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Reasons why the government's plan 'to protect children online' is not just dreadful but extremely alarming.
21st November 2016
From a Melon Farmers reader
It's already been announced that the government are to press ahead with their controversial plans to create a huge database of
the all the activities of every internet user in the UK . Every time you visit any website, the time and date and the name of the website will be recorded. There are no exemptions.
Such a system of
blanket surveillance has not been used or proposed in any other country.
You might think then, that after such an announcement, they would have been a little muted for a short while in proposing yet more heavy handed
legislation aimed at the internet. Not a bit of it. Now they really seem to have the bit between their teeth and are charging full steam ahead with, if possible, even more draconian powers.
In the 1980's, as a result of the
backlash against video nasties , the government handed complete censorship of all video media to the British Board of Film Censors, now renamed the British Board of Film Classification (because they don't like to be thought of as censors). A bit
like the ministry of propaganda preferred to be called the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984. Appropriately enough, this bill was made law in 1984.
Now, the latest proposal is to effectively hand censorship of the
entire internet over to the same people!
The argument is that if a website which is unsuitable for children does not have adequate checks in place to verify the users age, the BBFC will be able to block it. This
might sound reasonable in theory but in practice it will culminate in a monstrous invasion of internet freedom and dangers for internet users. Here's why:
Most people know that such controls can be effectively by-passed with use of a proxy servers, or on a phone or tablet a simple app which redirects internet traffic through a secure unfiltered connection. The problem with this is
that it introduces a whole new level of risk and exposure to criminality. Traffic can be routed, without the user knowing, via servers which are known to contain criminal content thus giving the appearance that the user has been accessing child
pornography, terrorist information or other material which could incriminate them.
Amongst the honest firms who run proxy servers there are con-men and criminals waiting to catch the unwary. Ransom demands and other
criminal activity is often the actual business which is sitting behind a link for what appears to be a proxy server. If you don't believe me, please do your own research.
Identification will be a nightmare. Making porn or
other websites take credit or debit card details as a check of age is preposterous. Very few people would want to trust giving their credit or debit card details to a website just to even see what is on it.
It's even been
suggested that these websites could cross check the UK electoral roll. How's that supposed to work? Presumably not so anybody can give the name and address of someone they dislike and that goes down on the government's list of names and addresses of
people who've visited dodgy websites?
The BBFC can not just censor but entirely block any web site that contains anything they disagree with! For example if the site contains anything which they would not allow in a BBFC
certificated video. They would argue that it was their duty . Since a website containing any nudity at all, or discussion of sex, or any other thing which is not suitable for children , should be behind an age protected barrier, this will
allow them to block any web site they wish. If a site with discussion about something which is not suitable for a small child, say in the US or Canada, cannot be bothered to deal with the BBFC, it can simply be blocked completely in the UK if the owners
do not cravenly submit to the demands of a government censor in another country! Not that the websites will probably care, having written off internet users in the UK the same way as they would people who are blocked from access by any other dictatorial
government around the world.
In addition to websites being blocked, if a server contains a small amount of anything which is unsuitable for children, the domain itself, containing many other web sites, can be blocked. Because
most countries in the world are more broad minded and less adamant about state control of what people see than the UK, nobody else will have noticed that UK users are being blocked from access to perfectly normal information just because their domain has
Who is going to pay for this work to be done? The BBFC can currently pay for their video censorship work because the Video Recordings Act requires that by law firms in the UK have no option but to pay their
fees ranging from several thousand pounds for each video submitted.
How do you think the BBFC is going to get on with the owners of foreign websites?
Ah, hello Mr Dirty Website Owner,
this is the BBFC here, we want you to follow our regulations and pay us or fees or I'm afraid I'll have to inform you that her majesty's government will block UK users from access to your website.
Mr Dirty Website
Owner's response is something which you can probably imagine yourself. It probably involves some rather colourful language telling the BBFC where they can stick their regulations and fees.
The government has
already required ISPs to provide filtered child friendly internet connections for anyone who wants it. However, since the population have generally been less than enthusiastic about uptake of filtered internet connections the government has
decided that this is not good enough and so you *will* have a censored internet connection *and like it* even though 70% of households in the UK have no children.
If this truly was a matter of protecting children, then the
problem would lie with the 10 to 15 % of homes with children, where the adults have not switched on the filters. It would be far more sensible to amend the law to require homes where children are present to have the filters switched on. But this just
proves that it *isn't* just a matter of protecting children, what they really want is *total* control, and you don't get that with a opt in scheme. The plan is to censor the internet to the extent that these filtered connections are no longer
Going back to proxy servers again, since this is such an easy way to avoid the censorship, and since, unfortunately, proxy servers allow access to anything, even stuff 99.9% of people really don't want to see, this
will give the government a *perfect excuse* to ban proxy servers as well. And there you have it: TOTAL INTERNET CENSORSHIP. You could probably still download and install a proxy server, but if you are detected using it you could be marched down to the
local police station for questioning, and since there is no excuse to be using a proxy server as they will be illegal, they can assume you were planning a terrorist attack or watching child pornography and throw you in jail. Sorry, I mean detain you in a
cell pending trial, for the public good.
WAKE UP BRITAIN! Please don't allow the control freaks to take over your county. Print this article out, send it to your MP - don't let MPs simply be carried along by misguided nanny state meddling in basic democratic freedom under
the guise of protecting the children . The onus should be on parents to switch on the filters that have already been provided, not treat every adult in the UK as a child.
This proposed legislation is a
continuation of the very slippery slope towards total state surveillance and control which has already been approved. If you don't stand up to this next level of state control, what will they think they can get away with next?
Don't take this warning lightly, unless enough people object they will steamroller ahead with it and you
will loose your freedom. Unless you want your internet to be suitable for a pre school toddler with a vast number of other harmless pages and websites blocked as a result, send this article to your MP now and ask for his or her comments.
Britain'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.
The Digital Economy Bill mandates that pornographic websites must verify the age of their customers. Are there any powers to protect user privacy?
Yesterday we published a blog
detailing the lack of privacy safeguards for Age Verification systems mandated in the Digital Economy
Bill. Since then, we have been offered two explanations as to why the regulator designate , the BBFC, may think that privacy can be regulated.
The first and most important claim is that Clause 15 may allow the regulation of AV services, in an
open-ended and non-specific way:
15 Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18
A person must not make pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis to persons in the United Kingdom except in a way that secures that, at any given time, the material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18
The age-verification regulator (see section 17) must publish guidance about--
(a) types of arrangements for making pornographic material available that the regulator will treat as complying with subsection (1);
However, this clause seems to regulate publishers who "make pornography material available on the internet" and what is regulated in 15 (3) (a) is the "arrangements for making pornography available". They do not
mention age verification systems, which is not really an "arrangement for making pornography available" except inasmuch as it is used by the publisher to verify age correctly.
AV systems are not "making pornography available".
The argument however runs that the BBFC could under 15 (3) (a) tell websites what kind of AV systems with which privacy standards they can use.
If the BBFC sought to regulate providers of age verification systems via this means, we could
expect them to be subject to legal challenge for exceeding their powers. It may seem unfair to a court for the BBFC to start imposing new privacy and security requirements on AV providers or website publishers that are not spelled out and when they are
subject to separate legal regimes such as data protection and e-privacy.
This clause does not provide the BBFC with enough power to guarantee a high standard of privacy for end users, as any potential requirements are undefined. The bill should
spell out what the standards are, in order to meet an 'accordance with the law' test for intrusions on the fundamental right to privacy.
The second fig leaf towards privacy is the draft standard for age verification technologies
drafted by the Digital Policy Alliance. This is being edited by the British Standards Institution, as
PAS 1296 . It has been touted as the means by which commercial outlets will produce a workable system.
The government may believe that PAS 1296 could, via
Clause 15 (3) (a), be stipulated as a standard that Age Verifcation providers abide by in order to supply publishers, thereby giving a higher standard of protection than data protection law alone.
