Iceland is set to become the first Western democracy to ban online pornography, with a draft law to be completed in March.
The Scandinavian state has one of the highest rape rates in the developed world, and following a public consultation on sex crimes the government has decided that pornography is partly to blame. “Violent porn is influencing the nature – and possibly the scope – of sexual violence. We must tackle the easy access the porn industry has to children,” Interior Ministry advisor Halla Gunnarsdottir told Metro.
Publication and distribution of pornography is already illegal in Iceland, and the government now plans to focus on extreme material. “The key words are ‘violent’ and ‘degrading’, although even the mainstream has become extreme,” said Gunnarsdottir.
Supporters claim that crime patterns reflect the growth of porn, which now accounts for 25% of all internet searches. “You can see the influence of porn in the prevalence of gang rapes as well as the language and mannerism used by the perpetrators,” said researcher Hildur Fjóla Antonsdóttir of the RIKK Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.
Yet implementing the new law will face strong technical and moral opposition. “Everyone uses encryption, so you have to censor everything with a password or accept that censorship is not the way,” Smári McCarthy, director of the International Modern Media Institute, told Metro. “It may be possible to achieve a weak level of censorship but it won’t deter people and will give an excuse to oppressive regimes in other countries.”
Iceland’s law offers no guarantees, says Professor Richard Wortley, head of security and crime science at University College London. “The research on violent porn exposure is contradictory and it is not possible to study the long term impact. People struggle to separate morality from the science as it is such an emotive issue. The effect can be serious but its important to realize society is not collapsing.”
The Icelandic government will consider proposals before the national election in April.