The Open Rights Group has been keeping a careful eye on the Digital Economy Bill currently being debated in Parliament.
Age verification for online pornography
Compulsory age verification poses serious privacy concerns
that are not addressed within the Bill. Commercial pornographic websites may collect the exact identity details of their users, creating clear commercial opportunities for themselves.
Data collection creates inherent risks of data breaches and the lack of safeguards within the Bill creates opportunities for 'Ashley Madison' style data leaks revealing personal sexual preferences; since privacy protections are entirely absent from the
Amateur and smaller commercial websites will be unduly burdened by the Bill. Imposing the cost of age verification on them will make their existence as free and commercial entities untenable. This may also adversely affect sexual minorities by denying
them the means to freely express their sexuality.
While the Bill lacks proposals for blocking websites that do not comply for good reasons, it is proposed that payment providers will also be responsible for enforcement: hardly a bullet-proof solution. Meanwhile, online pornography will still be
available to those under 18, without age verification, elsewhere on the Internet.
It is concerning that these age verification solutions have arisen from the government's collaboration with pornographic producers who would themselves be able to raise additional revenue from the data collection itself. The Bill needs to reflect a clear
separation of commercial interests and child protection objectives.
The role of the age verification regulator needs to be defined in more detail on the face of the Bill. Such a regulatory body may lack expertise in aspects of age verification. Thus, without clearly defined duties (such as the protection and maintenance
of privacy) there is a significant risk that they will adopt superficial solutions to address complex issues.
Child protection should also be addressed from alternative perspectives. Children and young adults should receive effective education and guidance, whilst carers should be encouraged to provide protections suitable to a specific child. Such an approach
is more likely to succeed without imposing significant costs, restrictions or risks on a large number of adults.
If you're confused about porn laws, you aren't the only one. Technological developments and changing societal attitudes have left UK legislation dated, contradictory and just plain confusing. By Kink Craft
Government censors are struggling to stop the spread of extremist messages on the internet despite taking
down 1,000 videos a week, the Home Secretary has admitted. Amber Rudd said she was in talks with social media websites about setting up a new industry standard board to agree the rules setting out when sites should be taken down.
The new home secretary was grilled by MPs on the House of Commons' Home Affairs committee about what more could be done to force US sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take action. It is alarming that these companies have teams of only a few
hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts Home Affairs select committee report
Rudd said that major internet companies could take more responsibility:
Because the speed these damaging videos get put up and then we manage to take down -- at the moment we are taking down 1,000 a week of these sites -- is too slow compared to the speed at which they are communicated.
I do think more can be done and we are in discussions with industry to see what more they are prepared to do.
We would like to see a form of industry standard board that they could put together in order to have an agreement of oversight and to take action much more quickly on sites which will do such damage to people in terms of making them communicating
Rudd said the new industry standards board could be similar to an existing board which protects children from sexual exploitation, presumably referring to the IWF.
The committee's report said:
It is alarming that these companies have teams of only a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts and that Twitter does not even proactively report extremist content to law enforcement agencies.
These companies are hiding behind their supranational legal status to pass the parcel of responsibility and refusing to act responsibly in case they damage their brands. If they continue to fail to tackle this issue and allow their platforms to become
the 'Wild West' of the internet, then it will erode their reputation as responsible operators.
Internet companies should be required to co-operate with Britain's counter-extremism police and shut down accounts immediately.
ISPs that block access to websites with adult content or block ads could be breaking EU guidelines on net neutrality even if customers opt in.
EU regulations only allow providers to block content for three reasons: to comply with a member state's laws, to manage levels of traffic across a network, or for security.
Blocking websites with adult content has no clear legal framework in UK legislation, and providers have relied on providing the ability to opt in to protect themselves from falling foul of the rules. However, an update to guidelines issued by EU body
Berec says that even if a person indicates they want certain content to be blocked, it should be done on their device, rather than at a network level. The updated guidelines say:
With regard to some of the suggestions made by stakeholders about traffic management features that could be requested or controlled by end-users, Berec notes that the regulation does not consider that end-user consent enables ISPs to engage in such
practices at the network level.
End-users may independently choose to apply equivalent features, for example via their terminal equipment or more generally on the applications running at the terminal equipment, but Berec considers that management of such features at the network level
would not be consistent with the regulation.
Frode Sorensen, co-chair of the Berec expert working group on net neutrality said the updated guidance made it clear that it had found no legal basis for using customer choice to justify blocking any content without national legislation or for reasons of
traffic management or security.
David Cameron said in October last year that he had secured an opt-out from the rules enabling British internet providers to introduce porn filters. However, Sorensen said he was not aware of any opt-out, and the net neutrality rules introduced in
November, after Cameron made his claim, said they applied to the whole European Economic Area which includes the UK.
Lyssa McGowan, Brand Director, Communications Products announced on the Sky Blog:
From today, Sky Broadband Shield will be automatically switched on the moment a new customer activates their Sky Broadband. At the end of last year, we said that we wanted to do even more to help families protect their children from inappropriate
content. The first time someone tries to access a filtered website, the account holder will be invited to amend the settings or turn it off altogether. It ensures a safer internet experience for millions of homes, while still giving account holders the
flexibility to choose the settings most appropriate for their households.
Our experience has shown that this Default On or as we call it Auto On approach leads to much greater use of filtering. Last year, we adopted Auto On with some of our existing customers which we found delivered much higher engagement
and usage of Sky Broadband Shield. Around two thirds of customers we rolled it out to have continued to make use of the software. This is much higher than anyone else in the industry using other approaches. Customers are typically just asked whether they
want to switch on filtering when they activate their broadband. It means take up rates are between only 5 and 10% because customers ignore the choice put in front of them or automatically click no without considering the implications.
This is why we decided to make Auto On standard practice for all our new Sky Broadband customers including our soon to be launched new NOW TV Combo service. Furthermore over the coming months we will be contacting millions more Sky Broadband
customers who haven't yet made a decision about Sky Broadband Shield. If they don't respond, we will switch it on for them and invite them to amend or switch it off themselves.
The 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
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:
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
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
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
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
And 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.
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