UK’s porn block dead for now but might come back even worse

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Plans to introduce a nationwide age verification system for online pornography have been abandoned by the UK government after years of technical troubles and concerns from privacy campaigners.

The climbdown follows countless difficulties with implementing the policy, which would have required all pornography websites to ensure users were over 18. Methods would have included checking credit cards or allowing people to buy a “porn pass” age verification document from a newsagent.

Websites that refused to comply with the policy – one of the first of its kind in the world – faced being blocked by internet service providers or having their access to payment services restricted.

The culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, told parliament the policy would be abandoned. Instead, the government would instead focus on measures to protect children in the much broader online harms white paper. This is expected to introduce a new internet regulator, which will impose a duty of care on all websites and social media outlets – not just pornography sites.

Despite abandoning the proposals, Morgan said the government remained open to using age verification tools in future, saying: “The government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering. Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm.”

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UK’s controversial porn block could come sooner under no-deal Brexit

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The UK government’s plan to introduce mandatory Age Verification (AV) measures could come into effect sooner than previously thought, if the UK leaves the European Union under a ‘No Deal’ scenario, without a formal Withdrawal Agreement.

The AV plans, which have already been extensively covered, and delayed more than once, were supposed to come into effect from July 15, 2019. However, the UK government neglected to inform the European Commission under the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive (EU-TSRD), which it needed to do before enacting the changes.

As a result, a delay of around six months was expected when this was announced back on June 20, meaning it should come into force just before the end of the year. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the organisation tasked with enforcing the age verification measures, told SEXTECHGUIDE.

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UK’s Porn Block delayed (yup, again) thanks to EU rules

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The UK government’s attempt to create a national database of people that access pornographic content under the guise of protecting children from accessing explicit material online has hit another delay.

The new regulations were due to come into effect on July 15, but  this could now be delayed indefinitely, due to the UK government failing to inform the European Commission about details of the scheme, which it is legally obliged to do.

This is the third major delay – at least – to the plan to require UK users to prove their age before accessing adult content online, and little has been done to allay fears that the law could lead to the leaking of sensitive personal information. Indeed, it remains to be seen how the UK could even hope to enforce its rules on non-UK based businesses.

Even if you’re worried about kids watching porn, there’s little reason to believe that a crudely implemented age verification system will make much difference. Users with a VPN will simply need to select a non-UK IP address to bypass the blocks. Hell, even browsers are considering implementing DNS encryption, which a government official has already admitted would make the rules unenforceable.

Whether or not the law will actually come into effect remains to be seen, but its negative effects are already being felt around the world, as several other countries look to follow the UK’s privacy-impinging example.

South Africa follows UK with proposal to block porn by default

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South Africa it on track to follow the UK’s example by implementing an online porn block. In a report released last month by the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) titled Pornography and Children, provisional recommendations were made to block all digital pornography. However, while the UK is approaching things by requiring websites to verify the identity of users, the SALRC proposal suggests “all devices (new and second hand) be issued or returned to a default setting that blocks inappropriate content.”

The proposal also emphasises that anyone who uninstalls or works around the default block setting, allowing a person under the age of 18 to access adult content, would be guilty of offence.

The suggestion coincides with the upcoming UK Digital Economy Act changes, an age verification system that will come into action July 15 in the UK. The UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has taken several years to come up with an Age Verification solution, which was ultimately outsourced to the British Board of Film Classification, and has thrown up many concerns regarding data protection.

The SALRC not only proposes rules around default settings on devices, but also seems to seek to emulate the UK, where all major adult porn sites are blocked and there is an opt-in option for proof of age, either via uploading your ID or retrieving a “porn pass” from a public store.

Whatever the outcome of the South African ‘porn block’, there seems to be a misguided consensus that blocking adult content is the solution for protecting those under the age of 18, with the UK as the guinea pig. In reality, these blocks will only make the situation worse.

The UK’s porn ban will be catastrophic for small porn sites

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Porn is not illegal. Please write this down on a sticky note and put it on your fridge at some point before 15 July this year, when the UK government will begin blocking porn sites. It’s important to remember that porn is not illegal, because although the aim of the new law on age verification is to prevent under-18s from accessing adult content, the actual effect will be far broader than that.

