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The European Union wants to ban all online porn

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Europeans' days of seeing porn on the Internet might be drawing to a close.

The European Union (EU) is voting on a proposal next week that could lead to a blanket ban on porn in member states, and it seems the measure may well be approved.

The proposal, called "Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU," sounds like something most people could get behind. It mentions issues such as women carrying a "disproportionate share of the burden" when raising a family, violence against women as "an infringement of human rights," and gender stereotypes that develop early in life.

All of these are problems that demand a broad conversation. The proposal also notes that porn is becoming more mainstream, and is "slipping into our everyday lives as an evermore universally accepted, often idealised, cultural element," manifesting itself "particularly clearly within youth culture: from teenage television and lifestyle magazines to music videos and commercials targeted at the young."

Concern over the ubiquity of porn and how it's shaping the minds and perspectives of the young led to these demands for action: 

17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism

18. Calls on the EU to conduct research into the links between child pornography and adult pornography and the impacts on girls, women, boys and men, as well as the relationship between pornography and sexual violence

"The media" is often a broad, ambiguous term. However, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, notes that the Internet most certainly comes in the proposal's crosshairs. 

… a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere.

So not only is the measure looking to ban porn, it is passing the buck for policing sexual content on the Web to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The wording of the above section suggests that ISPs won't necessarily be bound to monitor porn though. 

The proposal also calls for its 27 member countries to create regulatory bodies "with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry" and the ability to sanction people and companies which promote "the sexualisation of girls."

Falkvinge slammed the proposal, deeming it a "hair-raising attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Christian Engström, a Member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party, agrees with the base notion that eliminating gender stereotypes is a "worthwhile goal." However, he criticized the between-the-lines "attempt to get the internet service providers to start policing what citizens do on the internet, not by legislation, but by 'self-regulation.'" He added that this is "one of the big threats against information freedom in our society."

Notably, Engström said the proposal's core aims of promoting gender equality and killing stereotypes means that the EU is likely to approve the report.

The proposal is very ambiguous and broad. If the Internet is defined as part of the media, and the EU wants to ban porn from the media, here are some things that might become contraband for the 500 million EU population:

For better or worse, porn is everywhere on the Internet. Policing it in the face of a ban is an entirely different matter. Certainly, requiring sex shops to stop selling DVDs, killing XXX sections in video stores, and yanking porn mags from corner store shelves is feasible. Actively monitoring and blocking millions (if not billions) of porn images, videos, and sites is an entirely more complicated prospect. There are plenty of ways for those savvy enough to use the Internet without being detected, and good luck on policing the black market too.

There are many countries in which porn is banned, including China, Guyana, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Some EU member states, such as Lithuania and Malta, ban porn too.

Some U.S. laws block porn under certain circumstances. The Children's Internet Protection Act (2000), for example, requires schools and libraries to filter Internet porn.

The U.K. until 2002 prohibited the sale and distribution of hardcore porn, with ISPs and the EU funding a charity which monitors the Internet for sexual abuse of children and "criminally obscene adult material."

Meanwhile, Iceland's ISPs are also considering blocking porn, citing concerns over malware and viruses that are prevalent on many porn sites.

Falkvinge added that the EU proposal is not legislation at this stage. Instead, it is a request for draft legislation. It's a first step in the process for measures to become EU law. 

UPDATE: Christian Engström, a Swedish Member of European Parliament representing the Pirate Party, claimed on his blog Thursday that those trying to reach MEPs to voice their opinions are being silenced.

Engström received around 350 emails on the subject by noon, but those messages dried up around lunchtime. He discovered that the European Parliament's IT department is "blocking the delivery of the emails on this issue, after some members of the parliament complained about getting emails from citizens."

Photo via Woodrocket/Tumblr