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 UK Governments Consults on Age Checks for Porn

    Government proposes censoring porn websites that are not age verified

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16th February
2016

  The Canute Consultation...


Nice 'n' Naughty

Government consults on age verification for porn and the censorship of foreign websites that don't comply
canute consultation The Government has put porn viewers on notice that perhaps it might be wise to download a few 64 Gb memory sticks worth of free porn so that they have enough to last a lifetime. The government has launched a consultation suggesting that foreign porn websites should be blocked, censored and suffocated of funds if they don't comply with don't comply with an 18 age verification process and compliance to the discriminatory government censorship rules that ban anything slightly kinky especially if favoured for women's porn.

The tome and ideas in the consultation are very much along primitive and unviable age verification methods that has so successfully suffocated the UK porn business. In fact the consultation notes that the UK impact on the multi billion pound porn industry is insignificant and amounts to just 17 websites.

There seems little in the consultation that considers how the porn industry will evolve if it is made troublesome for adults to get verified. I suspect that there is already enough porn in existence on people's hard drives to circulate around and last several life times for everybody. Perhaps this should be known as the Canute Consultation.

Anyway, the government writes in its introduction to the consultation:

The UK is a world leader in the work it does to improve child safety online, but we cannot be complacent. Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from harm, especially the young and most vulnerable.

That is why we committed in our manifesto to requiring age verification for access to pornographic material online, and are now seeking views on how we deliver on our commitment. The Consultation Survey

Our preferred method of capturing your responses to our consultation questions is via the dedicated online survey. Please click on the link to share your views with us. Other documents

In order to base policy development on evidence, DCMS commissioned experts from across the UK to conduct a review of evidence into the routes via which children access online pornography. The report of the expert panel was formally submitted in November 2015 and provides helpful context to the issue. Please see document above.

Also published above is our regulatory triage assessment which considers the potential costs to UK businesses.

Respond online

or write to:

FAO Child Online Safety Team
4th Floor
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ

Responses are required by 12pm on 12th April 2016.

 

19th February
2016

 Offsite Article: Is this the most inane government consultation of all time...

politics co uk logoThe government's online porn consultation asks people how to implement imaginary powers to deal with an imaginary problem in order to create a regulator they scrapped 3 months ago.

See article from uk.news.yahoo.com

 

1st March
2016

 Offsite Article: British fetish film-makers are organising against censorship...

pandora blake 2016 logo30 British fetish film-makers met to discuss UK porn censorship, particularly the news that at the start of 2016 video-on-demand regulator ATVOD was shut down and re-absorbed into its parent body, Ofcom

See article from pandorablake.com

 

3rd April
2016

 Offsite Article: Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography...

sex and censorship 2016 logoSex and Censorship responds to the government consultation on the censorship of internet porn

See article from sexandcensorship.org

 

12th April
2016

 Update: Of course John Whittingdale should be free to enjoy a relationship with a dominatrix escort...

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But surely he shouldn't be denying the freedom of Brits to enjoy their own choice of adult fun
john whittingdale A little government scandal is breaking about  Culture Secretary John Whittingdale's lengthy relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort .

Of course John Whittingdale should be free to enjoy a relationship with whom he so chooses, but surely he shouldn't be denying freedoms to Brits to enjoy their own choice of adult fun.

Whittingdale's Department of Culture, Media and Sport is currently pushing through legislation to censor internet porn. (of course in the name of 'protecting the children'). Not to mention the fact that Whittingdale is on a personal crusade to bring the BBC under the control of the government propaganda department.

The department's (just closed) consultation document on proposals for internet censorship lists a number of alleged harms that have been linked to over-exposure to pornography. The DCMS states:

Many people worry that young people will come to expect their real life sexual experiences to mirror what they or their peers see in pornography, which often features ambiguous depictions of consent, submissive female stereotypes and unrealistic scenarios.

i wonder if this statement should be updated a little

Many people worry that young people will come to expect their real life sexual experiences to mirror what their MPs or peers get up to, which often features ambiguous depictions of consent, dominating female stereotypes and unrealistic scenarios.

pink news logo Comment: Anal censorship

12th April 2016. see  article from pinknews.co.uk

Pink News has also just published a critique of the Government censorship proposals,

open democracy logo Comment: How free is our press?

12th April 2016. See  article from opendemocracy.net

Britain's feral press has been mysteriously silent on a sex story involving Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, the man who decides what rules govern them and the BBC. I wonder why?

 

20th May
2016

 Commented: The Queen's Censorship Speech...


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Government puts British people on notice that they should download as much free porn as possible before it is banned

arms of the british governmentjpg logo The Queen's Speech contained the following reference to the Digital Economy Bill:

Digital Economy Bill

Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. Legislation will be introduced to make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy.

It seems a bit of a contraction that one of the main elements of the bill is designed to make the UK a world straggler in the digital economy when it comes to adult contents,

The notes reveal a little more about the internet censorship section of the bill which reads:

Protecting citizens in the digital economy

  • Protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing, and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to impose fines on those who break the rules.
  • Protection of children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.

