Britain has some ludicrous and dated prohibitions on aspects of porn that are commonplace in international porn sites. For example the government
requires that the BBFC cut fisting, squirting, gagging on blow jobs, dialogue references to incest or underage sex.
It would be ludicrous to expect all of the worlds websites to remove such commonplace scene from all its films and videos. The originally proposed porn censorship law would require the BBFC to identify sites with this commonplace material, and
ISPs would have then been forced to block these sites. Of course this would have meant that more or less all websites would have had to be banned.
Someone has obviously pointed this out to the government, perhaps the Lords had spotted this in their scrutiny.
The Daily Mail is now reporting that this censorship power will be dropped form the Digital Economy Bill. The age verification requirement will stand but foreign websites complying with age verification will not then be blocked for material
transgressing some of the stupid UK prohibitions.
A source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that the proposals were imperfect , but said the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which covers sex shops, was too outdated to be used to regulate the internet.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport actually went further and said extreme material, including violent pornography and cartoons depicting child sex abuse, will be allowed to stay online as long as distributors put in place checks to ensure
it cannot be viewed by children. (But note that downloading films including what is defined as extreme pornography and cartoon child porn would still be illegal). There will be no change to the capability of the IWF to block child porn (and
occasionally, illegal adult porn).
Of course pro-censorship campaigners are not impressed by the lost opportunity for total porn censorship. Helen Lewington, of the morality campaign group Mediawatch-UK, claimed that the decision to allow extreme sites to operate behind the age
verification barrier risked giving them a veneer of respectability . She called on peers to reject the amendments this evening. She added:
We are deeply concerned by the Government's apparent change of direction. These proposals will permit some forms of violent pornography to be viewed behind age verification checks.
This will unhelpfully allow what is illegal offline to be legally viewed online, and may in the long term lead to some regarding such material as acceptable.'
Pro censorship campaigner John Carr revealed that the government will now be reviewing the rules on what is currently prohibited from UK adult porn. He set out his pro-censorship stall by claiming that reducing censorship for adults would somehow
endanger children. He claimed:
In his speech on the Digital Economy Bill, last Monday night in the House of Lords, Lord Ashton referred to the Secretary of State's announcement in the context of there being a need for a wider discussion about the effects of pornography in
society as a whole, not solely in respect of children. I would hope there will be an opportunity to contribute to that aspect of the review. I accept it was never envisaged that the Digital Economy Bill was to be a trigger for a wider debate
about what sorts of pornography are more or less acceptable, whether being viewed by children or not. However, just because children cannot view certain types of material that have been put behind an age verification wall, it does not mean that
its continued availability to adults does not constitute a threat to children. Such material might encourage, promote or appear to legitimize or condone harmful behaviours which either directly or indirectly put children at risk.
Offsite Comment: Lib Dems lay into the governments censorship efforts
To add to the list of obnoxious new laws such as the new offence of driving while being a suspected illegal immigrant and giving the
police unfettered access to innocent people's web histories, the Tories have waded into the swamp of online pornography and they are completely out of their depth.
The Digital Economy Bill, another universal answer to everything they couldn't get through when we had one hand on the reins of power, professes to protect children from online pornography.
Nonetheless, if we are to prohibit access to online adult material unless there is an age-verification solution in place, the privacy of those who are being forced to part with their sensitive personal information in order to verify their age,
must be protected. We have already seen user databases for a couple of major porn sites, containing sensitive personal information, being hacked and the details traded on the dark web. When details of users of the Ashley Madison site were leaked,
it reportedly led to two suicides.
However, the fact of the matter is that the DE Bill
gives the BBFC (the regulator, TBC) the power to block any pornographic website that doesn't use age verification tools. It can even block websites that publish pornography that doesn't fit their guidelines of taste and acceptability - which are
significantly narrower than what is legal, and certainly narrower than what is viewed as acceptable by US websites.
A single video of "watersports" or whipping produces marks, for instance, would be enough for the BBFC to ban a website for every UK adult. The question is, how many sites does the regulator want to block, and how many can it block?
Parliament has been told that the regulator wants to block just a few, major websites, maybe 50 or 100, as an "incentive" to implement age checks. However, that's not what Clause 23 says. The "Age-verification regulator's power to direct
internet service providers to block access to material" just says that any site that fits the criteria can be blocked by an administrative request.
What could possibly go wrong?
Imagine, not implausibly, that some time after the Act is in operation, one of the MPs who pushed for this power goes and sees how it is working. This MP tries a few searches, and finds to their surprise that it is still possible to find websites that
are neither asking for age checks nor blocked.
While the first page or two of results under the new policy would find major porn sites that are checking, or else are blocked, the results on page three and four would lead to sites that have the same kinds of material available to anyone.
In short, what happens when MPs realise this policy is nearly useless?
They will, of course, ask for more to be done. You could write the Daily Mail headlines months in advance: BBFC lets kids watch porn .
MPs will ask why the BBFC isn't blocking more websites. The answer will come back that it would be possible, with more funding, to classify and block more sites, with the powers the BBFC has been given already. While individual review of millions of
sites would be very expensive, maybe it is worth paying for the first five or ten thousand sites to be checked. (And if that doesn't work, why not use machines to produce the lists?)
And then, it is just a matter of putting more cash the way of the BBFC and they can block more and more sites, to "make the Internet safe".
That's the point we are making. The power in the Digital Economy Bill given to the BBFC will create a mechanism to block literally millions of websites; the only real restraint is the amount of cash that MPs are willing to pour into the organisation.
Government says privacy safeguards are not "necessary" in Digital Economy Bill
The Government still doesn't consider privacy safeguards necessary in the Digital Economy Bill and they see court orders for website blocking as excessively burdensome.
The House of Lords debated age verification for online pornography last week as the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill went ahead.
Peers tabled a considerable number of amendments to improve the flawed Part 3 of the Bill, which covers online pornography. In their recent report, the
Committee on the Constitution
said that they are worried about whether a proper parliamentary scrutiny can be delivered considering the lack of details written on the face of the Bill. Shortly after the start of the debate it became obvious that their concerns were justified.
Lords debated various aspects of age verification at length, however issues of appeal processes for website blocking by Internet service providers and privacy safeguards for data collected for the age-verification purposes will have to be resolved at a
In our view, if the Government is not prepared to make changes to the Bill to safeguard privacy, the opposition parties should be ready to force the issue to a vote.
Appeals process for ISP blocking
Labour and Lib Dem Lords jointly introduced an amendment that would implement a court order process into the blocking of websites by Internet service providers. The proposal got a lot of traction during the debate. Several Peers disagreed with the use of
court orders, arguing about the costs and the undue burden that it would place on the system.
The court order process is currently implemented for the blocking of websites that provide access to content that infringes copyright. However, the Government is not keen on using it for age verification. Lord Ashton, the Government Minister for Culture,
Media and Sport, noted that even the copyright court order process "is not without issues". He also stressed that the power to instruct ISPs to block websites carrying adult content would be used "sparingly". The Government is trying
to encourage compliance by the industry and therefore they find it more appropriate that ISP blocking is carried out by direction from the regulator.
The Bill doesn't express any of these policy nuances mentioned by the Government. According to Clause 23 on ISP blocks, age-verification regulator can give a notice to ISPs to block non-complying websites. There is no threshold set out in the clause that
would suggest this power will be used sparingly. Without such threshold, the age-verification regulator has an unlimited power to give out notices and is merely trusted by the Government not to use the full potential of the power.
The Government failed to address the remaining lack of legal structure that would secure transparency for website blocking by ISPs. Court orders would provide independent oversight for this policy. Neither the method of oversight, nor enforcement of
blocking have been specified on the face of the Bill.
For now, the general public can find solace in knowing that the Government is aware that blocking all of social media sites is a ridiculous plan. Lord Ashton said
that the Government "don't want to get to the situation where we close down the whole of Twitter, which would make us one of two countries in the world to have done that".
Privacy protections and anonymity
Labour Peers - Baroness Jones and Lord Stevenson and Lord Paddick (Lib Dem) introduced an amendment that would ensure that age-verification systems have high privacy and data protection safeguards.
