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
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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.
  • Shadow Warrior

    Hammond is continuity Brown. He is a hand-wringing lefty looking for clever wheezes to raise more tax in ways that people don’t immediately notice.

  • captainslugwash

    I predict the Budget will attempt to show the Left how caring the Tories are, and it will be funded by screwing over the working man.
    If Corp Tax comes down, I bet Divi tax will be going up.
    I would love to be wrong.

  • skynine

    We really need to look at tax credits, in particular in work tax credits that encourage people to work part time to preserve the benefits. 45% of women work part time and I would hazard a guess that tax credits are the main cause. This leads to low pay, low skill work in supermarkets and the retail sector including coffee shops. The government needs to get back to the employer paying people to do a job for economic reasons rather than to get onto the tax credit ladder. Like all government benefits it distorts the market and diverts government expenditure into non productive areas.
    The refrain that the government has cut expenditure is not true, it increases every year as more and more goes into welfare.

  • MrVeryAngry

    fat chance

  • MrSauce

    So, when wouldn’t we want a ‘budget for growth’?

  • Rob

    I note that the UK Government has just slapped on a 25% tax charge for anyone moving abroad and wishing to move out their private pension from the UK.

  • SonofBoudica

    The Remoaners will do their utmost to sabotage the Government’s negotiating position. They do not want a successful outcome; they want a failure. They want to be able to scream “Told you so!” from the rooftops.

  • EnglandLaments

    Thank goodness for Andrew Neil, the one media hack who scares the pants off the established politicians. He was spot on with Heidi Allen!

  • joshuafalken

    I had a very long, hard, studied and considered look at the hope, care and aspirations of all Europeans, before I voted to get the UK out of the toxic grasp of Brussels.

    The European Union and it’s charge of “ever closer union” has borrowed and spent its way to oblivion, whilst enslaving the working and middle classes in debt.

    The central control mantra of the unaccountable Brussels ruling elite, delivered through a mixture of socialism, globalism and corporatism is entirely responsible for the populist revolt by the millions of “Just About Managings” across Europe.

    We must remember the ultimate goal of socialists, globalists and corporatists is control, not prosperity. see https://mises.org/blog/goal-socialists-socialism-—-not-prosperity.

    Social equality and economic growth always fail under central control and fighting against the Brussels doctrine on behalf of all Europeans is why I voted for Brexit.

    Britain has a long history of helping Europeans depose tyrants and Brussels is just the latest incarnation.

    Britain is the most racially advanced and accepting society on the planet. We welcome those in need and those that can help us with open arms and a smile; that will not change.

    We are also one of the most innovative, talented and open societies in the world, which why everyone wants to live here. However, we cannot fit everyone in, so we have to have clear, balanced and fair immigration policy which is where the arguments start between the monetarists and humanists will never be reconciled.

    I thought long and hard before coming to the conclusion that leaving the EU was in the best interest of all Europeans, as Brussels is toxic and cannot be reformed from within.

    Also, I find it insulting that people who voted Remain have insufficient faith in British ingenuity, compassion and skill to get a good deal for us and see the Europe that we love get a better deal from Brussels and the reform that European people deserve. https://mishtalk.com/2017/03/29/bad-brexit-deal-better-than-no-deal-mathematical-idiocy-odds-of-no-deal/ and https://www.worldheadlines.info/2017/03/after-brexit-9-reasons-to-be-bullish-on-great-britain/

    The politics of left verses right are dead because neither have delivered the promised economic growth and social mobility for anyone, but themselves. The populists are not selfish per-se, they just want to take back control of their own destiny that left/right politicians have freely given away and/or exploited for their own ends. In my constituency, the local residents group are taking over the councils as politicians ignore voters, so Westminster should beware of the well-organised, local resident independents at the next election. This is a peoples revolution which should be shouted from the rooftops, but liberals remained deafened by the socialist, globalist and corporatist “vested interests” that have spectacularly failed us and are obediently crying foul and fake.

    There will be an initial unpalatable inflationary cost to fighting globalism and rolling back central control that few appear to have factored in, but dismantling failed left/right vested interests should eventually free libertarian socially-conservative capitalism from the shackles of TBTF corporatism to feed economic growth and social mobility.

  • agdpa

    The EU usually makes the wrong decision – on immigration, on freedom of movement, on the euro, on the Ukraine, etc. etc. Little hope it will get Brexit right.

  • brownowl

    Eh? Reference please!

  • Neil2

    Sod caring. Screw the spongers and breeders. Kill HS2. Stop all “green” subsidies. Slash “foreign aid” and walk away from the EUSSR with immediate effect.

  • Rob
  • John C

    What a confused article. It conflates surveillance by the security services with poor defences against fraud.

  • John C

    Err, it’s the UK that’s leaving the EU, not vice versa.

  • John C

    Me, now. ‘Growth’ is a manic obsession.

  • La Face Nord

    Mr Redwood – are you aware of the Biased BBC website? It’s been exposing their agenda for a long time, but I imagine you’ve been well aware of the BBC’s agenda for quite some time…

  • Contact Rvtech

    The post is great

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