Porn censorship in UK weeks away but still no-one knows how it will work

Digital Economy Bill porn

It might have been overlooked so far by much of the mainstream media, but the lives of countless Brits are about to change forever as, in just a few weeks’ time, the UK is scheduled to begin censoring vast quantities of online porn.

However, even though a seismic change in the way people view adult content online is just a month away, neither the government or the regulator tasked with implementing the new laws, seem to know how it is going to be done.

Why is the UK planning to censor porn?

If you haven’t been following this story, last year, the British Government passed a piece of legislation called the Digital Economy Act. This included provisions which required all adult sites to include an age verification check before users could access any explicit content. These checks would require people to enter personal details into the site.

The intention of this new law was to try and prevent young people from being able to easily view pornographic content online. Those sites which failed to comply with the new law will then be blocked in the UK.

But the Digital Economy Act overlooked quite a few crucial points. Firstly, it is easy for people to get round online censorship of this nature using a VPN.

Secondly, most of the popular porn sites are international operations and highly unlikely to change the way their site works to satisfy the whims of one country’s Government. And thirdly, hardly anyone is willing to enter personal details into a porn site.

And lastly, collecting personal details like this is potentially a huge online security and privacy issue as well as a blatant violation of people’s fundamental human rights.

Who will oversee the new censorship and verification regime?

But despite the objections of the general public and countless efforts, the UK Government is pressing ahead regardless and, in December, announced that the regulator who would oversee both the age verification and subsequent online censorship programme would be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

That’s right. The organisation which decides if a movie should have a 15 or an 18 certificate is being given the power to block thousands of non-compliant porn websites.

It is likely that the verification processes will be implemented by the sites themselves, if they choose to comply. But what will happen to the data they collect is anyone’s guess. Some sites will no doubt handle it responsibly, but porn sites are not always run by responsible people.

And the whole process will be overseen by a body which has zero expertise in online regulation prior to now. This lack of expertise is becoming more and more apparent as the deadline for new laws looms. Because neither the BBFC or the Government seems to know how the new regime is going to operate.

No one seems to know how it will work

The BBC has approached both to ask for further details about how the new age verification and censorship programme will function in practice, but neither was able to answer their questions. Instead, it has been left to cybersecurity experts to try and guess what they are planning.

One such expert, Professor Alan Woodward from the University of Surrey told the BBC his best guess would be that the system they are trying to create would be a “pseudo-anonymous” one, which requires the input of a minimal amount of personal information.

The flaw in their thinking

But as with many experts, he has flagged the gaping hole in everyone’s thinking so far; VPNs. While Woodward accepted the new regime might stop some younger viewers accessing explicit content kids these days are more and more computer-literate and many will be aware of VPNs and already be using them.

The new age verification and censorship proposals will only exist in the UK, so any VPN connected to an overseas server will be able to view as much pornography online as they like without having to go through any verification process.

This, of course, would render the countless millions of pounds and man hours being spent on trying to design and implement this programme completely meaningless.

It is not the first time the UK Government has overlooked the role that VPNs can play in keeping people’s data private online.

Their hugely controversial Snoopers Charter legislation (officially titled the Investigatory Powers Act) required ISPs to collect and store the online data of every UK citizens but totally ignored the fact that a VPN prevents ISPs from seeing what you are doing online.

It shouldn’t be down to individual internet using having to use a VPN to protect their online privacy and enable them to view legal content online. But in the UK, that is now the case. And as a result, we must all be thankful for the humble, yet increasingly essential, Virtual Private Network.

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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