Open Rights Group has submitted Written evidence to House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Digital Economy Bill. The following is the groups views on some of the worst aspects of the Age Verification requirements for 18 rated adult internet
Open Rights Group (ORG) is the United Kingdom's only campaigning organisation dedicated to working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online. With 3,200 active supporters, we are a grassroots organisation with local groups across the UK. We
believe people have the right to control their technology, and oppose the use of technology to control people.
23. We believe the aim of restricting children's access to inappropriate material is a reasonable one; however placing age verification requirements on adults to access legal material throws up a number of concerns which are not easily resolved.24.Our
concerns include: whether these proposals will work; the impact on privacy and freedom of expression; and how pornography is defined.
Lack of privacy safeguards
25. New age verification systems will enable the collection of data about people accessing pornographic websites, potentially across different providers or websites. Accessing legal pornographic material creates sensitive information that may be linkedto
a real life identity. The current wording of the draft Bill means that this data could be vulnerable to the "Ashley Madison-style" leaks.
26. MindGeek (the largest global adult entertainment operator) estimates there are 20 to 25 million adults in the UK who access adult content regularly. That is over 20 million people that will have to reveal attributes of their identity to a
pornographywebsite or a third party company.
27. Current proposals2 for age-verification systems suggest using people's emails, social media accounts, bank details, credit and electoral information, biometrics and mobile phone details. The use of any of this information exposes pornography website
users to threats of data mining, identity theft and unsolicited marketing.
28. The currently proposed age-verification systems have minimal regard for the security of the data they will collect.
29. The Bill does not contain provisions to secure the privacy and anonymity of users of pornographic sites. These must be included in the Bill, not merely in guidance issued by the age-verification regulator. They should ensure that the
age-verificationsystem, by default, must not be able to identify a user to the pornographic site by leaving persistent data trails. The user information that pornography websites are allowed to store without additional consent should be strictly limited.
Will age verification work?
30. The objective of these proposals is child safety rather than age verification. Policy makers should not measure success by the number of adults using age verification. It is highly likely that children will be able to continue accessing
pornographicmaterial, meaning that the policy will struggle to meet its true goal.
31. The Bill does not outline an effective system to administer age verification. It sets out a difficult task to regulate foreign pornography publishers. This will be difficult to enforce. Even if access to pornographic material hosted abroad is
blockedin the UK, bypassing website blocks is very easy - for example through the use of VPNs. Using VPNs is not technically difficult and could easily be used by teenagers to circumvent age verification.
32. Young people will still be able to access pornographic materials through some mainstream social media websites that are not subject to age verification, and from peer-to-peer networks.
33. As with ISP and mobile phone filters, age verification may prevent young children from accidentally finding pornographic material but it is unlikely to restrict a tech-savvy teenager.
Discrimination against sexual minorities and small business
34. The age verification systems will impose disproportionate costs on small publishers. No effective and efficient age verification system has been presented and it is very likely the costs imposed on smaller publishers will cause them to go out of
business 3 .
35. Smaller publishers of adult materials often cater for sexual minorities or people with special needs. The costs associated with implementing age verification systems threaten the existence of these sites and thus the ability of particular groupsto
express their sexuality by using the services of smaller pornographic publishers.
36. It is unclear whether adults will trust age verification systems, especially if they appear to identify them to the sites. It is possible that there will be a dissuasive effect on adults wishing to receive legal material. This would be a
negativeimpact on free expression, and would be likely to disproportionately impact people from sexual minorities.
Definition of pornographic material
37. The definitions of pornographic material included in the Bill are much broader than what is socially accepted as harmful pornography. The Bill not only covers R18 materials typically described as "hardcore pornography", which offline can
only be acquiredin licensed sex shops, but also 18-rated materials of a sexual nature. The boundaries of 18 classification are dynamic and reflect social consensus on what is acceptable with some restrictions. Today this would include popular films such
as Fifty Shadesof Gray. This extension of the definition of pornography to cover all "erotic" 18 rated films also raises questions as to why violent - but not sexual - materials rated as 18 should then be accessible online.
38. Hiding some of these materials or making them more difficult to access puts unjustifiable restrictions on people's freedom of expression. Placing 18-rated materials beyond the age-verification wall under the same category as hardcore pornography
willdiscourage people from exploring topics related to their sexuality.
Suggestions for improvement
39. The online age verification proposed in the Bill is unworkable and will not deliver what Government set out to do. We urge the Government to find more effective solutions to deliver their objectives on the age verification. The online age
verificationshould be dropped from the Bill in its current version. 40. The updated version of age verification should incorporate:
41. 1) Privacy safeguards
The regulator should have specific duties to ensure the systems are low risk. For instance, Age verification should not be be in place unless privacy safeguards are strong. Any age verification system should not create wider security risks, for
instanceto credit card systems, or through habituating UK Internet users into poor security practices.
42. Users of adult websites should have clarity on the liability of data breaches and what personal data is at risk.
42. 2) Safeguards for sexual minorities
Requirements should be proportionate to the resources available and the likelihood of access by minors. Small websites that cater for sexual minorities may fall under the commercial threshold.
43. 3) Remove 18-rated materials from the definition of pornographic materials
Placing all materials of a sexual nature under the definition of pornography is not helpful and will greatly increase the impact of these measures on the human right to impart and receive information, including of older children and young adults.
Open Rights Group make equally valid arguments against the criminalisation of file sharing and the introduction of many features of an ID card to tie together vast amounts or personal data held in a variety of government databases.
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