As the British Parliament whips itself into a frenzy today over the draft Brexit agreement, it is, as one political aide infamously put it, a good day to bury bad news.
Perhaps that is why it is now that a Government Minister in the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, has chosen to confirm plans to create digital passports for all young internet users in the UK as a tool to prevent them from being able to access porn.
UK’s porn censorship proposals
Regular readers may recall that the Government has long been planning to introduce age verification to access pornographic content in the UK. They have even threatened to block any porn site which fails to comply with their new regime.
The only problem is that for a long time, they still hadn’t figured out how they planned to enforce this draconian new rule.
They have, rather bizarrely, decided that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was the body best place to enforce the new regime. But delay upon delay has seen the plans pushed back as politicians and officials desperately tried to find the best way to stop kids from watching porn.
Finally, they have settled on what they believe is the best approach. But much like the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, it is far from ideal.
DCMS Minister Margot James has confirmed to the Telegraph that they have decided to force young internet users in the UK to have a ‘digital passport’. This ‘digital passport’ will be a unique online ID which they theorise will prevent young people from accessing porn and other content they deem inappropriate.
The scheme, which will be introduced from Easter next year, will require every young person aged 13 and up to be issued with such an ID.
The best option is already deeply flawed
However, despite this being the best solution they have come up with, the Government themselves have already admitted it is seriously flawed.
Speaking to the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee, Margot James confirmed that the digital passports would only apply on large commercial sites where more than a third of their content is pornographic. This means it leaves out countless smaller websites and, most importantly, social media sites.
The Committee heard evidence that up to a third of content on social media can be pornographic. It is also widely acknowledged that this is where most young people access such content. Yet, social media sites will not have to comply with the new ‘digital passports’.
James told the Committee, “It is a weakness in the legislative solution”. She is massively underestimating the point.
If the Government really wants to legislate to prevent young people access pornography then this is a glaring omission that renders the whole regime utterly pointless.
It also completely overlooks that fact that internet-savvy youngsters will easily be able to get around any age verification requirements by using a VPN such as ExpressVPN or IPVanish.
The truth is that this whole policy is a nanny-state reaction which is empowering the Government to implement a draconian online censorship regime blocking access to content which is perfectly legal in the UK for no real purpose.
There are already plenty of ways in which young people’s access to inappropriate content online can be managed.
All ISPs in the UK are already required to offer a form of parental lock, which allows parents to prevent their children from accessing such content.
Almost all porn sites are required to ask users to confirm that they are 18 years or over before allowing them to access explicit content. Social media sites too also have controls on the type of content they allow online and those that allow young people to sign up for accounts will usually prevent them from seeing explicit content.
In contrast, the dangers of the proposed digital passports are significant. Should someone else obtain access to your details they could carry out all kinds of mischievous activities in your name, potentially getting you into serious trouble.
There is also the danger that the scheme could be used to block access to other content in the future and become part of an even more intrusive online censorship regime.
Most people are fundamentally opposed to state censorship of the internet. The world is united in condemning regimes like those in China and Russia, who practice it on a wide scale.
But such opposition seems hypocritical when our own democratically elected government is also implementing needless and draconian online censorship at home too.
Fortunately, thanks to a VPN, it will always be easy for anyone to bypass such measures.