The government notes that the bill will apply to the entire UK.

For further details about government porn censorship proposals see Consultation document [pdf] from gov.uk and the introductory page from gov.uk

Internet censorship also rears its head in:

Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill

Legislation will be introduced to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration.

In one of the clauses of the bill the government mentionsas:

We will also close loopholes so that Ofcom can continue to protect consumers who watch internet-streamed television content from outside the EU on Freeview.

The government seems to have scaled back on its widely circulated idea of allowing of Ofcom to pre-censor TV broadcasts of 'extremist' content.

Comment: Worthy...BUT...

20th May  016. See  article from openrightsgroup.org

Open Rights Group logo While preventing children from seeing pornography is a worthy aim, age verification is fraught with difficulties, if infringements of privacy and free expression are to be avoided. We will urge caution and advocate avoiding blunt instruments such as website blocking.

We are also expecting the government to introduce a law that will allow the filtering of websites without prior consent by the end of this year and will be asking whether this is going to be part of the proposed bill.

Offsite Comment: No one can stop teenagers from watching porn -- not even David Cameron

The Independent 20th May   2016. See  article from  strangethingsarehappening.com

The Government will require viewers to verify their age, but for teenagers where there is a will, there is a way

 

23rd May
2016

 Offsite Article: Obscenely out of date definitions...

bbfc 100 years of censorshipResponse to the Government consultation on Child Safety Online: Problems with the existing classification system. By Pandora Blake

See article from pandorablake.com

 

25th May
2016

 Offsite Article: Age verification: Credit cards, classism and social exclusion...

why wouldA response to government plans to try and ban internet porn. By Pandora Blake

See article from pandorablake.com

 

6th July
2016

 Update: You have 9 months to amass a collection of free porn before the government bans it...

UK Government sets out new law to create an internet porn censor

Result of Government Consultation

child safety onlineThe Government has published a document summarising responses to its proposals to mandate restrictive age validation requirements for porn websites. 48% of responses opposed the proposals whilst 44% agreed with the proposals. However the government made clear that they will proceed with the proposed censorship law. The consultation document reads:

It is clear from our analysis of the consultation responses that this is an issue which tends to polarise opinion, with strongly held views on either side. Overall, there was a roughly even split between those supporting age verification (44%) and those not in favour (48%). Responses from individuals made up the vast majority of those which were submitted via our online questionnaire (94%). Over half of the individuals were men, the majority of whom were between 18 and 34 years old.

Crucially, however, many of the key organisations we work with in the online child protection sphere children's charities, support and advice groups, the BBFC, internet service providers, and payment service firms and credit card companies indicated their support for the proposals, and the overriding policy goal of protecting children online.

Over a quarter (26%) of the individuals who responded indicated that they are parents or carers, and 23% of individuals said that they work with children (in the education and health sectors, working in or with churches, in voluntary roles, mentoring, and as researchers). In both groups, a majority supported the Government's approach.

Notably, pornography providers who responded to the consultation also stated their support for the protection of children online, and (with caveats) the introduction of age verification controls to protect children from content which is not appropriate for them.

As was set out in our consultation, the Government's preferred approach to delivering this commitment is to establish a new law, requiring age verification (AV) controls for online pornography this was the manifesto commitment, and following consideration of the consultation responses, remains the Government's intention.

To underpin this, we will also establish a new regulatory framework, and we will ensure a proportionate approach by enabling the regulator to act in a sufficiently flexible and targeted way.

Following analysis of the responses to the consultation, Government will now take several next steps. We will:

  1. Bring forward legislation, in the Digital Economy Bill, to establish a new law requiring age verification for commercial pornographic websites and applications containing still and moving images, and a new regulatory framework to underpin it

  2. Continue to work with payments firms and ancillary companies to ensure that the business models and profits of companies that do not comply with the new regulations can be undermined

  3. Maintain ongoing engagement with pornography providers, age verification providers, and other parts of the industry, to ensure that the regulatory framework is targeted and proportionate, to achieve maximum impact and to enable compliance

  4. Continue to work on broader internet safety issues, including work led by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), and raising awareness and resilience

Digital Economy Bill

See Digital Economy Bill progress page from services.parliament.uk
See Digital Economy Bill [pdf] from publications.parliament.uk

House of Commons logoAnd indeed the new censorship law is included in the Digital Economy Bill introduced on 5th July 2016. Section 3 outlines the setting up of an internet porn censor and the remainder sets out website censorship options and financial penalties for contravening websites, their payment providers and advertisers.

The government is planning on passing the bill into law in spring 2017.

Section 3

  • 15 Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18
  • 16 Meaning of pornographic material
  • 17 The age-verification regulator: designation and funding
  • 18 Parliamentary procedure for designation of age-verification regulator
  • 19 Age-verification regulator's power to require information
  • 20 Enforcement of sections 15 and 19
  • 21 Financial penalties
  • 22 Age-verification regulator's power to give notice of contravention to payment service providers and ancillary service providers
  • 23 Exercise of functions by the age-verification regulator
  • 24 Requirements for notices given by regulator under this
  • 25 Interpretation of this Part

 

4th August
2016

 Offsite Article: The Tory government’s war on porn is doomed to fail, and here’s why...

ars technica logoToo much porn is in circulation and there are too many options to receive it. From Ars Technica

See article from arstechnica.co.uk

 

28th October
2016

 Update: Censorship creeps...

