UK Government’s new plans to block online porn sites

porno

After the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill by the UK Parliament last week, plenty of people were commenting that things couldn’t get much worse for online freedom. How wrong they were. Less than a week later and the Government has announced fresh online censorship plans.

In an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, which already includes a number of worrying clauses, including handing possession of all personal data shared with a Government agency to the Government, they decided to create new powers to permit the blocking of any pornographic websites which refuses to verify the ages of users.

Blocking legal porn Sites

The plans are part of efforts by the Government to protect children from what they describe as “harmful pornographic content online”. It has been on the cards for a while.

The UK Government has already compelled ISPs in the UK to set their porn filter to ‘On’ by default, requiring users to ring up and request a reset if they want to view adult content. And indeed, these new plans were included in the Conservative Party manifesto at the 2015 general election.

But unsurprisingly, they have been crow-barred onto a bill in a rushed manner, as is so often the case with ‘ill-thought-through’ legislation.

The body tasked with enforcing the new law will be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the body which rates and censors movies. In a statement accompanying the amendment, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said “we have appointed a regulator, BBFC, to make sure the right age checks are in place to make that happen. If sites refuse to comply, they should be blocked.”

The powers the BBFC will have if sites fail to comply with the law include forcing the withdrawal of payment services, which they say the big credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard have already agreed to comply with and forcing ISPs to block access to the sites.

Flawed Intelligence

Why are they passing this law at all? Well, the Government’s focus on the impact of porn on children stems from a report from the NSPCC, published back in March 2015, which claimed that one in ten children aged 12 and 13 were “addicted to pornography.

Needless to say, this figure drove plenty of media coverage but didn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The company who ran the survey pays people to fill in surveys and has generated a number of headline-grabbing stories from its surveys, all of which are highly questionable. Examples include “One in ten Brits would have an affair if they could” and, “Fifty percent of British adults think Mount Everest is in the UK”.

Campaigners against online censorship argue that this makes the survey unsafe, and as Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group has said, it could “lead to tens of thousands of websites being blocked, despite their content being perfectly legal”.

Whether such a survey should form the basis of a report from a respected children’s charity is debatable. Whether it should be the basis of a new law censoring online content is even more open to discussion.

The new law also seems likely to result in parents feeling they can pay less attention to what their children are up to online, in the mistaken believe that they can no longer access porn. This unintended consequence is something that you would hope the NSPCC would be strongly opposed to.

Other Privacy Concerns

The issue of unnecessary censorship is not the only concern with this proposed new law, though. Introducing Age Verification onto such sites is also greatly increasing the risk of credit card fraud and privacy violations.

Age Verification systems are likely to include things like online registration, which are very bad for privacy as it is simple to link an individual with a site, and many of these sites will not have suitably robust security settings to cope with handling this kind of data securely.

If credit cards are involved, then as Open Rights Group has pointed out, this is just inviting cyber-criminals to set up bogus porn sites and inviting people to enter their credit card details for age verification. As they have said, “anything that normalises the entry of credit card details into pages where the user isn’t making a payment will increase the fraudulent use of such cards.”

So, what the Government is essentially proposing to do is introduce a new online censorship law, based on flawed data, which is likely to lead to thousands of legal sites being blocked in the UK, and endanger the personal privacy of anyone who still tries to use them.

Little wonder then that people are already looking for ways around the new proposals. There are plenty, but the easiest and most obvious is to make use of a VPN like IPVanish and ExpressVPN.

Using a VPN, users can change their IP Address and therefore appear to be located outside the UK, thereby evading the new Age Verification Requirements. They are easy to use and cost just a few pounds a month, well within the reach of any slightly computer-savvy teenager. But apparently still beyond the wit of the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *