Elspeth Howe, a member of the House of Lords, has written an article in the Telegraph outlining her case that the remit for the
BBFC to censor internet porn sites should be widened to include a wider range of material that she does not like.
This seems to tally with other recent news that the CPS is reconsidering its views on what pornographic content should be banned from publication in Britain.
Surely these debates are related to the detailed guidelines to be used by the BBFC when either banning porn sites, or else requiring them to implement strict age verification for users. It probably explains why the Telegraph recently reported that
the publication of the final guidelines has been delayed until at least the autumn.
Categories of Porn
For clarity the categories of porn being discussed are as follows:
(proposal by CPS)
(proposal by Howe))
Softcore porn rated 18 under BBFC guidelines
- Will be allowed subject to strict age verification
Vanilla hardcore porn rated R18 under current BBFC guidelines
- Will be allowed subject to strict age verification
Beyond R18 hardcore porn that includes material historically banned by the CPS claiming obscenity, ie fisting, golden showers, BDSM, female ejaculation, and famously from a recent anti censorship campaign, face sitting/breath play. Such material
is currently cut from R18s.
- Such content will be allowed under the current Digital Economy Act for online porn sites
- This category is currently banned for offline sales in the UK, but the CPS has just opened a public consultation on its proposal to legalise such content, as long as it is consensual. Presumably this is related to the
government's overarching policy: What's illegal offline, is illegal online.
Extreme Porn as banned from possession in the UK under the Dangerous Pictures Act. This content covers, bestiality, necrophilia, realistic violence likely to result in serious injury, realistic rape
- This content is illegal to possess in the UK and any websites with such content will be banned by the BBFC regardless of age verification implementation
Cartoon Porn depicting under 18s
- This content is banned from possession in the UK but will be allowed online subject to age verification requirements
Photographic child porn
This is already totally illegal in the UK on all media. Any foreign websites featuring such content are probably already being blocked by ISPs using lists maintained by the IWF. The BBFC will ban anything it spots that may have slipped through
'What's illegal offline, is illegal online'
Elspeth Howe writes:
I very much welcome part three of the Digital Economy Act 2017 which requires robust age verification checks to protect children from accessing pornography. The Government deserves congratulations for bringing forward this seminal provision, due
to come into effect later this year.
The Government's achievement, however, has been sadly undermined by amendments that it introduced in the House of Lords, about which there has been precious little public debate. I very much hope that polling that I am placing in the public
domain today will facilitate a rethink.
When the Digital Economy Bill was introduced in the Lords, it proposed that legal pornography should be placed behind robust age verification checks. Not surprisingly, no accommodation for either adults or children was made for illegal
pornography, which encompasses violent pornography and child sex abuse images.
As the Bill passed through the Lords, however, pressure was put on the Government to allow adults to access violent pornography, after going through age-verification checks, which in other contexts it would be illegal to supply. In the end the
Government bowed to this pressure and introduced amendments so that only one category of illegal pornography will not be accessible by adults.
[When Howe mentions violent pornography she is talking about the Beyond R18 category, not the Extreme Porn category, which will be the one category mentioned that will not be accessible to adults].
The trouble with the idea of banning Beyond R18 pornography is that Britain is out of step with the rest of the world. This category includes content that is ubiquitous in most of the major porn websites in the world. Banning so much content would
be simply be impractical. So rather than banning all foreign porn, the government opted to remove the prohibition of Beyond R18 porn from the original bill.
Another category that has not hitherto come to attention is the category of cartoon porn that depicts under 18s. The original law that bans possession of this content seemed most concerned about material that was near photographic, and indeed may
have been processed from real photos. However the law is of most relevance in practical terms when it covers comedic Simpsons style porn, or else Japanese anime often featuring youthful, but vaguely drawn cartoon characters in sexual scenes.
Again there would be problems of practicality of banning foreign websites from carry such content. All the major tube sites seems to have a section devoted to Hentai anime porn which edges into the category.
In July 2017, Howe introduced a bill that would put Beyond R18 and Cartoon Porn back into the list of prohibited material in the Digital Economy Act. The bill is titled the Digital Economy Act 2017 (Amendment) (Definition of Extreme
Pornography) Bill and is still open, but further consideration in Parliament has stalled, presumably as the Government itself is currently addressing these issues.
The bill adds in to the list of prohibitions any content that has been refused a BBFC certificate or would be refused a certificate if it were to be submitted. This would catch both the Beyond Porn and Cartoon Porn categories.
The government is very keen on its policy mantra: What's illegal offline, is illegal online and it seems to have addressed the issue of Beyond 18 material being illegal offline but legal online. The government is proposing to relax its own
obscenity rules so that Beyond R18 material will be legalised, (with the proviso that the porn is consensual). The CPS has published a
with this proposal, and it should be ready for implementation after the consultation closes on 17th October 2018.
Interestingly Howe seems to have dropped the call to ban Beyond R18 material in her latest piece, so presumably she has accepted that Beyond R18 material will soon be classifiable by the BBFC, and so not an issue for her bill.
Still to be Addressed
That still leaves the category of Cartoon Porn to be addressed. The current Digital Economy Act renders it illegal offline, but legal online. Perhaps the Government has given Howe the nod to rationalise the situation by making banning the likes of
Hentai. Hence Howe is initiating a bit of propaganda to support her bill. She writes:
The polling that I am putting in the public domain specifically addresses the non-photographic child sex abuse images and is particularly interesting because it gauges the views of MPs whose detailed consideration of the Bill came before the
controversial Lords amendments were made.
According to the survey, which was conducted by ComRes on behalf of CARE, a massive 71% of MPs, rising to 76% of female MPs, stated that they did not believe it was right for the Digital Economy Act to make non-photographic child sex abuse images
available online to adults after age verification checks. Only 5% of MPs disagreed.
There is an opportunity to address this as part of a review in the next 18 months, but things are too serious to wait .The Government should put matters right now by adopting my very short, but very important two-clause Digital Economy Act
(Amendment) (Extreme Pornography) Bill which would restore the effect of the Government's initial prohibition of this material.
I -- along with 71 per cent of MPs -- urge the Government to take action to ensure that the UK's internet does not endorse the sexual exploitation of children.
I haven't heard of this issue being discussed before and I can't believe that anybody has much of an opinion on the matter. Presumably therefore, the survey presented out of the blue with the questions being worded in such a way as to get the
required response. Not unusual, but surely it shows that someone is making an effort to generate an issue where one didn't exists before. Perhaps an indication that Howe's solution is what the authorities have decreed will happen.
The Crown Prosecution Service has just published proposals to end obscenity prosecutions of images and videos of fisting, golden showers,
squirting and bondage.
The key proposed prosecution policy update:
When considering whether the content of an article is “obscene”, prosecutors
should distinguish between:
Content showing or realistically depicting criminal conduct (whether
non-consensual activity, or consensual activity where serious harm is
caused), which is likely to be obscene;
Content showing or realistically depicting other conduct which is lawful,
which is unlikely to be obscene.
And there is a consultation question to ask about this new policy
Question 2 Do consultees agree or disagree with the guidance that prosecutors must exercise real caution when dealing with the moral nature of acts not criminalized by law, and that the showing or realistic depiction of
sexual activity / pornography which does not constitute acts or conduct contrary to the criminal law is unlikely to be obscene?
16. The following conduct (notwithstanding previous guidance indicating otherwise) will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act:
Activity involving bodily substances (including urine, vomit, blood and faeces)
Infliction of pain / torture
Bondage / restraint
Placing objects into the urethra
Any other sexual activity not prohibited by law
It is consensual;
No serious harm is caused;
It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality; and
The likely audience is not under 18 or otherwise vulnerable.
More to follow after reading the document but the new policy seems to expand on the concept of obscenity to incorporate modern issues such as revenge porn, or non consensual publications eg upskirting.
Maybe this change of heart is related to a delay in age verification guidelines for the new BBFC internet porn censorship regime. It would seem very closely related.
The government is braced for criticism next week over an anticipated delay in its prospective curbs on under 18s' access to hardcore porn sites.
The current timetable culminating in the implementation of UK porn censorship by the end of the year required that the final censorship guidelines are presented to MPs before they go on holiday on Thursday. They will then be ready to approve them
when they return to work in the autumn. It sound like they won't be ready for publishing by this Thursday.
The BBFC noted that they were due to send the results of the public consultation along with the BBFC censorship rules to the government by late May of this year so presumably the government is still pondering what to do.
'Best practice' just like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica
Back in April when the BBFC initiated its rather naive draft rules for public consultation its prose tried to suggest that we can trust age verifiers with our most sensitive porn browsing data because they will voluntarily follow 'best practice'.
But in light of the major industry player, in this case Facebook, allowing Cambridge Analytica to so dramatically abuse our personal data, the hope that these people will follow best practice' is surely forlorn.
And there was the implementation of GDPR. The BBFC seemed to think that this was all that was needed to keep our data safe. But when t comes down to it all GDPR seems to have done is to train us, like Pavlov's dogs, to endlessly tick the consent
box for all these companies to do what the hell they like with our data.
Then there was a nice little piece of research this week that revealed that network level ISP filtering of porn has next to no impact on preventing young porn seekers from obtaining their kicks. The research notes seems to suggest that it is not
enough to block porn one lad because he has 30 mates whose house he can round to surf the web there, or else it only takes a few lads to be able to download porn and it will soon be circulated to the whole community on a memory stick or whatever.
Mass Buy in
I guess the government is finding it tough to find age verification ideas that are both convenient for adult users, whilst remaining robust about preventing access by the under 18s. I think the governments needs to find a solution that will
achieve a mass buy in by adult users. If the adults don't want to play ball with the age verification process, then the first fall back position is for them to use a VPN. I know that from my use of VPNS that they are very good, and once you turn
it on then I find it gets left on all day. I am sure millions of people using VPNs would not go down well with the security services on the trail of more serious crimes than under age porn viewing.
I think the most likely age verification method proposed to date that has a chance of a mass buy-in is the AVSecure system of anonymously buying a porn access card from a local shop, and using a PIN, perhaps typed in once a day. Then they are able
to browse without further hassle on all participating websites. But I think it would require a certain pragmatism from government to accept this idea, as it would be so open to over 18s buying a card and then selling the PIN to under 18s, or
perhaps sons nicking their Dad's PINS when they see the card lying around, (or even perhaps installing a keyboard logger to nick the password).
The government would probably like something more robust where PINS have to be matched to people's proven ID. But I think pron users would be stupid to hand over their ID to anyone on the internet who can monitor porn use. The risks are enormous,
reputational damage, blackmail, fraud etc, and in this nasty PC world, the penalty of the most trivial of moral transgressions is to lose your job or even career.
A path to failure
The government is also setting out on a path when it can do nothing but fail. The Telegraph piece mentioned above is already lambasting the government for not applying the rules to social media websites such as Twitter, that host a fair bit of
porn. The Telegraph comments:
Children will be free to watch explicit X-rated sex videos on social media sites because of a loophole in a new porn crackdown, Britain's chief censor has admitted.
David Austin, chief executive of the BBFC, has been charged by ministers with enforcing new laws that require people to prove they are over 18 to access porn sites. However, writing for telegraph.co.uk, Mr Austin admitted it would not be a silver
bullet as online porn on sites such as Facebook and YouTube would escape the age restrictions. Social media companies will not be required to carry age-verification for pornographic content on their platforms. He said it was a matter for
government to review this position.
Lap dancing clubs could be banished from council areas across Scotland under new plans being pushed forward by ministers.
A new licensing regime would hand local authorities greater powers to ban or restrict the number of sexual entertainment venues in their area.
But of course this is not enough for some strident feminist groups that have called for politicians to go further and implement an outright ban across Scotland. Violence Against Women Partnerships (VAWP) insisted the Scottish Government should
work with councils to outlaw lap-dancing clubs.
Cosla, which represents local government and lobbies on its behalf, responded to a consultation on the proposalssaying it was very difficult to see how a commitment to eradicating violence against women and girls could sit alongside the licensing
of sexual entertainment venues.
But venue operators said it was unfair and untrue to imply that lap-dancing is a form of violence against women. Brightcrew, operators of Platinum Lace in Glasgow , argued its performers are all strong, independent, talented women who choose
to work in sexual entertainment. It added:
It is a well-remunerated occupation. It is a form of performance. It provides great flexibility in terms of hours and days of work, meaning that performers can work when they like, ensuring that they can find a balance between their work and
other demands on their time, be it family, other work or studies.
The Scottish Government said it would consider the consultation responses before bringing in new rules. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: Licensing of sexual entertainment venues does not seek to ban lap dancing or strip clubs but to allow
local licensing authorities to decide what is right for their area. The Scottish Government accepts the freedom of adults to engage in legal activities and employment.
Jeremy Wright has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
He is the government minister in charge of the up 'n' coming regime to censor internet porn. He will also be responsible for several government initiatives attempting to censor social media.
He is a QC and was previously the government's Attorney General. His parliamentary career to date has not really given any pointers to his views and attitudes towards censorship.
The previous culture minister, Matt Hancock has move upwards to become minister for health. Perhaps in his new post he can continue to whinge about limiting what he considers the excessive amount of screen time being enjoyed by children.