UK Porn Age Verification scheme delayed again

Porn block delay

The UK Government’s ill-advised and ill-thought through scheme to censor legal pornographic content by introducing age verification requirements has been delayed yet again. Some reports are even suggesting that it could even be dropped for good.

A mounting challenge to a rushed scheme

It was only yesterday that we reported on the Open Rights Group report which highlighted major flaws in the data protection standards behind the scheme and suggested that it was a creating a ‘privacy timebomb’.

On the same day that report landed, the government and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC – the body bizarrely tasked with enforcing the new scheme) also received a letter from the Digital Policy Alliance, a lobby group representing many online pornographers.

They complained that “the timing is very tight” to implement the new scheme and argued that “put some AVPs [age verification providers] and adult entertainment providers in a very difficult situation.”

They bluntly stated that public data would not be adequately protected unless the scheme was delayed. This was essentially the same point that the Open Rights Group had also made.

Why this latest delay?

You are probably assuming that the significant threat to private data is the reason why the Government has decided to delay the roll-out again. But you would be wrong.

Perhaps you might think it is the gross undermining of online rights that the scheme would cause? After all, it will require one of the largest censorships of legal content in modern British history.

But again, you would be wrong. This government has shown before that it has no hesitation to censor and surveil its people. After all, its Investigatory Powers Act is the most intrusive and overbearing piece of online legislation anywhere in the free world.

Maybe they are delaying because they have finally realized that their porn age verification plans can be bypassed so easily.

Just by signing up to a VPN such as ExpressVPN and connecting to a server outside the UK, British internet users will be able to access any pornographic content they like without having to hand private data over to any age verification organisation. But this isn’t the reason either.

Instead, it seems that this latest delay is down to a simple bureaucratic cock-up.

Government incompetence causes delay

The news was first revealed by Sky News’ Technology Correspondent Rowland Manthorpe and has since been confirmed in a hurried statement to the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), Jeremy Wright.

As Manthorpe had suggested on Twitter, the DCMS has failed to formally notify the European Commission of their Age Verification plans.

Jeremy Wright told the Commons, “In autumn last year, we laid three instruments before the House. One of them sets out standards that companies need to comply with. This should have been notified to the European Commission, and it was not.”

This administrative oversight undermines the entire legal basis for the scheme. Its legality was always likely to be tested in the courts once it came into force, but failure to go through due process with the European Commission would almost guarantee that any challenge would succeed.

Jeremy Wright confirmed today that scheme was being delayed for at least six months while this mistake is rectified. However, during that period there will be a new Prime Minister and Cabinet appointed and Britain is very likely to leave the jurisdiction of the European Union.

The beginning of the end?

This raises the very real prospect that the scheme could end up being dropped altogether. This is something that Wright vehemently denied in the Commons today. He said the scheme “must” happen and apologised for this latest delay.

But Labour Party spokesperson, Cat Smith MP described the announcement as “proof that an important policy issue has descended into utter shambles.”

Few would dispute this assessment and the ongoing opposition to the scheme from all sides makes the prospect of it being abandoned by the government all the more real.

This is not going to happen yet. For now, a six-month delay means the Age Verification scheme is now scheduled to go live on 15th January 2020. But a lot can happen over six months in British politics, especially in the current climate, so for privacy advocates and online porn users, hope springs eternal.

It is the latest setback to a scheme that has encountered problems and delays from the very start. It highlights the importance of government’s getting legislation right rather than hurrying through kneejerk legislation in reaction to public panic over issues.

The UK’s porn block will not deliver on its objectives, it will lead to mass censorship, and it will create a privacy timebomb. The latest delay is to be welcomed. It is to be hoped that this scheme can soon be put out of its misery altogether.

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