PAS 1296 provides general guidance and has no
means of strong enforcement towards companies that adopt it. It is a soft design guide that provides broad principles to adopt when producing these systems.
Contrast this, for instance, with the hard and fast contractual arrangements the
government's Verify system has in place with its providers, alongside firmly specified protocols. Or card payment processors, who must abide by strict terms and conditions set by the card companies, where bad actors rapidly get switched off.
result is that PAS 1296 says little about security requirements , data protection standards, or anything else we are concerned about. It stipulates
that the age verification systems cannot be sued for losing your data. Rather, you must sue the website owner, i.e. the porn site which contracted with the age verifier.
There are also several terminological gaffes such as referring to PII
(personally identifying information) which is a US legal concept, rather than EU and UK's 'personal data'; this suggests that PAS 1296 is very much a draft, in fact appears to have been hastily cobbled-together
However you look at it, the proposed
PAS 1296 standard is very generic, lacks meaningful enforcement and is designed to tackle situations where the user has some control and choice, and can provide meaningful consent. This is not the case with this duty for pornographic publishers. Users
have no choice but to use age verification to access the content, and the publishers are forced to provide such tools.
Pornography companies meanwhile have every reason to do age verification as cheaply as possible, and possibly to harvest as much
user data as they can, to track and profile users, especially where that data may in future, at the slip of a switch, be used for other purposes such as advertising-tracking. This combination of poor incentives has plenty of potential for disastrous
The Government wants people who view pornography to show that they are over 18, via Age Verification systems. This is aimed at reducing the likelihood of children accessing inappropriate content.
To this end the Digital
Economy Bill creates a regulator that will seek to ensure that adult content websites will verify the age of users, or face monetary penalties, or in the case of overseas sites, ask payment providers such as VISA to refuse to process UK payments for
There are obvious problems with this, which we detail
However, the worst risks are worth
going into in some detail, not least from the perspective of the Bill Committee who want the Age Verification system to succeed.
As David Austen, from the BBFC, who will likely become the Age Verification Regulator
Privacy is one of the most important things to get right in relation to this regime. As a regulator, we are not interested in identity at all. The only thing that we are interested in is age, and the only thing that a porn website
should be interested in is age. The simple question that should be returned to the pornographic website or app is, "Is this person 18 or over?" The answer should be either yes or no. No other personal details are necessary.
However, the Age Verification Regulator has no duties in relation to the Age Verification systems. They will make sites verify age, or issue penalties, but they are given no duty to protect people's privacy, security or defend against
cyber security risks that may emerge from the Age Verification systems themselves.
David Austen's expectations are unfortunately entirely out of his hands.
Instead, the government appears to assume that
Data Protection law will be adequate to deal with the privacy and security risks. Meanwhile, the market will provide the tools.
has a plethora of possible means to solve this problem. Some involve vast data trawls through Facebook and social
media. Others plan to link people's identity across web services and will provide way to profile people's porn viewing habits. Still others attempt to piggyback upon payment providers and risk confusing their defences against fraud. Many appear to
encourage people to submit sensitive information to services that the users, and the regulator, will have little or no understanding of.
And yet with all the risks that these solutions pose, all of these solutions may be entirely
data protection compliant. This is because data protection allows people to share pretty much whatever they agree to share, on the basis that they are free to make agreements with whoever they wish, by providing 'consent'.
other words: Data protection law is simply not designed to govern situations where the user is forced to agree to the use of highly intrusive tools against themselves.
What makes this proposal more dangerous is that the incentives
for the industry are poor and lead in the wrong direction. They have no desire for large costs, but would benefit vastly from acquiring user data.
If the government wants to have Age Verification in place, it must mandate a system
that increases the privacy and safety of end users, since the users will be compelled to use Age Verification tools. Also, any and all Age Verification solutions must not make Britain's cybersecurity worse overall, e.g. by building databases of the
nation's porn-surfing habits which might later appear on Wikileaks.
The Digital Economy Bill's impact on privacy of users should, in human rights law, be properly spelled out ("
in accordance with the law ") and be designed to minimise the impacts on people (necessary and proportionate). Thus
failure to provide protections places the entire system under threat of potential legal challenges.
