The UK's possible future prime minister thinks all websites should be classified with minimum age ratings, just like films.
Andrea Leadsom is one of two candidates left in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party; the winner of which will become the country's Prime Minister.
Although many are concerned with the authoritarian stance taken by her rival, Theresa May, Leadsom's views on many topics – including the internet – have come under scrutiny following her unexpected success in the leadership election.
Key among those is Leadsom's apparent belief that the best solution to troublesome content on the internet is to have film-rating organization the British Board of Film Classification rate all websites, and have any unrated websites blocked by ISPs.
Writing in the New Statesman back in 2012, she focused, initially, on the need to protect children. "There are two sound ways to ensure that children are not exposed to dangerous or disturbing content," she argued. "At the level of Internet Service Provider, individual sites can be blocked 'at source' by ISPs ... The other way is with a move away from the standard '.co.uk' and '.com' top level domains (TLDs) for more explicit content, to separate entirely inappropriate sections of the web."
But she then moves on to the broader "need of a monitor for obscene and adult websites."
She argues: "Outside of cyberspace, we have bodies such as Ofcom and the British Board of Film Classification that continually work to ensure our children are not exposed to the wrong things. This could be implemented in some way online, whereby a website would have to have its content 'rated' before being accessible online.
"While it sounds like a massive leap, the majority of new websites already go through testing when they are hosted to make sure that a site is intact and that files and content are free of viruses. This would simply be adding another check to the list, and in reality it is a burden already carried by film-makers."
Equating films with all online content is a stretch at best. In the article, a counterpoint is given by the news editor of Index on Censorship, Padraig Reidy, in which he points out the dangers of handing censorship rights over to individual organizations.
But since 2012, there has in fact been a significant move within the Conservative Party toward using the BBFC to rate online content. Tied in with that, a new proposal in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill [PDF] foresees a national age verification scheme for the adult content websites, intended to "protect children from online pornography."
Leadsom's idea would be to expand that limited content and verification program for pornographic websites to the entire internet, however. This is an extreme policy position, especially for someone who may be the head of government in two months.
We checked with Leadsom's office over whether she still stands by her assertion that having a semi-autonomous content regulator rate everything on the internet, with any unrated website being blocked, is a good policy. So far, it has failed to respond.
It's not just internet rating and censorship that Leadsom appears to have strong views on either.
Journalists have been trawling her blog and other public writing and found a slew of policy positions that put her in the far right of UK politics, including: strong anti-gay positions on adoption and marriage; pro-money views in which she linked offshore mortgages to no more than buying a book from Amazon; no subsidies for renewable energy; and an apparent belief that criminality is developed in the first two years of a baby's life.
She has also faced criticism for embellishing her CV, claiming high-level roles in finance that she seemingly never held, suggesting God has spoken to her directly, and a number of controversies over her family's use of trusts and unusual financial donations.
Not only that, but references to many of these controversial opinions and activities have found themselves being mysteriously removed from Leadsom's Wikipedia page, by a user with an IP address that points to her constituency home. Many of those changes have since been reinstated due to their potential "conflict of interests."
The decision over whether Andrea Leadsom or Theresa May become the UK's new leader will now be decided by Conservative party members across the country, with the result expected by September 9. ®