The UK government is concerned about youngsters accidentally seeing porn, so for a long time it’s been exploring how to implement robust age verification checks. Not just a tick-box to say “I am over 18” (which, let’s face it, doesn’t work) but forcing adults to prove they are adults. In practical terms this means that you’ll either have to type in identifying details to prove your age (credit card number, drivers’ licence, passport) or visit a shop and show them your ID to purchase a one-off “porn pass”.

Not keen on having to register personal details to watch porn? You’re not alone. There are huge privacy concerns – not only does it encourage users to be freer with this sensitive data, any database that collects this info will be a tempting target for hackers. Just last week a hacker was jailed for six years for blackmailing porn site users, and organisations such as the Open Rights Group have already sounded alarm bells about the huge problems with the way AV will be implemented. It turns out the government is perfectly capable of highlighting these problems without their help, though: the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in an act that looked like deliberate self-parody, announced the new date in an email that it sent to hundreds of journalists … exposing all their email addresses because it forgot to use the bcc: feature.

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The UK’s porn ban is coming. Here’s why it’s a terrible idea.

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The UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced that the government’s plan to block online porn will go into effect from July 15, 2019.

The scheme will see sites that host porn needing to implement strict age verification measures to ensure that no one under the age of 18 can access them. Experts noted before that the measures likely won’t have the desired effect, due to the ease of circumvention.

But no matter how easy it might be for tech-savvy users to get around laws like these, it’s important to consider the chilling effect they have. They won’t just result in a loss of visitors for porn sites because many people just don’t know how to set up a VPN.

The law will contribute to the stigmatisation of porn, sex work and sexuality in general. Something that happens at an alarming rate lately, mostly at the hands of the British and American governments.

One consequence is that the internet is slowly turning into a puritan dystonia where communities like Tumblr, once a safe haven for queer people and sex positivity, ban even the slightest hint of nudity.

Another is that we’re teaching kids that sex is something dirty and perverse, that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and that masturbation is something so dangerous, it has to be regulated by the government. The chances of all these factors contributing to children growing up with a healthy body image and relationship towards sex are slim, to say the least.

Once in place, laws like these are incredibly hard to repeal because no one wants to be the politician with the Wikipedia page saying that they made sure kids can watch porn.

And we didn’t even touch on the implications of building such a censorship infrastructure yet. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned when a Western government gets inspired by the famous Chinese internet wall. Especially when we consider that the same politicians just a few years ago day dreamt about blocking online “terror propaganda” but kept the definition of the term so vague that even political satire could be affected.

There are plenty of examples of technology being introduced for an allegedly noble cause just to promptly end up being used for something entirely different. Like when German conservatives pushed for online data retention: Instead of fighting terrorism as promised, police used the data to track down people pirating music. Because of course they did.

So even if you don’t mind handing over your credit card data to random porn sites just to jerk off, there are still plenty of reasons to be upset about this law. Politicians are counting on folks being to ashamed to talk about the fact that they enjoy porn. Let’s hope that enough people find the courage to speak up anyway.

UK ban on “fetish porn” overturned

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The words “UK Government” and “porn” rarely ever are part of a headline announcing good news but here we go: Porn depicting a number of previously banned sex acts has been made legal in England after a review of their ridiculous obscenity laws.

Essentially, sex acts that are not illegal in another context can now be shown in pornography. Certain types of violent porn are now permitted so long as the sex acts are consensual (focusing on ‘full and freely exercised consent’) and do not cause serious harm to participants.

Not illegal in the UK anymore (video by Helix Studios)

The UK government first stated fetish pornography would be outlawed under the Obscene Publications Act. This included any form of BDSM and other pretty tame subjects like face-sitting, fisting and female ejaculation.

This was seen as a major blow to British porn producers. Many protested this change as censorship. ‘Distributing’ obscene material can simply mean sending a video via private message and can be punished with time in prison.

But even if you can watch fetish porn, you will still have to prove your age. New porn laws, officially coming in April, will mean Brits will have to input credit card details if they want to view a site that is at least one-third pornographic.

Obviously this opens the door for credit card data being intercepted by a third party or saved in an unsafe manner by website owners. The  habits of people looking at porn could also be tracked by the government.