User data in these systems will be especially sensitive, being linked to private sexual preferences and potentially impacting
particularly badly on sexual minorities if it goes wrong, through data breaches or simple chilling effects. This data is regarded as particularly sensitive in law.
Government, in fact has at its hands a system called Verify which
could provide age-verification in a privacy friendly manner. The Government ought to be explaining why the high standards of its own Verify system are not being applied to Age Verification, or indeed, why the government is not prepared to use its own
systems to minimise the impacts.
As with web filtering, there is no evidence that Age Verification will prevent an even slightly determined teenager from accessing pornography, nor reduce demand for it among young people. The
Government appears to be looking for an easy fix to a complex social problem. The Internet has given young people unprecedented access to adult content but it's education rather than tech solutions that are most likely to address problems arising from
this. Serious questions about the efficacy and therefore proportionality of this measure remain.
However, legislating for the Age Verification problem to be "solved" without any specific regulation for any private sector
operator who wants to "help" is simply to throw the privacy of the UK's adult population to the mercy of the porn industry. With this mind, we have
drafted an amendment to introduce the duties necessary to minimise the privacy impacts which could also reduce if not remove the free
expression harms to adults.
The BBFC has signed an agreement with the U.K. government to act as the country's new internet porn censor.
BBFC Director David Austin explained the censor's new role regulating online adult entertainment to a committee in Parliament weighing
the 2016 Digital Economy Bill. Austin discussed how the BBFC will approach those sites that are found to be in contravention to U.K. law in regards to verifying that adult content can't be accessed by under 18s.
Austin said that the 2016 Digital
Economy Bill now being weighed will achieve a great deal for the BBFC's new role as the age-verification enforcer. The piece of legislation, if given the OK, could impose financial penalties of up to $250,000 for noncomplying adult entertainment
Austin said that the BBFC will methodically start focusing on the largest offending websites, including foreign ones, and notifying them for breaches in the U.K.'s mandatory age-verification laws. Austin said that offending sites will face
a notification process that may include the filing of sanctions against sites' business partners, such as payment providers and others that supply ancillary services. Austin also mentioned that sanctioned sites could find web properties blocked by IP
address and de-indexed from search engines.
David Austin : My name is David Austin. I am the chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification.
Alan Wardle: I am Alan Wardle, head of policy and public affairs at the National Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children.
Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
Q David, am I right in interpreting the amendments that the Government tabled last night as meaning that you are intended to be the age verification regulator?
David Austin: That is correct. We reached heads of agreement with the Government last week to take on stages 1 to 3 of the regulation.
Louise Haigh Q Are you sufficiently resourced to
take on that role?
David Austin: We will be, yes. We have plenty of time to gear up, and we will have sufficient resource.
Louise Haigh Q Will it involve a levy on the porn industry?
David Austin: It will involve the Government paying us the money to do the job on our usual not-for-profit basis. Louise Haigh Q What risks do you envisage in people handing over their personal data to
the pornographic industry? David Austin: Privacy is one of the most important things to get right in relation to this regime. As a regulator, we are not interested in identity at all. The only thing that we are interested in is
age, and the only thing that a porn website should be interested in is age. The simple question that should be returned to the pornographic website or app is, "Is this person 18 or over?" The answer should be either yes or no. No other personal
details are necessary.
We should bear in mind that this is not a new system. Age verification already exists, and we have experience of it in our work with the mobile network operators, where it works quite effectively--you can age verify your
mobile phone, for example. It is also worth bearing in mind that an entire industry is developing around improving age verification. Research conducted by a UK adult company in relation to age verification on their online content shows that the public is
becoming much more accepting of age verification.
Back in July 2015, for example, this company found that more than 50% of users were deterred when they were asked to age verify. As of September, so just a few weeks ago, that figure had gone down
to 2.3%. It is established technology, it is getting better and people are getting used to it, but you are absolutely right that privacy is paramount.
Louise Haigh Q Are you suggesting that it will literally just be a
question--"Is the user aged 18?"--and their ticking a box to say yes or no? How else could you disaggregate identity from age verification?
