Christian Concern writes a long article criticising the relaxation of UK obscenity law and concludes:
We need your help to monitor the mainstreaming of sado-masochism and extreme pornography in British society from now on. Christians have a unique calling to shed the light of the Gospel on this problem, and to provide a witness to redemption in
a society that has completely lost its way regarding sexual ethics.
The upcoming UK internet porn censorship regime being introduced later this year has set the UK authorities to thinking about a more rational set of laws governing what porn is legal and what porn is illegal in the UK. It makes a lot of sense to
get the UK stall straight before the commencement of the new censorship regime.
The most contradictory area of porn law is that often referred to as 'beyond R18 porn'. This includes material historically banned by the Crown Prosecution Service (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, as censored and approved by the BBFC.
When the age verification law first came before parliament, 'beyond R18' porn was set to be banned outright. However as some of these categories are commonplace in worldwide porn, then the BBFC would have had to block practically all the porn
websites in the world, leaving hardly any that stuck to R18 guidelines that would be acceptable for viewing after age verification. So the lawmakers dropped the prohibition, and this 'beyond R18' material will now be acceptable for viewing after
age verification. This leaves the rather clear contradiction that the likes of fisting and female ejaculation would be banned or cut by the BBFC for sale in UK sex shops, but would have to be allowed by the BBFC for viewing online.
This contradiction has now been squared by the government deciding that 'beyond R18' pornography is now legal for sale in the UK. So the BBFC will now have a unified set of rules, specified by the CPS, covering both the censorship of porn sales
in the UK and the blocking of foreign websites.
This legalisation of 'beyond R18' porn will surely disappoint a few censorial politicians in the House of Lords, notably Elspeth Howe. She has already tabled a private members bill to restore the ban on any foreign websites including 'beyond R18'
porn. Her bill has now been rendered mostly irrelevant.
However there is still one genre of pornography that is sticking out of line, and that is cartoon porn featuring under age characters. Such porn is widespread in anime but strictly banned under UK law. So given the large amounts of Japanese
Hentai porn on the most popular tube sites in the world, then those videos could still be an issue for the viability of the age classification regime and could still end up with all the major porn sites in the world banned.
The new CPS censorship rules
The new rules have already come into force, they started on 28th January 2019.
A CPS spokesperson confirmed the change saying
It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable. We do not propose to bring charges based on material that depicts consensual and legal activity between adults, where no serious harm is caused and the likely
audience is over the age of 18.
The CPS will, however, continue to robustly apply the law to anything which crosses the line into criminal conduct and serious harm.
It seems a little bit rich for the CPS to claim that It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable, when they have happily been doing exactly that for the last 30 years.
The CPS originally outlined the new rules in a public consultation that started in July 2018. The key proposals read:
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.
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?
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.
When considering whether the content of an article is "obscene", prosecutors should distinguish between:
Content relating to criminal conduct (whether non-consensual activity, or consensual activity where serious harm is caused, or otherwise inextricably linked to criminality), which is likely to be obscene;
Content relating to other non-criminal conduct, which is unlikely to be obscene, provided the audience is not young or otherwise vulnerable.
Conduct will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act provided that:
It is consensual (focusing on full and freely exercised consent, and also where the provision of consent is made clear where such consent may not be easily determined from the material itself); and
No serious harm is caused (whether physical or other, and applying the guidance above at paragraph 17); and
It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality (so as to encourage emulation or fuelling interest or normalisation of criminality); and
The likely audience is not under 18 (having particular regard to where measures have been taken to ensure that the audience is not under 18) or otherwise vulnerable (as a result of their physical or mental health, the circumstances in which
they may come to view the material, the circumstances which may cause the subject matter to have a particular impact or resonance or any other relevant circumstance).
Note that extreme pornography is considered illegal so will likely be considered obscene too. But the CPS adds a few additional notes of harmful porn that will continue to be illegal:
Publications which show or depict the infliction of serious harm may be considered to be obscene publications because they show criminal assault notwithstanding the consent of the victim. This includes dismemberment and graphic mutilation. It
includes asphyxiation causing unconsciousness, which is more than transient and trifling, and given its danger is serious.
So it seems that breath play will be allowed as long as it doesn't lead to unconsciousness. Another specific rule is that gags do not in themselves imply a lack of consent:
Non-consent for adults must be distinguished from consent to relinquish control. The presence of a gag or other forms of bondage does not, without more, suffice to confirm that sexual activity was non-consensual.
The BBFC changes its R18 rules
The BBFC has several roles, it works in an advisory role when classifying cinema films, it works as an independent and mandatory censor when classifying mainstream videos, but it works directly under government rules when censoring pornographic
films. And in this last role, it uses unpublished guidelines based on rules provided by the CPS.
The BBFC has informed BBC News that it will indeed use the updated CPS guidelines when censoring porn. The BBC explains:
The BBFC's guidelines forbid material judged to be obscene under the current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act.
A spokeswoman told the BBC: Because the Obscene Publications Act does not define what types of material are likely to be considered obscene, we rely upon guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as to what classes of material they
consider likely to be suitable for prosecution.
We are aware that the CPS have updated their guidance on Obscene Publications today and we have now adjusted our own internal policies to reflect that revised guidance.
