic pictures or scenes on the Internet," according to AFP.

The powers that be tried this once already in Egypt. In 2009, an administrative court, citing its allegedly negative effect on “moral values,” banned Internet pornography. That injunction was not really followed up on by Egyptian authorities in a position to do so.

The problem with this sort of ban is not that it interferes with some sort of “right” to view pornographic material. The problem is that every Internet censorship regime in place in the whole of the world and from the start of online communication had its start in the desire to repress desire.

Even those who truly believe that images of the sporting life corrode the souls of the innocent are nonetheless supporting a precedent that never ends where it begins.

Usually a concern for pornography, or even child pornography, quickly moves, or is moved by censoring agents, into a contrived outrage against (and desire to protect the power of) the regime that runs the society in question.

Then, depending on the location and culture of the country where the regime is being constructed, it quickly evolves into an insistence on the sanctity of the dominant religion and that religion’s leaders, or of the abstract national culture.

Examples of these various, though largely analogous, routes include China, where the primary excuse used to censor is the necessity for social order; Saudi Arabia, where the definition of pornography extends to women existing, fully clothed, in the IKEA catalogue; Thailand, where the country’s veneration for its king and queen has meant lèse majesté is the most common excuse for censorship; and Turkey, whose Islamist-leaning government has turned toward a more Saudi-style posture toward freedom of expression based on religious sentiments, as well as the traditional ethnic-nationalist worry over the country’s minorities, such as the Kurds.

“I think you might benefit from distinguishing between the argument for skepticism over proposals to censor pornography and the argument for skepticism over proposals to censor child porn,” Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Daily Dot.

“Anti-child-porn legislation in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. has generally been rooted in a desire to prevent harm to children. The legislation is often poorly-written and does plenty of collateral damage to other speech, but I would not characterize it as religiously-motivated or as a ploy to keep the Powers That Be sitting pretty on their thrones.”

She admits that cynical uses of even child pornography concerns to further a censorship regime do exist, pointing to the development of such a process in the Russian Federation as an example.

“As an example of porn or child porn being censored and leading to censoring more stuff, Australia is a good example,” Fabrice Epelboin told the Daily Dot. “No need to look for an authoritarian regime. A year after a ban on child porn, 70% of all censored page had nothing to do with child porn.”

Epelboin is an instructor at France’s Science Po university and an expert on Internet freedom issues in France and Francophone North Africa.

He said his home country of France, long thought to be a paragon of free spech,  is another example the domino effect of online censorship.

“As you may know, publishing anything racist is illegal in France. Theoretically, it's also the case on the Web. But... estimates are that at least a third of the population is racist. Of course, recently, it showed on Twitter with (the appearance of) anti-Semitic 'jokes' tagged #unbonjuif (#agoodjew). Several NGO very close to the government have asked (them) to censor those.” Twitter itself has already agreed to do so. “We don't have anything like the First Amendment here, and I don't see how our democracy is going to survive if anti-racism laws are applied to the Internet.”

The argument here is not that every attempt to curb specific types of expression online is a cover for something more insidious, rather, that even in those instances where the concern is honest, such censorship often leads to less defensible restrictions and unintended consequences.

"The government which will spend between 10 and 100 million Egyptian pounds to block porn websites, according to some Tweeps,” Ahmed Zidain, told the Daily Dot. Zidain, an Egyptian, is the editor of the Arabic service of Mideast Youth, the civil society organization.

“[Egyptian leadership] doesn't know that torrent was invented seven years ago. Will they block torrent websites and criminalize masturbation also?

“Literally, no woman, whether veiled or unveiled, will pass unnoticed anywhere in Egypt,” if this ban actually goes through, said Zidain. “After this ban, the black market for porn CDs and digital films will sky-rocket and the rate of harassments will also increase.”

Photo by Ed Yourdon/ Flickr