David Austin: There are a number of third-party organisations. I have
experience with mobile phones. When you take out a mobile phone contract, the adult filters are automatically turned on and the BBFC's role is to regulate what content goes in front of or behind the adult filters. If you want to access adult content--and
it is not just pornography; it could be depictions of self-harm or the promotion of other things that are inappropriate for children--you can go to your operator, such as EE, O2 or Vodafone, with proof that you are 18 or over. It is then on the record
that that phone is age verified. That phone can then be used in other contexts to access content. Louise Haigh Q But how can that be disaggregated from identity? That person's personal data is associated with that phone
and is still going to be part of the contract. David Austin: It is known by the mobile network operator, but beyond that it does not need to be known at all. Louise Haigh Q And is that the only
form of age verification that you have so far looked into? David Austin: The only form of age verification that we, as the BBFC, have experience of is age verification on mobile phones, but there are other methods and there are
new methods coming on line. The Digital Policy Alliance, which I believe had a meeting here yesterday to demonstrate new types of age verification, is working on a number of initiatives. Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con) Q May
I say what great comfort it is to know that the BBFC will be involved in the regulatory role? It suggests that this will move in the right direction. We all feel very strongly that the Bill is a brilliant step in the right direction: things that were
considered inconceivable four or five years ago can now be debated and legislated for.
The fundamental question for me comes down to enforcement. We know that it is difficult to enforce anything against offshore content providers; that is why
in the original campaign we went for internet service providers that were British companies, for whom enforcement could work. What reassurance can you give us that enforcement, if you have the role of enforcement, could be carried out against foreign
entities? Would it not be more appropriate to have a mandatory take-down regime if we found that a company was breaking British law by not asking for age verification, as defined in the Bill?
David Austin: The BBFC heads of agreement
with the Government does not cover enforcement. We made clear that we would not be prepared to enforce the legislation in clauses 20 and 21 as they currently stand. Our role is focused much more on notification; we think we can use the notification
process and get some quite significant results.
We would notify any commercially-operated pornographic website or app if we found them acting in contravention of the law and ask them to comply. We believe that some will and some, probably, will
not, so as a second backstop we would then be able to contact and notify payment providers and ancillary service providers and request that they withdraw services from those pornographic websites. So it is a two-tier process.
We have indications
from some major players in the adult industry that they want to comply--PornHub, for instance, is on record on the BBC News as having said that it is prepared to comply. But you are quite right that there will still be gaps in the regime, I imagine,
after we have been through the notification process, no matter how much we can achieve that way, so the power to fine is essentially the only real power the regulator will have, whoever the regulator is for stage 4.
For UK-based websites and apps,
that is fine, but it would be extremely challenging for any UK regulator to pursue foreign-based websites or apps through a foreign jurisdiction to uphold a UK law. So we suggested, in our submission of evidence to the consultation back in the spring,
that ISP blocking ought to be part of the regulator's arsenal. We think that that would be effective.
Claire Perry Q Am I right in thinking that, for sites that are providing illegally copyrighted material, there is currently
a take-down and blocking regime that does operate in the UK, regardless of their jurisdiction?
David Austin: Yes; ISPs do block website content that is pirated. There was research published earlier this year in the US that found
that it drove traffic to pirated @ websites down by about 90%. Another tool that has been used in relation to IP protection is de-indexing, whereby a search engine removes the infringing website from any search results. We also see that as a potential
way forward. Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab) Q First, can I verify that you both support adding in the power to require ISPs to block non-compliant sites? David Austin: Yes. Alan Wardle: Yes, we support that. Thangam Debbonaire Q Good. That was quick. I just wanted to make sure that was there. What are your comments on widening the scope, so that age verification could be enforced
for matters other than pornography, such as violent films or other content that we would not allow in the offline world? I am talking about things such as pro-anorexia websites. We know that this is possible to do in certain formats, because it is done
for other things, such as copyright infringement. What are your views on widening the scope and the sanctions applying to that? Alan Wardle: We would support that. We think the Bill is a really great step forward, although some
things, such as enforcement, need to be strengthened. We think this is an opportunity to see how you can give children parity of protection in the online and the offline worlds.