Myles Jackman And Pandora Blake
And a thank you to two of the leading campaigners calling for the CPS to lighten up on its censorship rules.
Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, who has campaigned for these changes for a number of years, told Yahoo News UK that the change had wider implications for the law. He said:
"It is a very impressive that they've introduced the idea of full and freely exercised consent in the law.
"Even for people with no interest in pornography this is very important for consent and bodily autonomy."
Activist and queer porn filmmaker Pandora Blake, who also campaigned to have the ban on the depiction of certain sex acts overturned, called the news a 'welcome improvement'. They said:
"This is a happy day for queer, feminist and fetish porn."
Acts that were banned that can now be depicted include:
InternetMatters.org is group funded by UK internet and telecoms companies with the aim of promoting their role in internet safety.
The group has now published a survey supporting the government's upcoming introduction of age verification requirements for porn websites. The results reveal:
83% feel that commercial porn sites should demand users verify their age before they're able to access content.
76% of UK parents feel there should be greater restrictions online to stop kids seeing adult content.
69% of parents of children aged four to 16 say they're confident the government's new ID restrictions will make a difference.
However 17% disagreed with commercial porn sites requiring ID from their users. And the use of data was the biggest obstacle for those parents opposed to the plans. Of those parents who are anti-age verification, 30% said they wouldn't trust
age-verification companies with their personal data.
While 18% of parents claim they expect kids would find a way to get around age-verification and a further 13% claim they're unsure that it would actually reduce the number of children accessing pornography. Age-verification supported by experts
The India ISP Jio has upped the ante in internet porn censorship as it has decided to block the websites of VPN providers.
Following a court decision in India requiring that the country ban access to online porn, reports began to emerge in October that internet access providers had begun blocking as many as 827 adult sites.
But now the Indian telecom firm may be going a step further, thwarting attempts by users in its 250-million strong subscriber base to find workarounds to the ban using Virtual Private Network (VPN) software.
Jio appears to have blocked access to proxy sites where the VPN software can be downloaded, according to the report.
There are now signs that Reliance Jio may be suffering blowback from its enthusiastic support of the porn ban, seeing an overall drop in traffic by its users for the final quarter of 2018, with the average Jio customer dropping data use from an
average of 11 gigabytes per month to 10.8 gigs, according to a report by The Hindu newspaper.
Asked whether the drop in data use by its customers was a result of the ban on porn sites, Jio official Anshuman Thakur replied, Yes, you could say that.
Jio's new subscriber signups also dropped in the last three months of 2018, to 27.8 million new subscribers during that period, when the porn ban took effect, from 37 million in the previous quarter.
gaystarnews.com has published an article outlining the dangers of porn viewers submitting their identity data and browsing history to age verifiers and their websites. The article explains that the dangers for gay porn viewers are even mor
pronounced that for straight viewers. The artisle illustrates this with an example:
David Bridle, the publisher of Dirty Boyz , announced in October that last month's issue of the magazine would be its last. He said:
Following the Conservative government's decision ... to press ahead with new regulations forcing websites which make money from adult content to carry an age verification system ... Dirtyboyz and its website dirtyboyz.xxx have made the decision
The new age verification system will be mostly run by large adult content companies which themselves host major "Tube" style porn sites. 'It would force online readers of Dirtyboyz to publicly declare themselves.
Open Rights Group executive director, Jim Killock, told GSN the privacy of users needs protecting:
The issue with age verification systems is that they need to know it's you. This means there's a strong likelihood that it will basically track you and know what you're watching. And that's data that could be very harmful to people.
It could cause issues in relationships. Or it could see children outed to their parents. It could mean people are subjected to scams and blackmail if that data falls into criminal hands. Government response
A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told Gay Star News:
Pornographic websites and age verification services will be subject to the UK's existing high standard of data protection legislation. The Data Protection Act 2018 provides a comprehensive and modern framework for data protection, with strong
sanctions for malpractice and enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office.
But this is bollox, the likes of Facebook and Google are allowed to sell browsing data for eg targeted advertising within the remit of GDPR. And targeted advertising could be enough in itself to out porn viewers.
UK-based porn viewers seem to be filling their boots before the government's age check kicks in as traffic to xHamster rose 6% in 2018
According to xHamster's Alex Hawkins, the trend is typical of countries in which plans to block online pornography becomes national news. It seems the more you talk about it, the more people feel invested in it as a right, he said.
The government has promised a minimum of three months for industry and the public to prepare for age verification, meaning they are likely to come into force around Easter. However this is a little unfair to websites as the BBFC has not yet
established the process by which age verification services will be kitemarked and approved as promising to keep porn viewers identity and/or browsing history acceptably safe. For the moment websites do not know which services will be deemed
Countries that have restrictions already in place showed, unsurprisingly, a decline in visitors. Traffic from China fell 81% this year, which xHamster put down to the nation's ban on VPNs and $80,000 cash rewards for people who shopped sites
hosting illegal content, like porn.
Elsewhere, the report showed an increase in the number of female visitors to the site -- up 42% in the US and 12.3% worldwide -- a trend Hawkins predicted would continue into 2019.