Open Rights Group reports on the clamour of MPs, notably Claire Perry, to add website blocking into the measures against adult websites that do not implement age verification
House of Commons logoThe current wording of the Digital Economy Bill punishes foreign adult websites who do not implement age verification by suffocating them from payments and advertising. It does not at the moment facilitate such websites by being blocked by ISPs. Open Rights Group reports on a clamour by censorial MPs to table amendment to give powers to block non-complying websites. I suspect that in reality the security services would not be very appreciative as maybe massive use of VPNs and the like would hinder surveillance of criminals and terrorists. The Open Rights Group reports:

Now we want censorship: porn controls in the Digital Economy Bill are running out of control

The government's proposal for age verification to access pornography is running out of control. MPs have worked out that attempts to verify adult's ages won't stop children from accessing other pornographic websites: so their proposed answer is to start censoring these websites.

That's right: in order to make age verification technologies "work", some MPs want to block completely legal content from access by every UK citizen . It would have a massive impact on the free expression of adults across the UK. The impact for sexual minorities would be particularly severe.

This only serves to illustrate the problems with the AV proposal. Age verification was always likely to be accompanied by calls to block "non-compliant" overseas websites, and also to be extended to more and more categories of "unsuitable" material.

We have to draw a line. Child protection is very important, but let's try to place this policy in some context:

  • 70% of UK households have no children

  • Take up of ISP filters is around 10-30% depending on ISP, so roughly in line with expectations and already restricting content in the majority of households with children (other measures may be restricting access in other cases).

  • Most adults access pornography , including a large proportion of women.

     

  • Less that 3% of children aged 9-12 are believed to have accessed inappropriate material

  • Pornography can and will be circulated by young people by email, portable media and private messaging systems

  • The most effective protective measures are likely to be to help young people understand and regulate their own behaviour through education, which the government refuses to make compulsory

MPs have to ask whether infringing on the right of the entire UK population to receive and impart legal material is a proportionate and effective response to the challenges they wish to address.

Censorship is an extreme response, that should be reserved for the very worst, most harmful kinds of unlawful material: it impacts not just the publisher, but the reader. Yet this is supposed to be a punishment targeted at the publishers, in order to persuade the sites to "comply".

If website blocking was to be rolled out to enforce AV compliance, then the regulator would be forced to consider whether to block a handful of websites, and fail to "resolve" the accessibility of pornography, or else to try to censor thousands of websites, with the attendant administrative burden and increasing likelihood of errors.

You may ask: how likely is this to become law? Right now, Labour seem to be considering this approach as quite reasonable. If Labour did support these motions in a vote, together with a number of Conservative rebels, this amendment could easily be added to the Bill.

Another area where the Digital Economy Bill is running out of control is the measures to target services who "help" pornography publishers. The Bill tries to give duties to "ancillary services" such as card payment providers or advertising networks, to stop the services from making money from UK customers. However, the term is vague. They are defined as someone who:

provide[s], in the course of a business, services which enable or facilitate the making available of pornographic material or prohibited material on the internet by the [publisher]

Ancillary services could include website hosts, search engines, DNS services, web designers, hosted script libraries, furniture suppliers ... this needs restriction just for the sake of some basic legal certainty.

Further problems are arising for services including Twitter, who operate on the assumption that adults can use them to circulate whatever they like, including pornography. It is unclear if or when they might be caught by the provisions. They are also potentially "ancillary providers" who could be forced to stop "supplying" their service to pornographers to UK customers. They might therefore be forced to block adult content accounts to UK adults, with or without age verification.

The underlying problem starts with the strategy to control access to widely used and legal content through legislative measures. This is not a sane way to proceed. It has and will lead to further calls for control and censorship as the first steps fail. More calls to "fix" the holes proceed, and the UK ends up on a ratchet of increasing control. Nothing quite works, so more fixes are needed. The measures get increasingly disproportionate.

Website blocking needs to be opposed, and kept out of the Bill.

 

29th October
2016

 Offsite Article: Swapping memory sticks don't require age verification...

SanDisk SDCZ50 Cruzer Blade FlashThere's enough porn already knocking around n people's hard drives to last a life time. By Glyn Moody

See article from arstechnica.co.uk

 

6th November
2016

 Update: The Usual Suspects...

MPs propose another amendment to force ISPs to block porn sites for everybody
House of Commons logoA group of MPs have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would force pornography websites to be blocked by ISPs if they fail to verify the age of their users.

This is the second time such amendments have been suggested. The MPs involved are Claire Perry, David Burrowes, Fiona Bruce, Derek Thomas, Jeremy Lefroy, Caroline Ansell, Heidi Allen, Andrew Selous, Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller, Fiona Mactaggart.

Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock said:

Perhaps these MPs have realised that plans to make all adult websites apply age verification are unworkable as foreign porn sites may simply not comply. They are now suggesting that websites who don't comply should be blocked -- even though their content is perfectly legal.

While child protection is important, this proposal is disproportionate. Censorship of this kind should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.

We are talking about potentially thousands of websites with legal material being censored, something that is unprecedented in the developed world.

The Digital Economy Bill has proposed that all pornography websites should be forced to verify the age of their users. This has sparked concerns that the privacy of adults could be violated. It is not yet clear how age verification will be implemented but it could lead to the collection of data on everyone who visits a porn website. This kind of information could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style data breaches.

The Open Rights Group further commented:

open rights group 2016 logoThe amendment has been tabled because MPs understand that age verification cannot be imposed upon the entire mostly US-based pornographic industry by the UK alone. In the USA, age verification has been seen by the courts as an infringement on the right of individuals to receive and impart information. This is unlikely to change, so use of age verification technologies will be limited at best.

However, the attempt to punish websites by blocking them is also a punishment inflicted on the visitors to these websites. Blocking them is a form of censorship, it is an attempt to restrict access to them for everyone. When material is restricted in this way, it needs to be done for reasons that are both necessary for the goal, and proportionate to the aim. It has to be effective in order to be proportionate.

The goal is to protect children, although the level of harm has not been established. According to OfCom: More than nine in ten parents in 2015 said they mediated their child's use of the internet in some way, with 96% of parents of 3-4s and 94% of parents of 5-15s using a combination of: regularly talking to their children about managing online risks, using technical tools, supervising their child, and using rules or restrictions. (1)

70% of households have no children. These factors make the necessity and proportionality of both age verification and censorship quite difficult to establish. This issue affects 30% of households who can choose to apply filters and use other strategies to keep their children safe online.

It is worth remembering also that the NSPCC and others tend to accept that teenagers are likely to continue to access pornography despite these measures. They focus their concerns on 9-12 years olds coming across inappropriate material, despite a lack of evidence that there is any volume of these incidents, or that harm has resulted. While it is very important to ensure that 9-12 year olds are safe online, it seems more practical to focus attention directly on their online environment, for instance through filters and parental intervention, than attempting to make the entire UK Internet conform to standards that are acceptable for this age group.

That MPs are resorting to proposals for website blocking tells us that the age verification proposals themselves are flawed. MPs should be asking about the costs and privacy impacts, and why such a lack of thought has gone into this. Finally, they should be asking what they can do to help children through practical education and discussion of the issues surrounding pornography, which will not go away, with or without attempts to restrict access.

 

7th November
2016

 Update: Painful, dangerous and causing long standing damage...

MPs line up to propose silly censorial amendments to the Digital Economy Bill
thangam debbonaireThangam Debbonaire, a Labour MP from Bristol proposed a ludicrous amendment to the Digital Economy Bill suggesting that online distributors of porn should be jailed if they were aware, or should have been aware of anybody being coerced in its production. She also suggested prison time for distributors of films which depict people being forced to perform painful and dangerous acts.

She told the Bristol Post that evidence showed that some people in the adult film industry were forced to do things that were painful, dangerous and causing long standing damage . Others were being sold into the trade, she claimed.

She acknowledged that there were already laws in place which drew a clear line that having sex with someone trafficked or coerced was unacceptable . I believe this now needs to be applied to pornography, Debbonaire said. She also asked whether it was time to set-up a censor so that viewers can be sure that they are not watching a sexual assault taking place on screen.

Culture Minister Matthew Hancock replied to the MP, patronisingly 'praising' her powerful and passionate speech . He said that, while he entirely supported the thrust of the argument , but he believed her suggestion fell into technical difficulties .

Hancock said many of the restrictions being called for by Debbonaire were covered, or even taken further, by existing legislation , especially the Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced last year. He also said it could be difficult to prove whether a distributor of online porn knew that someone who featured in one of their films had been trafficked. Hancock added:

I'm concerned that the offence could be difficult to prosecute.

To show that someone 'knew or should have known' that someone had been exploited could be difficult. It could be quite a tenuous link between those people [the distributor] and the people responsible for the trafficking themselves.

Debbonaire withdrew the amendment. She told the Post she wanted to highlight the issue of coercion to those who watch pornography.

What I really want is for the men, and some women, that consume porn to stop and think, what is it that I'm watching? I want people to start thinking and asking questions like, is there a safe way to be involved in the production of porn?

 

15th November
2016

 Petition: Stop UK censorship of legal content...

ORG petition against the censorship of online adult porn

org censoredIn the Digital Economy Bill, the Government wants erotica and pornography websites to make sure their users are over 18. This could threaten our privacy by collecting data on everyone in the UK who visits erotica and pornography sites. Making sure all porn sites go along with it is unworkable. So a group of MPs want Internet Service Providers to block websites that don't comply. Sign our petition to say no to censorship of legal content.

MPs are putting pressure on the Government to add measures to the Bill that would force Internet Service Providers to block erotica and pornography websites that don't verify the age of their users.