It is very good, from our perspective, that the BBFC is doing
this, because they have got that expertise. Pornography is not the only form of harm that children see online. We know from our research at the NSPCC that there are things like graphic violence. You mentioned some of the pro-anorexia and pro-suicide
sites, and they are the kind of things that ought to be dealt with. We are supporting developing a code of practice with industry to work out what those harms are--and that is very much a staged approach.
We take it for granted that when, for
instance, a child goes to a youth group or something like that, we make sure there are protections there, and that the staff are CRB checked. Somehow it seems that for children going on to the internet it is a bit like the wild west. There are very few
protections. Some of the content really is upsetting and distressing to children. This is not about adults being blocked from seeing adult content. That is absolutely fine; we have no problem with that at all. But it is about protecting children from
seeing content that is inappropriate for them. We would certainly support that widening, but obviously doing it in a staged way so that the regulator does not take on too much at once. We would certainly support that.
David Austin: I
would echo what Alan says. We see this Bill as a significant step forward in terms of child protection. We absolutely agree with the principle of protecting children from a wider range of content--indeed, that is what we do in other areas: for example,
with the mobile network operators and their adult filters. Like Alan, I think we see it in terms of more of a staged approach. The BBFC taking on this role is a significant new area of work--quite a challenge to take on board. I think there is a
potential risk of overloading the Bill if we try to put too much on it, so I would very much support the NSPCC's phased approach.
Thangam Debbonaire Q Is there anything further that you think needs to be added to the Bill
to make the sanctions regime work? I am also thinking--at the risk of going against what you just said, Mr Austin--about whether or not we should be considering sites that are not designed for commercial purposes but where pornography or other harmful
material is available on a non-commercial basis; or things not designed for porn at all, such as Twitter timelines or Tumblr and other social media, where the main purpose may not be pornography or other harmful material, but it is available. Do you
think the Bill has enough sanctions in it to cope with all of that, or should that be added? Is there anything else you would like to add?
David Austin: There were a few questions. I will try to answer them all, but if I miss any
of them please come back to me. In terms of sanctions, I have talked about ISP blocking and de-indexing. We think those could be potentially effective steps. In terms of commercial pornography, we have been working on devising a test of what that is. The
Bill states explicitly that the pornography could be free and still provided on a commercial basis. I do not think it is narrowing the scope of the regulation an awful lot by specifying commercial pornography. If there are adverts, if the owner is a
corporate entity, if there are other aspects--if the site is exploiting data, for example: there are all sorts of indications that a site is operating on a commercial basis. So I do not see that as a real problem.
In relation to Twitter, which
you mentioned, what the Bill says the regulator should do is define what it sees as ancillary service providers. Those are organisations whose work facilitates and enables the pornography to be distributed. There is certainly a case to argue that social
media such as Twitter are ancillary service providers. There are Twitter account holders who provide pornography on Twitter so I think you could definitely argue that.
I would argue that Twitter is an ancillary service provider, as are search
engines and ISPs. One of the things that we plan to do in the next weeks and months would be to engage with everyone that we think is an ancillary service provider, and see what we can achieve together, to try and achieve the maximum protection we can
through the notification regime that we are taking on as part 3 of the Bill. The Chair
Just before we move on, shall we see if Mr Wardle also wants to contribute to things that should be in the Bill?
Alan Wardle: On that point, I
think it is important for us that there is clarification--and I would agree with David about this--in terms of ensuring that sites that may for instance be commercial but that are not profiting from pornography are covered. Again, Twitter is an example.
We know that there are porn stars with Twitter accounts who have lots of people following them and lots of content, so it is important that that is covered.
