UK Government abandons porn age verification plans

A man watches an adult video in a laptop sitting on the couch.

The UK Government has finally succumbed to the inevitable and abandoned its ludicrous plans to enforce age verification onto every single internet porn site.

Porn block scrapped

The much-maligned and ridiculed plans were first put forward as part of the Digital Economy Act. They would have seen internet users having to either purchase age verification identification or enter their credit card and other personal details into a massive porn users database before being able to access adult content online.

The policy is likely to be used in future as a case study in bad governance. The policy as written into the Digital Economy Act was riddled was holes. It didn’t cover social media sites, where most people access porn anyway,  and ignored that fact that the regulations could be easily sidestepped with the help of a VPN.

The roll-out of the scheme was beset with delays and errors. For some reason, it was decided that the British Board of Film Classification was the body best suited to manage the scheme.

Earlier this year, it was announced that administrative errors in the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport meant that the scheme had to be put on ice for at least another six months.

Then there were the huge privacy and security implications of the planned laws. It required people to enter their credit card details and other information into a huge database that would include details of their sexual interests. Such a database would have been a massive target for hackers and put masses of personal data at risk.

The scheme was also being operated by the main porn sites themselves which means that this data would have been in the hands of potentially insure and unscrupulous international companies.

Now, the new Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan has tried to sneak out the news that it is to be abandoned altogether in a written statement on a day when Brexit is expected to dominate the headlines again. An attempt to bury bad news if ever we saw one!

A grovelling climbdown

In her statement, Morgan was at pains to stress that this decision did not mean the government was taking the safeguarding of children any less seriously.

The government “believes it is vital that children are protected from accessing inappropriate, harmful content,” the statement says upfront.

It then goes on to say that the Government needs to develop “coherent” online safety policies. Exactly what they mean by that is far from clear.

However, they then state that “The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography.”

In other words, the porn block plans are being scrapped because the government has concluded that trying to arbitrarily block everyone from accessing all online porn unless they are willing to subject themselves to an intrusive age verification system is not coherent with their other policies.

Thank goodness for that!

A good day for online privacy but with a big caveat

The announcement marks a good day for online privacy rights in the UK, something we haven’t been able to say for quite some time. But while this battle may have been won, the online rights war continues.

The government still intends to introduce new laws to try and control children’s access to inappropriate content online. This was explicitly referred to in the Queens Speech this Monday which announced the government’s new policy agenda,

Indeed, some experts have interpreted the statement today as meaning that they plan to introduce even broader legislation in the future.

As one lawyer who specialises in this area, Myles Jackman, has noted on Twitter, “The threat that the mechanics of age verification could be introduced to social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, via the proposed Online Harms Bill, with the same risks of intimate personal data theft, sale and publication as before, is chilling.”

Internet porn users beware

So, the prospects of an even more Orwellian law to try and stop people accessing legal but explicit content online is a very real one.

There is no doubt that the government is of a mind that this is the best approach to protect children. They are still oblivious to the fact that many kids will find a way around any new laws they put in place, either with a VPN or by some other means.

The abandonment of the porn age verification laws is something to celebrate. But the prospect of something even worse being introduced is something that should fill us all with trepidation.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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