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20th October

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Open Rights Groups notes that the Digital Economy Bill offers no meaningful protections for the ID data handed over to porn sites or age verifiers.
Link Here
open rights group 2016 logo The Digital Economy Bill mandates that pornographic websites must verify the age of their customers. Are there any powers to protect user privacy?

Yesterday we published a blog detailing the lack of privacy safeguards for Age Verification systems mandated in the Digital Economy Bill. Since then, we have been offered two explanations as to why the regulator designate , the BBFC, may think that privacy can be regulated.

The first and most important claim is that Clause 15 may allow the regulation of AV services, in an open-ended and non-specific way:

15 Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18  

  1. A person must not make pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis to persons in the United Kingdom except in a way that secures that, at any given time, the material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18
  2. [snip]
  3. The age-verification regulator (see section 17) must publish guidance about--

    (a) types of arrangements for making pornographic material available that the regulator will treat as complying with subsection (1);

However, this clause seems to regulate publishers who "make pornography material available on the internet" and what is regulated in 15 (3) (a) is the "arrangements for making pornography available". They do not mention age verification systems, which is not really an "arrangement for making pornography available" except inasmuch as it is used by the publisher to verify age correctly.

AV systems are not "making pornography available".

The argument however runs that the BBFC could under 15 (3) (a) tell websites what kind of AV systems with which privacy standards they can use.

If the BBFC sought to regulate providers of age verification systems via this means, we could expect them to be subject to legal challenge for exceeding their powers. It may seem unfair to a court for the BBFC to start imposing new privacy and security requirements on AV providers or website publishers that are not spelled out and when they are subject to separate legal regimes such as data protection and e-privacy.

This clause does not provide the BBFC with enough power to guarantee a high standard of privacy for end users, as any potential requirements are undefined. The bill should spell out what the standards are, in order to meet an 'accordance with the law' test for intrusions on the fundamental right to privacy.

The second fig leaf towards privacy is the draft standard for age verification technologies drafted by the Digital Policy Alliance. This is being edited by the British Standards Institution, as PAS 1296 . It has been touted as the means by which commercial outlets will produce a workable system.

The government may believe that PAS 1296 could, via Clause 15 (3) (a), be stipulated as a standard that Age Verifcation providers abide by in order to supply publishers, thereby giving a higher standard of protection than data protection law alone.

PAS 1296 provides general guidance and has no means of strong enforcement towards companies that adopt it. It is a soft design guide that provides broad principles to adopt when producing these systems.

Contrast this, for instance, with the hard and fast contractual arrangements the government's Verify system has in place with its providers, alongside firmly specified protocols. Or card payment processors, who must abide by strict terms and conditions set by the card companies, where bad actors rapidly get switched off.

The result is that PAS 1296 says little about security requirements , data protection standards, or anything else we are concerned about. It stipulates that the age verification systems cannot be sued for losing your data. Rather, you must sue the website owner, i.e. the porn site which contracted with the age verifier.

There are also several terminological gaffes such as referring to PII (personally identifying information) which is a US legal concept, rather than EU and UK's 'personal data'; this suggests that PAS 1296 is very much a draft, in fact appears to have been hastily cobbled-together

However you look at it, the proposed PAS 1296 standard is very generic, lacks meaningful enforcement and is designed to tackle situations where the user has some control and choice, and can provide meaningful consent. This is not the case with this duty for pornographic publishers. Users have no choice but to use age verification to access the content, and the publishers are forced to provide such tools.

Pornography companies meanwhile have every reason to do age verification as cheaply as possible, and possibly to harvest as much user data as they can, to track and profile users, especially where that data may in future, at the slip of a switch, be used for other purposes such as advertising-tracking. This combination of poor incentives has plenty of potential for disastrous consequences.

What is needed is clear, spelt out, legally binding duties for the regulator to provide security, privacy and anonymity protections for end users. To be clear, the AV Regulator, or BBFC, does not need to be the organisation that enforces these standards. There are powers in the Bill for it to delegate the regulator's responsbilties. But we have a very dangerous situation if these duties do not exist.