It is important that the legislation is future-proofed. We are seeing at the NSPCC
through Childline that sexual content or pornography are increasingly live-streamed through social media sites, and there is self-generated content, too. It is important that that is covered, as well as the traditional--what you might call
commercial--porn. We know from our research at the NSPCC that children often stumble across pornography, or it is sent to them. We think that streamed feeds for over-18s and under-18s should be possible so that sort of content is not available to
children. It can still be there for adults, but not for children. Nigel Adams Q Can you give us your perspective on the scale of the problem of under-18s' access to this sort of inappropriate content? I guess it is difficult to do a
study into it but, through the schools network and education departments, do you have any idea of the scale of the issue?
Alan Wardle: We did research earlier this year with the University of Middlesex into this issue. We asked
young people--under 18s--whether they had seen pornography and when. Between the ages of 11 and 18, about half of them had seen pornography. Obviously, when you get to older children--16 and 17-year-old-boys in particular--it was much higher. Some 90% of
those 11 to 18-year-olds had seen it by the age of 14. It was striking--I had not expected this--that, of the children who had seen it, about half had searched for it but the other half had stumbled across it through pop-ups or by being sent stuff on
social media that they did not want to see.
It is a prevalent problem. If a determined 17-year-old boy wants to see pornography, undoubtedly he will find a way of doing it, but of particular concern to us is when you have got eight, nine or
10-year-old children stumbling across this stuff and being sent things that they find distressing. Through Childline, we are getting an increasing number of calls from children who have seen pornographic content that has upset them.
Q Has there been any follow-on, in terms of assaults perpetrated by youngsters as a result of being exposed to this?
Alan Wardle: It is interesting to note that there has been an exponential rise in the number
of reports of sexual assaults against children in the past three or four years. I think it has gone up by about 84% in the past three years. Nigel Adams Q By children? Alan Wardle: Against
children. Part of that, we think, is what you might call the Savile effect--since the Savile scandal there has been a much greater awareness of child abuse and children are more likely to come forward, which we think is a good thing. But Chief Constable
Simon Bailey, who is the national lead on child protection, believes that a significant proportion of that is due to the internet. Predators are able to cast their net very widely through social networking sites and gaming sites, fishing for vulnerable
children to groom and abuse.
We believe that, in developing the code of practice that I talked about earlier, that sort thing needs to be built in to ensure that children are protected from that sort of behaviour in such spaces. The internet is
a great thing but, as with everything, it can be used for darker purposes. We think there is increasing evidence--Simon Bailey has said this, and more research needs to be done into the scale of it--that children, as well as seeing adult content, are
increasingly being groomed for sex online.
Nigel Adams Q Mr Austin, what constructive conversations and meetings have you had with ISPs thus far, in terms of the potential for blocking those sites--especially the sites
David Austin: We have not had any conversations yet, because we signed the exchange of letters with the Government only last Thursday and it was made public only today that we are taking on this role. We have
relationships with ISPs--particularly the mobile network operators, with which we have been working for a number of years to bring forward child protection on mobile devices.
Our plan is to engage with ISPs, search engines, social media--the
range of people we think are ancillary service providers under the Bill--over the next few weeks and months to see what we can achieve together. We will also be talking to the adult industry. As we have been regulating pornography in the offline space
and, to an extent, in the online space for a number of years, we have good contacts with the adult industry so we will engage with them.
Many companies in the adult industry are prepared to work with us. Playboy , for instance, works with
us on a purely voluntary basis online. There is no law obliging it to work with us, but it wants to ensure that all the pornography it provides is fully legally and compliant with British Board of Film Classification standards, and is provided to adults
only. We are already working in this space with a number of players.
Nigel Huddleston Q Obviously, the BBFC is very experienced at classifying films according to certain classifications and categories. I am sure it is no easy
task, but it is possible to use an objective set of criteria to define what is pornographic or disturbing, or is it subjective? How do you get that balance?