The amendment goes beyond basic compliance with data protection regulations. It would deliver anonymity for age-verification system users and make it impossible to identify users throughout different websites. This approach could encourage people's trust
in age-verification systems and will reassure people to safely access legal material. By securing anonymity, people's right to freedom of expression would be less adversely impacted. Not all the problems go away: people may still not trust the tools, but
fears can at least be reduced, and the worst calamities of data leaks may be avoided.
People subjected to age verification should be able to choose which age-verification system they prefer and trust. It is necessary that the Bill sets up provisions for "user choice" to assure a functioning market. Without this, a single
age-verification provider could conquer the market offering a low-cost solution with inadequate privacy protections.
The amendment received wider support from the Lords.
Despite the wide-ranging support from Lib Dem, Labour and cross-bench Lords, the Government found this amendment "unnecessary". Lord Ashton referred to the guidance published by the age-verification regulator that will outline types of
arrangement that will be treated as compliant with the age-verification regulator's requirements. Since the arrangements for data retention and protection will be made in the guidance, the Government asked Lord Paddick to withdraw the amendment.
Guidance to be published by the age-verification regulator drew fire in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's Report
published in December 2016. In their criticism, the Committee made it clear that they find it unsatisfactory that none of the age-verification regulator's guidelines have been published or approved by Parliament. Lord Ashton did not tackle these concerns
during the Committee sitting.
The issue of privacy safeguards is very likely to come up again at the Report stage. Lord Paddick was not convinced by the Government's answer and promised to bring this issue up at the next stage. The Government also promised to respond to the Delegated
Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's Report before the next stage of the Bill's passage.
Given the wide support in the Lords to put privacy safeguards on the face of the Bill, Labour and Lib Dem Lords have an opportunity to change the Government's stance. Together they can press the Government to address privacy concerns.
The Government was unprepared to discuss crucial parts of the Part 3. Age verification for online pornography is proving to be more complex and demanding than the Government anticipated and they lack an adequate strategy. The Report stage of the Bill (22
February) could offer some answers to the questions raised during the last week's Committee sittings, but Labour and Lib Dems need to be prepared to push for votes on crucial amendments to get the Government to address privacy and free expression
It is a bit of a fad to berate the social networks for passing on 'fake news' and other user posts deemed harmful to politicians
and their jobs.
Although introduced last year, a nonsense private members bill is now getting a bit of attention for its proposals to demand that social media censors its users posts.
Labour MP Anna Turley's Malicious Communications (Social Media) Bill, calls for media censor Ofcom to impose fines up to £2 million for social networks who don't adequately prevent threatening content appearing on their services.
The bill would see social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and likely include apps like Snapchat and Instagram, to be added to a register of regulated platforms by the Secretary of State.
If the bill is passed into law, the companies on the list would be required to implement some sort of age verification blocking system akin to ISP blocking where over verified 18s could opt out of the content blocking.
The core of the bill as follows:
1 Requirements on operators of regulated social media platforms
(1) Operators of social media platforms on the register of regulated social media
platforms in section 5 (1) must have in place reasonable means to prevent
threatening content from being received by users of their service in the United
5 Kingdom during normal use of the service when the users--
(a) access the platforms, and
(b) have not requested the operator to allow the user to use the service
without filtering of threatening content.
(2) Operators must not activate an unfiltered service when requested by the user,
(a) the user has registered as over 18 years of age, and
(b) the request includes an age verification mechanism.
(3) In implementing an age verification mechanism operators must follow
guidance published by the age verification regulator.
(4) 15 In subsection (3), "age verification regulator" has the meaning given by section
17 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.
2 Duties of OFCOM
(1) OFCOM must assist, on request, the Secretary of State to meet his or her duties
in respect of the register of regulated social media platforms.
(2) 20 It shall be the duty of OFCOM to monitor and assess the performance of the
operators of regulated social media platforms in meeting the requirements of
3) In order to assess the adequacy of the arrangements of an operator of a
regulated social media platform to meet the requirements of section 1, OFCOM
(a) survey the content of the social media platform, and
An interesting article in Wired reports on a a recent Westminster eForum meeting when the British establishment got
together to discuss, porn, internet censorship and child protection.