19th October

 Update: A database of the UK's porn habits. What could possibly go wrong?...

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The Government wants people who view pornography to show that they are over 18, via Age Verification systems. by Jim Killock of Open Rights Group
Link Here  full story: David Cameron's Internet Porn Ban...Attempting to ban everything on the internet

open rights group 2016 logo The Government wants people who view pornography to show that they are over 18, via Age Verification systems. This is aimed at reducing the likelihood of children accessing inappropriate content.

To this end the Digital Economy Bill creates a regulator that will seek to ensure that adult content websites will verify the age of users, or face monetary penalties, or in the case of overseas sites, ask payment providers such as VISA to refuse to process UK payments for non-compliant providers.

There are obvious problems with this, which we detail elsewhere .

However, the worst risks are worth going into in some detail, not least from the perspective of the Bill Committee who want the Age Verification system to succeed.

As David Austen, from the BBFC, who will likely become the Age Verification Regulator said :

Privacy is one of the most important things to get right in relation to this regime. As a regulator, we are not interested in identity at all. The only thing that we are interested in is age, and the only thing that a porn website should be interested in is age. The simple question that should be returned to the pornographic website or app is, "Is this person 18 or over?" The answer should be either yes or no. No other personal details are necessary.

However, the Age Verification Regulator has no duties in relation to the Age Verification systems. They will make sites verify age, or issue penalties, but they are given no duty to protect people's privacy, security or defend against cyber security risks that may emerge from the Age Verification systems themselves.

David Austen's expectations are unfortunately entirely out of his hands.

Instead, the government appears to assume that Data Protection law will be adequate to deal with the privacy and security risks. Meanwhile, the market will provide the tools.

The market has a plethora of possible means to solve this problem. Some involve vast data trawls through Facebook and social media. Others plan to link people's identity across web services and will provide way to profile people's porn viewing habits. Still others attempt to piggyback upon payment providers and risk confusing their defences against fraud. Many appear to encourage people to submit sensitive information to services that the users, and the regulator, will have little or no understanding of.

And yet with all the risks that these solutions pose, all of these solutions may be entirely data protection compliant. This is because data protection allows people to share pretty much whatever they agree to share, on the basis that they are free to make agreements with whoever they wish, by providing 'consent'.

In other words: Data protection law is simply not designed to govern situations where the user is forced to agree to the use of highly intrusive tools against themselves.

What makes this proposal more dangerous is that the incentives for the industry are poor and lead in the wrong direction. They have no desire for large costs, but would benefit vastly from acquiring user data.

If the government wants to have Age Verification in place, it must mandate a system that increases the privacy and safety of end users, since the users will be compelled to use Age Verification tools. Also, any and all Age Verification solutions must not make Britain's cybersecurity worse overall, e.g. by building databases of the nation's porn-surfing habits which might later appear on Wikileaks.

The Digital Economy Bill's impact on privacy of users should, in human rights law, be properly spelled out (" in accordance with the law ") and be designed to minimise the impacts on people (necessary and proportionate). Thus failure to provide protections places the entire system under threat of potential legal challenges.

User data in these systems will be especially sensitive, being linked to private sexual preferences and potentially impacting particularly badly on sexual minorities if it goes wrong, through data breaches or simple chilling effects. This data is regarded as particularly sensitive in law.

Government, in fact has at its hands a system called Verify which could provide age-verification in a privacy friendly manner. The Government ought to be explaining why the high standards of its own Verify system are not being applied to Age Verification, or indeed, why the government is not prepared to use its own systems to minimise the impacts.

As with web filtering, there is no evidence that Age Verification will prevent an even slightly determined teenager from accessing pornography, nor reduce demand for it among young people. The Government appears to be looking for an easy fix to a complex social problem. The Internet has given young people unprecedented access to adult content but it's education rather than tech solutions that are most likely to address problems arising from this. Serious questions about the efficacy and therefore proportionality of this measure remain.

