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Iceland porn ban: Can a wired country go porn-free?

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Gunnarsdottir says the proposals currently being drawn up by a committee of experts will not introduce new restrictions, but simply uphold an existing if vaguely worded law.

Pornography is already banned in Iceland, and has been for decades – but the term is not defined, so the law is not enforced. Magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse are on sale in book stores, and more hardcore material can be bought from a handful of sex shops. "Adult" channels form part of digital TV packages.

Iceland's left-of-center government insists it is not setting out to sweep away racy magazines or censor sex. The ban would define pornography as material with violent or degrading content.

Gunnarsdottir said the committee is still exploring the details of how a porn ban could be enforced. One possibility would be to make it illegal to pay for porn with Icelandic credit cards. Another, more controversial, route would be a national Internet filter or a list of website addresses to be blocked.

That idea has Internet-freedom advocates alarmed.

"This kind of thing does not work. It is technically impossible to do in a way that has the intended effect," said Smari McCarthy of free-speech group the International Modern Media Institute. "And it has negative side effects – everything from slowing down the Internet to blocking content that is not meant to be blocked to just generally opening up a whole can of worms regarding human rights issues, access to information, and freedom of expression."

Despite its often chaotic appearance, the Internet is not a wholly lawless place. It is regulated, to varying degrees, around the world. Police monitor the net for child pornography and other illegal material, and service providers in many countries block offending sites.

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