UK’s porn age verification delayed

The UK Government’s highly controversial plans to force all pornographic websites to introduce age verification or otherwise be blocked has been delayed and details of how it will be implemented are still extremely unclear.

As we reported last week, the deadline for all pornographic websites to comply with the government’s new age verification requirements was originally the beginning of April. But with just weeks to that deadline, no one responsible for the new regulation was able to offer any details as to how it would work in practice.

How age verification will lead to porn censorship

The new regulations were passed by Parliament last year as part of the Digital Economy Act. This new law stated that all adult sites must include an age verification check before users could access any explicit content.

The idea was to stop underage people from accessing pornographic content, but they proved highly controversial. In order to verify ages, people visiting these sites would be required enter a variety of personal information to establish who they are.

The idea proved hugely unpopular with the British public. It also raised many eyebrows with privacy campaigners immediately warning that what this would essentially do is create a massive centralized database of the UK’s porn viewing habits.

Should this data be hacked it could not only prove hugely embarrassing and potentially dangerous for those people whose data is made public, but it could also fatally undermine the UK public’s already wavering trust in their government to protect their data.

It also ignores the fact that many of the most popular porn sites in the UK are international sites which are unlikely to go out of their way to appease the requirements of one government. Throw in the fact that any blocks put in place on porn sites can be easily circumvented with the help of a VPN and the proposals looked doomed before they even came into force.

At the turn of the year, it was announced that the regulator in charge of enforcing the new age verification requirements, and potentially censoring access to hundreds of popular porn sites would be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The BBFC has no prior experience of online censorship and many people have questioned whether they are an appropriate body for such a sensitive role.

How to try (and fail) to hide an embarrassing announcement

Now, the Government has snuck out a highly embarrassing announcement that despite the fact that the deadline for implementation is just a couple of weeks away, they are nothing like ready.

Hidden away at the bottom of an announcement on investments into 5G projects, was an admission that, as many experts suspected, the Government has no idea clear guidelines for how to introduce age verification as they are now obliged to do.

They have therefore delayed implementation until the end of the year and announced that there will be a public consultation, run by the BBFC, on its draft guidance. This should be launched before the end of March and there will no doubt follow a concerted campaign to try and get the message across to the UK Government as to how futile these proposals actually are.

The wording of the announcement actually also makes it possible for the end of year deadline to be pushed back even further if needs be as the Government say it ‘anticipates’ that this will be when the new proposals will be ready to come into force.

What does this mean for British internet users?

In the short term, this latest announcement on age verification means little will change for now. There was a real possibility that porn websites that refuse to comply with the government’s new rules would be swiftly blocked to all UK internet users.

That will not happen for now, but make no mistake, this is still on agenda for some time in the not too distant future. The age verification policy is already in law and it is only the implementation phase that is changing now.

As things stand, it is likely to be early next year before the UK Government begins to block porn sites. When they do, they can expect plenty of legal challenges, but for a while at least many of these sites will be blocked in the UK.

Unless you are a VPN user of course. If you subscribe to a reliable VPN provider such as IPVanish and ExpressVPN, you will easily be able to circumvent the new rules and access any site you want to simply by connecting to a server outside the UK where this censorship is not in place.

Currently, the UK Government is either unaware of this glaring loophole or unable to find a workable solution. VPNs are the main reason why the UK’s plans to block porn sites is doomed to failure. You may not need a VPN to view porn freely for the next few months. But it still won’t be long until you do!

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