This equates to censorship of legal content - potentially affecting tens of thousands of websites and millions of people.

Blocking websites is a disproportionate, technical response to a complex, social issue. The UK's children need education, not censorship, to keep them safe.

Sign the petition from openrightsgroup.org

 

19th November
2016

 Update: Quick, buy shares in VPNs, there will soon be a massive new uptake...

UK government decides that it will censor nearly all internet porn

karen bradleyBritain's minister of censorship culture has said that the government will move block the vast majority of internet porn, both domestic and foreign.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley threatened:

We made a promise to keep children safe from harmful pornographic content online and that is exactly what we are doing. Only adults should be allowed to view such content and we have appointed a regulator, BBFC, to make sure the right age checks are in place to make that happen. If sites refuse to comply, they should be blocked.

In fulfilling this manifesto commitment and working closely with people like (MPs) Claire Perry and Kit Malthouse who have worked tirelessly on internet safety issues, we are protecting children from the consequences of harmful content.

The powers will be brought forward in amendments to the Digital Economy Bill later this month.

Porn websites will be allowed to stay open if they adopt onerous age validation but as yet no one has come up with a solution that is accurate, cheap, convenient and secure enough to be viable.  The only currently acceptable method is to allow porn only to those willing to pay with credit cards, (debit cards not allowed). Not only do you have to go through the hassle of filling in credit card details, you have to trust potentially dodgy foreign websites with your ID information, you have to pay before being able to see what is on offer. Needless to say, the UK adult online trade that has been subjected to this suffocating censorship regime have been forced to either go bankrupt or go abroad.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), will be given powers to make ISPs censor porn sites which do not put age checks in place to make them inaccessible to children.

On a slightly more positive note The BBFC said any verification mechanism must provide assurances around data protection and it would consider those that already exist and ones currently being developed. It is understood the government is working with the BBFC to determine the best mechanism that confirms eligibility rather than identifying the user.

 

22nd November
2016

 Update: Your database entry: Verified Porn User...

The Digital Economy Bill is primarily reprehensible for introducing mass internet censorship, but don't forget it also enables the rapid sharing of government databases to more or less any official who makes a request

open rights group 2016 logoSo what is wrong with the Digital Economy Bill?
 
Well, Part 5 of the Bill will fundamentally change the way our personal information is handled, shared and controlled whenever we hand it over to government. 
 
That means that whenever we file a tax return, apply for a driving licence, register a birth, death or marriage, apply for benefits or deal with a council, court or other public authority, all of the data we share, we will have no control of.

Because if Part 5 of the Bill becomes law:

  • As soon as you share anything with the government, you will be blocked from having any further control over how your personal information and sensitive data is shared around government, with councils, other government bodies and business. 

  • You will not be allowed to change your data if there is a mistake or error.

  • You will not be asked permission or informed if an official shares, uses or looks at your data.

  • You will not be allowed to opt out of your data being shared.

  • Your birth, death, marriage and civil registration documents will be shared in bulk without your consent.

Data sharing is a fact of life and a great deal of good can come from the sharing of data, but as soon as our data is digitised it is insecure and open to exploitation.
 
We see this every time we read of a big company suffering a data breach or data hack. And government aren't immune, in 2014/15 government experienced 9,000 data breaches possibly down to poor data sharing practice, certainly down to not understanding data protection laws.
 
Our data is us -- it is who we are, what we do, how we live and who we know. If we don't know where it is going, who it is shared with, why it is used and what we can do to control access to it, the future of all our personal information is at risk.

If you are worried please write to your MP this week and tell them, because without challenge this Bill will pass and control of our personal information will be lost to Government forever.

See how to help at bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

 

26th November
2016

 Offsite Video: For those that hold the opinion that Britain is bastion of Western liberal values...

the britisher on porn videoPorn Censorship in Britain 2016: The Digital Economy Bill. By the Britisher

See video from YouTube

 

27th November
2016

 Offsite Article: What the New British Porn Bill Means for You...

vice logoThe BBFC is famous for enforcing bizarre notions about what can be depicted in film, based on outdated laws surrounding obscenity

See article from vice.com

 

28th November
2016

 Offsite Article: Prurient digital economy bill is blind to harm it will cause...

national villainsIn placing the BBFC as official guardians of morality, alternative depictions of sexuality such as that by the growing feminist pornography movement and the BDSM community are threatened. By Vonny Moyes

See article from thenational.scot

 

29th November
2016

 Update: Lib Dems to oppose internet censorship...

A rare occurrence these days, politicians that are standing up for the rights of the people
Lib Dems logoThe Liberal Democrats are to oppose plans to censor internet porn sites in the name of 'protecting the children'. Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, said:

Liberal Democrats will do everything possible to ensure that our privacy is not further eroded by this Tory government.

Clamping down on perfectly legal material is something we would expect from the Russian or Chinese governments, not our own. Of course the internet cannot be an ungoverned space, but banning legal material for consenting adults is not the right approach.