A large portion of the article considers the issue that porn is not generally restricted just to 'porn websites'. It is widely available on more mainstream wesbites such as Google Images. Stephen Winyard, director and VP of ICM Registry and council
member of the digital policy alliance, argued that Twitter is in fact commercially benefiting from the proliferation of pornography on the network:
It's on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, mobile apps - Skype is used hugely for adult content. But Twitter is the largest platform for promoting pornography in the world - and it takes money for it. They pay Twitter money to advertise adult content.
Another good good pint was that the Digital Censorship Bill going through parliament was targetting the prevention of children 'stumbling across' porn. Hence a bit of partial blockade of porn may somehow reduce this problem. However Adam Kinsley of Sky
pointed out that partial blockage may not be so effective in stopping kids actively looking for porn. He noted:
The Digital Economy Bill's exact objectives are a little uncertain, but we are trying to stop children stumbling on pornography -- but they are not 'stumbling', they are looking for it and Twitter is where they will [find] it. Whether what the government
is proposing will deal with that threat is unclear. Initially, it did not propose ISPs blocking content. When it comes to extremist sites, the Home Office asks social media platforms to take down content. The government does not ask us to block material
- it has never done that. So this is a big deal. It doesn't happen with the IWF; it doesn't happen with terrorist material, and it wasn't in the government's original proposal. Whether they got it right and how will we deal with these millions of sites,
We're not really achieving anything if only dealing with a few sites.
The Bill is incredibly complex, as it stands. David Austin, from the BBFC, pointed out that for it to implement the bill correctly, it needs to be effective, proportionate, respectful of privacy, accountable - and the
Tens of millions of adults that go online to see legal content must be able to continue to do so.
At the same time, he said:
There is no silver bullet, no one model, no one sector that can achieve all child protection goals.
As the internet censorship bill continues its progress through Parliament, news websites have been noted a few opinions and sound
A couple of weeks ago David Kaye, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, wrote to ministers to warm them that their proposals could breach international law . In his
letter, he said:
I am concerned that the age-verification provisions give the Government access to information of viewing habits and citizen data. Data provide to one part of government can be shared with other parts of government and private sector companies without a
person's knowledge and consent.
He also warned:
While I am cognizant of the need to protect children against harmful content. I am concerned that the provisions under the bill are not an effective way for achieving this objective as they fall short of the standards of international human rights law.
The age-verification requirement may easily be subject to abuse such as hacking, blackmail and other potential credit card fraud.
He also expressed concern at the bill's lack of privacy obligations and at a significant tightening control over the Internet in the UK.
Murray Perkins, a senior examiner with the BBFC, has indicated that the depiction of violent and criminal pornographic acts would be prohibited both online and off, in accordance with the way obscenity laws are interpreted by British prosecutors.
And the way British prosecutors interpret obscenity laws is very censorial indeed with many totally mainstream porn elements such as squirting and fisting being considered somehow obscene by these government censors.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said in an earlier statement the legislation would lead to unprecedented censorship. He noted:
Once this administrative power to block websites is in place, it will invariably be used to censor other content.
Of course pro-censorship campaigners are delighted. Vicki Shotbolt, chief executive officer for Parent Zone, gloated about the end of people's freedom to access porn.
This isn't about reducing anyone's freedom to access porn. It is simply bringing the online world more in line with the offline.
= Europe has voiced legal doubts about the current regime of ISPs defaulting to internet censorship unless
subscribers actively choose to opt out of the censorship. So now the government has introduced a new clause into the Digital Censorship Bill currently in the House of Lords explicitly enabling ISP network level website blocking.
Thomas Ashton, a minister from the DCMS has tabled the following amendment:
(1) A provider of an internet access service to an end- user may prevent or restrict access on the service to information, content, applications or services, for child protection or other purposes, if the action is in accordance with the terms on which
the end- user uses the service.
(2) This section does not affect whether a provider of an internet access service may prevent or restrict access to anything on the service in other circumstances.