“Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years…. “But we need our lawyers and our politicians to understand programming, to understand what can be done with a computer.” – Sir Tim Berners-Lee
The above quote should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in digital rights. In recent times there has been growing interest by governments in how to respond to the sort of modern social problems that some might argue are facilitated by digital technology. Calls to control social media in times of civil unrest, monitor citizens’ communications in order to catch terrorists and paedophiles and prevent citizens from using encrypted communications just in case they are saying something illegal are all examples of government trying to respond to issues they are challenged on. All of these very clearly highlight an issue raised in Sir Berners-Lee’s quote above – that policy makers and legislators struggle to understand how the web works and how it can be “controlled”, while reflecting very little about whether the outcomes will infringe on the civil rights of citizens.
However, one policy debate that I have been very close to over the last few years, and one that illustrates how digital technology has changed our society and also how it creates new social contexts related to rights based issues, is that of access to pornography and sexual content online. This debate becomes particularly contentious when we explore the growing issue of young people accessing such material online.