The Internet Service Provider Association has also said moves to force providers to block adult sites that do not age verify has the potential to significantly harm the digital economy . ISPA chair James Blessing said:

The Digital Economy Bill is all about ensuing the UK continues to be a digital world leader, including in relation to internet safety. This is why ISPA supported the government's original age verification policy for addressing the problem of underage access of adult sites at source.

Instead of rushing through this significant policy change, we are calling on government to pause and have a substantive discussion on how any legal and regulatory change will impact the UK's dynamic digital economy and the expectations and rights of UK Internet users.

 

5th December
2016

 Comment: Porn is not conveniently organised in easy to block packages...

The politician behind Britain's porn censorship now thinks it might not even work. By Rob Price

business insider logoIt was Conservative MP and former minister John Whittingdale who introduced the bill. But now, the BBC is reporting that he's worried it might not actually work. He told Parliament:

One of the main ways in which young people are now exposed to pornography is through social media such as Twitter, and I do not really see that the bill will do anything to stop that happening.

This gets neatly at a key problem with the porn filter: The internet is not neatly divided into pornography and non-pornography. As I wrote last week , it's technically simple to block dedicated fetish websites. But plenty of sites mix porn with non-pornographic content, or include both conventional and non-conventional material -- raising serious questions as to how the filter could ever work in practice.

...Read the full  article from businessinsider.com

 

12th December
2016

 Offsite Article: Just How Risky Face-Sitting and Fisting Are...

vice logoVice investigates if there is any harm in sexual practices considered somehow 'obscene' by the British authorities

See article from vice.com

 

15th December
2016

 Update: The Censored Digital Economy...

Lords 2nd Reading debate of age verification and censorship for worldwide porn websites
house of lords red logoThe Lords had their first debate on the Digital Economy Bill which includes laws to require age verification as well as extension of out dated police and BBFC censorship rules to the internet.

Lords inevitable queued up to support the age verification requirements. However a couple of the lords made cautionary remarks about the privacy issues of websites being able to build up dangerous database of personal ID information of porn users.

A couple of lords also spoke our against the BBFC/police/government censorship prohibitions being included in the bill. It was noted that these rules are outdated, disproportionate and perhaps requires further debate in another bill.

As an example of these points, the Earl of Erroll (cross bencher) said:

My Lords, I welcome the Bill because it has some very useful stuff in it -- but, like everything else, it might benefit from some tweaking. Many other speakers mentioned the tweaks that need to be made, and if that happens I think that we may end up with quite a good Bill.

I will concentrate on age verification because I have been working on this issue with a group for about a year and three-quarters. We spotted that its profile was going to be raised because so many people were worried about it. We were the first group to bring together the people who run adult content websites -- porn websites -- with those who want to protect children. The interesting thing to come out quite quickly from the meetings was that, believe it or not, the people who run porn sites are not interested in corrupting children because they want to make money. What they want are adult, middle-aged people, with credit cards from whom they can extract money, preferably on a subscription basis or whatever. The stuff that children are getting access to is what are called teaser adverts. They are designed to draw people in to the harder stuff inside, you might say. The providers would be delighted to offer age verification right up front so long as all the others have to comply as well -- otherwise they will get all the traffic. Children use up bandwidth. It costs the providers money and wastes their time, so they are very happy to go along with it. They will even help police it, for the simple reason that it will block the opposition. It is one of the few times I approve of the larger companies getting a competitive advantage in helping to police the smaller sites that try not to comply.

One of the things that became apparent early on was that we will not be able to do anything about foreign sites. They will not answer mail or do anything, so blocking is probably the only thing that will work. We are delighted that the Government has gone for that at this stage. Things need to get blocked fast or sites will get around it. So it is a case of block first, appeal later, and we will need a simple appeals system. I am sure that the BBFC will do a fine job, but we need something just in case.

Another thing that came back from the ISPs is that they want more clarity about what should be blocked, how it will be done and what they will have to do. There also needs to be indemnity. When the ISPs block something for intellectual property and copyright reasons, they are indemnified. They would need to have it for this as well, or there will be a great deal of reluctance, which will cause problems.

The next thing that came up was censorship. The whole point of this is we want to enforce online what is already illegal offline. We are not trying to increase censorship or censor new material. If it illegal offline, it should be illegal online and we should be able to do something about it. This is about children viewing adult material and pornography online. I am afraid this is where I slightly disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. We should decide what should be blocked elsewhere; we should not use the Bill to block other content that adults probably should not be watching either. It is a separate issue. The Bill is about protecting children. The challenge is that the Obscene Publications Act has some definitions and there is ATVOD stuff as well. They are supposed to be involved with time. CPS guidelines are out of step with current case law as a result of one of the quite recent cases -- so there is a bit of a mess that needs clearing up. This is not the Bill to do it. We probably need to address it quite soon and keep the pressure on; that is the next step. But this Bill is about keeping children away from such material.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a very good point about social platforms. They are commercial. There are loopholes that will get exploited. It is probably unrealistic to block the whole of Twitter -- it would make us look like idiots. On the other hand, there are other things we can do. This brings me to the point that other noble Lords made about ancillary service complaints. If we start to make the payment service providers comply and help, they will make it less easy for those sites to make money. They will not be able to do certain things. I do not know what enforcement is possible. All these sites have to sign up to terms and conditions. Big retail websites such as Amazon sell films that would certainly come under this category. They should put an age check in front of the webpage. It is not difficult to do; they could easily comply.