However, legislating for the Age Verification problem to be "solved" without any specific regulation for any private sector operator who wants to "help" is simply to throw the privacy of the UK's adult population to the mercy of the porn industry. With this mind, we have drafted an amendment to introduce the duties necessary to minimise the privacy impacts which could also reduce if not remove the free expression harms to adults.


12th October

 Update: It's a shitty job but someone's happy to do it...

BBFC designated as the porn censor tasked with banning everybody's free porn
Link Here

BBFC logo The BBFC has signed an agreement with the U.K. government to act as the country's new internet porn censor.

BBFC Director David Austin explained the censor's new role regulating online adult entertainment to a committee in Parliament weighing the 2016 Digital Economy Bill. Austin discussed how the BBFC will approach those sites that are found to be in contravention to U.K. law in regards to verifying that adult content can't be accessed by under 18s.

Austin said that the 2016 Digital Economy Bill now being weighed will achieve a great deal for the BBFC's new role as the age-verification enforcer. The piece of legislation, if given the OK, could impose financial penalties of up to $250,000 for noncomplying adult entertainment sites.

Austin said that the BBFC will methodically start focusing on the largest offending websites, including foreign ones, and notifying them for breaches in the U.K.'s mandatory age-verification laws. Austin said that offending sites will face a notification process that may include the filing of sanctions against sites' business partners, such as payment providers and others that supply ancillary services. Austin also mentioned that sanctioned sites could find web properties blocked by IP address and de-indexed from search engines.


12th October

  Age of censorship...

The Open Rights group has provided written evidence to parliament highlighting the serious flaws in the Digital Economy bill that will employ the BBFC to try and snuff out internet porn
Link Here
open rights group 2016 logo

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 porn:

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.

Age Verification

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.

Red the full article from

BBFC logo


British Board of Film Classification

The BBFC is an independent company tasked with UK film, video and games censorship. It is funded through classification fees.

The BBFC role is different for cinema,  home media and online.

For cinema the BBFC historically represented the interests of the film industry to ensure that film makers avoided legal issues from obscenity law etc. BBFC cinema ratings are advisory and the ultimate censorship responsibility lies with local authorities. In the vast majority of cases BBFC advice is accepted by councils. But advice has often been overruled to ban BBFC certificated films or to allow BBFC banned films.

For home video, DVD, Blu-ray and some video games, the BBFC acts as a government designated censor. BBFC decisions are enforced by law via the Video Recordings Act of 2010.

For online films the BBFC offers a voluntary scheme of reusing BBFC vide certificates for online works. The BBFC will also rate online  exclusive material if requested. Note that the Video Recordings Act does not apply online and content is only governed by the law of the land, particularly the Obscene Publications Act and Dangerous Pictures Act.

The BBFC is due to relinquish responsibility for video games in late 2011. The Video Standards Council will take over the role and ratings will be provided using Europe wide PEGI ratings and symbols.

BBFC Directors:
- John Trevelyan 1958-1971
- Stephen Murphy 1971-1975
- James Ferman 1975-1999
 - Robin Duval 1999-2004
- David Cooke 2004-present

BBFC Ratings:

-  U: Universal: Suitable for all

- PG: Parental Guidance: General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children

- 12A: Suitable for 12 years and over. No-one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. [cinema only]

- 12: Suitable for 12 years and over. No-one younger than 12 may rent or buy a 12 rated video or DVD. Responsibility for allowing under-12s to view lies with the accompanying or supervising adult.. [home media only]

- 15: No-one younger than 15 may see a 15 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 15 may rent or buy a 15 rated video or DVD.

- 18: No-one younger than 18 may see an 18 film in a cinema. No-one younger than 18 may rent or buy an 18 rated video.

- R18: To be supplied only in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years. Hardcore pornography is allowed in this category

- Rejected. The BBFC has the power to ban the sale of home media. A rejected cinema film may be shown with permission of the local authority.

Not that rejected home media is banned from sale. It is not generally illegal to possess. However criminal law makes it illegal to possess child & extreme porn.

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