November 25, 2016

Save our porn!

The Government’s plans to censor online porn are flawed, says David Spencer.

It’s not been the best of months for civil liberties advocates in the UK, after the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill by the UK Parliament last week.

Better known as the Snoopers Charter, this ‘soon-to-be’ law has been condemned by many as the ‘most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy’. Those familiar with its details will know that this comment by Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group is no exaggeration.

But just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for online freedom, back come the Government with a new round of censorship. And this time it is online porn they have their eye on.

Now, I readily accept that online porn is something which can elicit strong (ahem) emotions in people. But the fact is that pornographic content between consenting adults is perfectly legal in the UK, and most would agree that there is no reason for it not to be.

Plans to block legal online porn sites

But not it seems the current Government. In an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, they have announced plans to block legal online porn sites which refuse to comply with their planned age verification measures.

The Digital Economy Bill has a fair few worrying clauses in it already, including handing possession of all personal data shared with a Government agency to the Government; which has elicited a strong campaign from Big Brother Watch and other campaign groups.

But these newly tabled measures are part of efforts by the Government to protect children from what they describe as ‘harmful pornographic content online’. It’s not a new proposal, and has been on the cards for a while.

The UK Government has already compelled ISPs in the UK to set their porn filter to ‘On’ by default, requiring users to contact them directly and request a reset if they want to view adult content.

And the current age verification proposals were included in the Conservative Party manifesto at the 2015 general election.

But the legislation proposed has been drafted in a hurry, crowbarred onto a suitable bill and has all the hallmarks of ‘ill-thought-through’ policy. A closer analysis indicates that there are issues with both the evidence base for the proposals, and the potential consequences should they come into law.

Flawed evidence

So why is the government acting on this now? Well, the Government’s interest in the impact of porn on children stems from a report from the NSPCC, published back in March 2015, which claimed that one in ten children aged 12 and 13 were ‘addicted to pornography’.

Inevitably such a claim drove plenty of sensationalist headlines and provoked a response from Government. But on closer analysis, there is a big problem with the claim.

The company who ran the survey is one which pays people to fill in surveys, an approach which has regularly led to headline-grabbing stories, but questionable results. Examples of the kind of stories that have come from surveys by the same company include ‘One in ten Brits would have an affair if they could’ and, ‘Fifty percent of British adults think Mount Everest is in the UK’.

Such paid-for surveys inevitably lead to less accurate results as people filling them in just want to click through and earn their fee rather than address the issue with any seriousness.

Whether such a survey should form the basis of a report from a respected children’s charity is debatable. Whether it should be the basis of a new law censoring online content is even more open to discussion.

Unintended consequences

The new law also seems likely to result in several potentially serious unintended consequences.

Parents are likely to take less responsibility for monitoring their children’s online activity. The law will make them think it is hard or impossible for them to access inappropriate content when in fact many kids will have the technical know-how to get around the block if they so wish anyway. This is something the NSPCC has been surprisingly quiet about.

Then there are the broader privacy concerns the proposed age verification systems will throw up. They are likely to include things like online registration, which make it simple to link an individual with a site they are using. Many of these sites lack suitably robust security settings to cope with handling this kind of data securely, meaning the likelihood of this data being breached is high.

There is also the risk of using credit cards to check the age of users. This has been highlighted by the Open Rights Group as an invitation to cybercriminals to set up bogus porn sites and invite people to enter their credit card details for age verification. As they have said, “anything that normalises the entry of credit card details into pages where the user isn’t making a payment will increase the fraudulent use of such cards.”

Unenforceable

Lastly, there’s the fact that blocking such content in the UK is unenforceable. VPNs are a commonly used online security tools, which allow users to mask their location online. This means that anyone with a VPN in the UK can pretend they are elsewhere and so still access as much online porn as they like, without having to pass any age verification check. This is not the first time the Government’s completely overlooked the fact VPNs make their legislation worthless, and it seems like it won’t be the last time either.

So, in summary, what the Government is essentially proposing to do is introduce a new online censorship law, based on flawed data, which will result in thousands of legal sites being blocked in the UK; will also endanger the personal privacy of anyone who still tries to use them, and which most tech-savvy kids will be able to get around anyway.

All this new online censorship proposal will achieve, as Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group has said is “lead to tens of thousands of websites being blocked, despite their content being perfectly legal”.

Is this something our Government should be doing. Unquestionably not.

4.95 avg. rating (98% score) - 21 votes
mm
David Spencer
David is a freelance PR and public affairs consultant and writer working with clients in the UK, Europe, and Asia. He is a former aide to the Rt. Hon David Davis MP and also worked in the office of the Shadow Home Secretary. He can be found tweeting at @dspencer47.
  • geo

    censorship of any kind is always dangerous.
    just who gets to decide just what is permissible? Who can forget the insane rantings of mary whitehouse in the 70’s about the most mild of things?

  • Grammar Grub

    Obviously hiring Romanian rent boys to bugger you will be permisable.

  • Thats_news

    If you are referring to the research company Yougov, Yougov “forgets” to pay people after they have completed hundreds of very poorly paid and very long surveys. People would be better off with Swagbucks.com. They do not cheat you and always pay up. Unlike Yougov.

  • janetjH

    You mustn’t criticise YouGov.
    It is run by a well known left winger.
    No criticism or you will be censored.

  • forgotten_man

    Another instance of stupid entitled people who have been educated beyond their intelligence, promoted beyond their ability and paid well beyond their worth.

  • Reborn

    100% with you.
    This government banned something called face sitting in legitimate porn.
    I’m not quite sure what this is, & why a country that is daily becoming
    more beholden to islam should encourage sex censorship.
    I suppose it is to steadily comply with sharia.
    Just as Whitehouse was mixed up with Moral Rearmament/Nazism.

  • Albiro

    Have to laugh at a Parliament which engages in fucking kids and covering it up should deign to tell us that we cant view consensual adult sex.

  • Albiro

    I think you have hit on something. Many of these elitist twats have recieved an education beyond which their inbred brains can absorb . The results are all around us.

  • Terry Howard

    Hard-core porn (lovely stuff – eg repeatedly slapping a teenage girl tied up during anal sex, double penetration, treble penetration, I could go on) is a couple of clicks away on the UK internet. Any kid with an internet-enabled device can view this. You don’t just have to set up filters in your own home but rely on their friends’ parents too. It’s all very well talking about civil liberties and dissing Mary Whitehouse but this doesn’t solve what is a genuine problem. The majority of parents aren’t capable of setting up or just don’t get round to setting up the necessary filters. The argument that state controls can be side-stepped with VPNs is just ridiculously stupid – if that’s the case then put them in anyway – anyone that wants freedom from censorship can just use these VPNS. Meanwhile, a majority proportion of children would find the stuff harder to access. Call it a top shelf! It worked when I was short.

  • Robert Basset

    . Gypsy “Romanian” rent boys more like

  • Landphil

    Surely you bugger them – ask Jim.

  • Roanoake

    It’s good that the Government is attending to the pressing issues of the day and its manifesto commitments instead of… what? Where is the pressure to do this stuff coming from? In pubs across the land, people aren’t crying out to have their browsing history and emails read by the security forces, or for their porn to be cut back.

x
Like us on Facebook: