Why we all need pornography

The makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission after it emerged that explicit sex scenes were hidden inside the popular game's software. The discovery provoked a wave of condemnation from politicians, including an accusation by Republican congressman Fred Upton that GTA's publisher, Take-Two, had "blatantly circumvented the rules in order to peddle sexually explicit material to our youth". But it is not the first time technology has been used to offer people a sneaky peek at sex.

The "adult entertainment" industry embraced video cassettes, DVDs and the web more quickly than its mainstream counterparts because these media are tailor-made for private viewing. Consumers eager for a glimpse of skin, but afraid of being found out or of being spotted in a seedy blue-movie cinema, helped drive the demand for more of these technologies. In the process, they are making the internet a more hospitable place for those promoting racial, ethnic or religious hatred, or even organising terrorist attacks. But it will also help political dissidents and whistle-blowers, so technologies created to help porn enthusiasts today are the human rights' tools of tomorrow.