We will probably need an enforcer as well. The BBFC is happy to be a regulator, and I think it is also happy to inform ISPs which sites should be blocked, but other enforcement stuff might need to be done. There is provision for it in the Bill. The Government may need to start looking for an enforcer.

Another point that has come up is about anonymity and privacy, which is paramount. Imagine the fallout if some hacker found a list of senior politicians who had had to go through an age-verification process on one of these websites, which would mean they had accessed them. They could bring down the Government or the Opposition overnight. Noble Lords could all go to the MindGeek website and look at the statistics, where there is a breakdown of which age groups and genders are accessing these websites. I have not dared to do so because it will show I have been to that website, which I am sure would show up somewhere on one of these investigatory powers web searches and could be dangerous.

One of the things the Digital Policy Alliance, which I chair, has done is sponsor a public available specification, which the BSI is behind as well. There is a lot privacy-enforcing stuff in that. It is not totally obvious; it is not finished yet, and it is being highlighted a bit more. One thing we came up with is that websites should not store the identity of the people whom they age-check. In fact, in most cases, they will bounce straight off the website and be sent to someone called an attribute provider, who will check the age. They will probably know who the person is, but they will send back to the website only an encrypted token which says, We've checked this person that you sent to us. Store this token. This person is over 18 -- or under 18, or whatever age they have asked to be confirmed. On their side, they will just keep a record of the token but will not say to which website they have issued it -- they will not store that, either. The link is the token, so if a regulator or social service had to track it down, they could physically take the token from the porn site to where it came from, the attribute provider, and say, Can you check this person's really over 18, because we think someone breached the security? What went wrong with your procedures? They can then reverse it and find out who the person was -- but they could still perhaps not be told by the regulator which site it was. So there should be a security cut-out in there. A lot of work went into this because we all knew the danger.

This is where I agree entirely with the Open Rights Group, which thinks that such a measure should be mandated. Although the publicly available specification, which is almost like a British standard, says that privacy should be mandated under general data protection regulation out of Europe, which we all subscribe to, I am not sure that that is enough. It is a guideline at the end of the day and it depends on how much emphasis the BBFC decides to put on it. I am not sure that we should not just put something in the Bill to mandate that a website cannot keep a person's identity. If the person after they have proved that they are 18 then decides to subscribe to the website freely and to give it credit card details and stuff like that, that is a different problem -- I am not worried about that. That is something else. That should be kept extremely securely and I personally would not give my ID to such a site -- but at the age verification end, it must be private.

There are some other funny things behind the scenes that I have been briefed on, such as the EU VAT reporting requirements under the VAT Mini One Stop Shop, which requires sites to keep some information which might make a person identifiable. That could apply if someone was using one of the attribute providers that uses a credit card to provide that check or if the website itself was doing that. There may be some things that people will have to be careful of. There are some perfectly good age-checking providers out there who can do it without you having to give your details. So it is a good idea; I think that it will help. Let us then worry about the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made so well about what goes where.

The universal service obligation should be territorial; it has to cover the country and not just everyone's homes. With the internet of things coming along -- which I am also involved in because I am chair of the Hypercat Alliance, which is about resource discovery over the internet of things -- one of the big problems is that we are going to need it everywhere: to do traffic monitoring, people flows and all the useful things we need. We cannot have little not-spots, or the Government will not be able to get the information on which to run all sorts of helpful control systems. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, referred to mast sharing. The problem with it is that they then do not put masts in the not-spots; they just keep the money and work off just one mast -- you still get the not-spots. If someone shares a mast, they should be forced a mast somewhere else, which they then share as well.

On broadband take-up, people say, Oh, well, people aren't asking for it . It is chicken and egg: until it is there, you do not know what it is good for. Once it is there and suddenly it is all useful, the applications will flow. We have to look to the future; we have to have some vision. Let us get chicken or the egg out there and the chicken will follow -- I cannot remember which way round it is.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, that the problem with Openreach is that it will always be controlled by its holding company, which takes the investment, redirects it and decides where the money goes. That is the challenge with having it overseeing.

I do not want waste much time, because I know that it is getting late-ish. On jobs, a huge number of jobs were created in earlier days in installing and maintaining internet of things sensors all over the place -- that will change. On the gigabit stuff, it will save travel, energy and all sorts of things -- we might even do remote-control hip operations, so you send the device and the surgeon then does it remotely, once we get super-duper superfast broadband.

I want to say one thing about IP. The Open Rights Group raised having thresholds of seriousness. It is quite important that we do not start prosecuting people on charges with 10-year sentences for trivial things. But it is also sad how interesting documentaries can disappear terribly quickly. The catch-up services cover only a month or so and if you are interested, it is quite nice being able to find these things out there on the internet a year or two later. There should somehow be a publicly available archive for all the people who produce interesting documentaries. I do not know whether they should make a small charge for it, but it should be out there.

The Open Rights Group also highlighted the bulk sharing of data. Some of the stuff will be very useful -- the briefing on free school meals is interesting -- but if you are the only person who really knows what might be leaked, it is very dangerous. If someone were to beat you up, an ordinary register could leak your address across without realising that at that point you are about to go into witness protection. There can be lots of problems with bulk data sharing, so be careful; that is why the insurance database was killed off a few years ago. Apart from that, I thank your Lordships for listening and say that, in general, this is a good effort.?

 

16th December
2016

 Offsite Article: Censor's Charter...

open rights group 2016 logoOpen Rights Group summarises the current state of play revealing how porn sites will be blocked for UK internet users

See article from openrightsgroup.org

 

23rd December
2016

 Update: Crap law in the making...

Open Rights Group demolishes government's internet censorship tweak to catch porn carrying Twitter and Reddit

open rights group 2016 logoIs the government misleading the Lords about blocking Twitter?

Last week we reported that the UK government expect the BBFC to ask social media providers, such as Twitter, to block the use of their service by accounts that are associated with porn sites that fail to verify the age of their users.

The Bill is even worse than we illustrated. The definition of a "pornographic website" in Clause 15 (2) is purely a site that operates on a "commercial basis". This could catch any site--including Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr--where pornography can be found. The practical limit would therefore purely be down to the discretion of the regulator, the BBFC, as to the kind of commercial sites they wanted to force to use Age Verification. However, the BBFC does not seem to want to require Twitter or Reddit to apply age verification--at least, not yet.

However, we also got one part wrong last week . In relation to Twitter, Reddit and other websites where porn sites might promote their content, the Bill contains a power to notify these "ancillary services" but has no specific power to enforce the notifications .

In other words, they expect Twitter, Google, Facebook, Tumblr and other companies to voluntarily block accounts within the UK, without a specific legal basis for their action .

This would create a toxic situation for these companies. If they fail to "act" on the "notifications", these services will leave themselves open to the accusation that they are failing to protect children, or actively "supplying" pornography to minors.

On the other hand, if they act on these notices, they will rightly be accused by ourselves and those that are censored of acting in an unaccountable, arbitrary manner. They will not have been legally obliged to act by a court; similar content will remain unblocked; and there will be no clear remedy for someone who wished to contest a "notification". Liability for the blocks would remain with the company, rather than the BBFC.

The government has not been clear with the Lords that this highly unclear situation is the likely result of notifications to Twitter--rather than account blocks, as they have suggested.

There are very good reasons not to block accounts after a mere notification. For instance in this case, although sites can contest a classification at the BBFC, and an internal appeals process will exist, there is no external appeal available, other than embarking on an expensive judicial review. It is not clear that a classification as pornography should automatically lead to action by ancillary services, not least because compliance automatically results in the same content being made available. To be clear, the bill does not aim to remove pornography from Twitter, Reddit users or search engines.

Why then, has the government drafted a bill with this power to notify "ancillary services", but no method to enforce? The reason appears to be that payment providers in particular have a long standing agreement amongst themselves that they will halt payments when they are notified that someone is taking payments for unlawful activity. Similarly, large online ad networks have a similar process of accepting notifications.

There is therefore no need to create enforcement mechanisms for these two kinds of "ancillary providers". (There are pitfalls with their approach--it can lead to censorship and unwarranted damage to businesses--but let us leave that debate aside for now.)

It seems clear that, when the bill was written, there was no expectation that "ancillary providers" would include Twitter, Yahoo, or Google, so no enofrcement power was created.

The government, in their haste, has agreed with the BBFC that they should be able to notify Twitter, Google, Yahoo and other platforms. They have agreed that BBFC need not take on a role of enforcement through court orders.

The key point is that the Lords are being misled by the government as things stand. Neither the BBFC or government have explored with Parliamentarians what the consequences of expanding the notion of "ancillary providers" is.

The Lords need to be told that this change means that:

  • the notices are unenforceable against Internet platforms;

  • they will lead to public disputes with the companies;

  • they make BBFC's decisions relating to ancillary providers highly unaccountable as legal responsibility for account blocks rest with the platforms.

It appears that the BBFC do not wish to be cast in the role of "national censor". They believe that their role is one of classification, rather than enforcement. However, the fact that they also wish to directly block websites via ISPs rather flies in the face of their self-perception, as censorship is most clearly what they will be engaging in. Their self-perception is also not a reason to pass the legal buck onto Internet platforms who have no role in deciding whether a site fails to meet regulatory requirements.

This mess is the result of rushing to legislate without understanding the problems involved. The obvious thing to do is to limit the impact of the "ancillary services" approach by narrowing the definition to exclude all but payment providers and ad networks. The alternative--to create enforcement powers against a range of organisations--would need to establish full accountability for the duties imposed on ancillary providers in a court, something that the BBFC seems to wish to avoid.

Or of course, the government could try to roll back its mistaken approach entirely, and give up on censorship as a punishment: that would be the right thing to do. Please sign our petition if you agree .