David Austin: The test of whether something is pornographic is a test
that we apply every single day, and have done since the 1980s when we first started regulating that content under the Video Recordings Act 1984. The test is whether the primary purpose of the work is to arouse sexually. If it is, it is pornography. We
are familiar with that test and use it all the time. Nigel Huddleston Q In terms of skills and resources, are you confident you will be able to get the right people in to do the job properly? I am sure that it is quite a
disturbing job in some cases. David Austin: Yes. We already have people who have been viewing pornographic content for a number of years. We may well need to recruit one or two extra people, but we certainly have the expertise
and we are pretty confident that we already have the resources. We have time between now and the measures in the Bill coming into force to ensure that we have a fully effective system up and running. The Minister for Digital and Culture
(Matt Hancock) Q I just want to put on the record that we are delighted that the BBFC has signed the heads of agreement to regulate this area. I cannot think of a better organisation with the expertise and the experience to make it
work. What proportion of viewed material do you think will be readily covered by the proposed mechanism in the Bill that you will be regulating the decision over but not the enforcement of? David Austin: I am not sure that I
understand the question.
Matt Hancock Q I am thinking about the scale of the problem--the number of views by under-18s of material that you deem to be pornographic. What proportion of the problem do you think the Bill, with
your work, will fix?
David Austin: So we are talking about the amount of pornography that is online? Matt Hancock Q And what is accessed. David Austin: Okay. As you all
know, there is masses of pornography online. There are 1.5 million new pornographic URLs coming on stream every year. However, the way in which people access pornography in this country is quite limited. Some 70% of users go to the 50 most popular
websites. With children, that percentage is even greater; the data evidence suggests that they focus on a relatively small number of sites.
We would devise a proportionality test and work out what the targets are in order to achieve the
greatest possible level of child protection. We would focus on the most popular websites and apps accessed by children--those data do exist. We would have the greatest possible impact by going after those big ones to start with and then moving down the
Matt Hancock Q So you would be confident of being able to deal with the vast majority of the problem.
David Austin: Yes. We would be confident in dealing with the sites and apps that most people
access. Have I answered the question? Matt Hancock Q Yes. Given that there is a big problem that is hard to tackle and complicated, I was just trying to get a feel for how much of the problem you think, with your expertise
and the Bill, we can fix. David Austin: We can fix a great deal of the problem. We cannot fix everything. The Bill is not a panacea but it can achieve a great deal, and we believe we can achieve a great deal working as the
regulator for stages 1 to 3. Louise Haigh Q My question follows on neatly from that. While I am sure that the regulation will tackle those top 50 sites, it obviously comes nowhere near tackling the problems that Mr Wardle
outlined, and the crimes, such as grooming, that can flow from those problems. There was a lot of discussion on Second Reading about peer-to-peer and social media sites that you have called "ancillary". No regulation in the world is going to
stop that. Surely, the most important way to tackle that is compulsory sex education at school. Alan Wardle: Yes. In terms of online safety, a whole range of things are needed and a whole lot of players. This will help the
problem. We would agree and want to work with BBFC about a proportionality test and identifying where the biggest risks are to children, and for that to be developing. That is not the only solution.
Yes, we believe that statutory personal,
social and health education and sexual relationships education is an important part of that. Giving parents the skills and understanding of how to keep their children safe is also really important. But there is a role for industry. Any time I have a
conversation with an MP or parliamentarian about this and they have a child in their lives--whether @ their own, or nieces or nephews--we quickly come to the point that it is a bit of a nightmare. They say, "We try our best to keep our children safe
but there is so much, we don't know who they are speaking to" and all the rest of it.
How do we ensure that when children are online they are as safe as they are when offline? Of course, things happen in the real world as well and no solution
is going to be perfect. Just as, in terms of content, we would not let a seven-year-old walk into the multiplex and say, "Here is 'Finding Nemo' over here and here is hard core porn--off you go."
We need to build those protections in
online so we know what children are seeing and whom they speaking to, and also skilling up children themselves through school and helping parents. But we believe the industry has an important part to play in Government, in terms of regulating and
ensuring that spaces where children are online are as safe as they can be.
Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) Q To follow on from the Minister's question, you feel you are able to tackle roughly the top 50 most visited
sites. Is there a danger that you then replace those with the next top 50 that are perhaps less regulated and less co-operative? How might we deal with that particular problem, if it exists?
David Austin: When I said "the
top 50", I was talking in terms of the statistics showing that 70% of people go to the top 50. We would start with the top 50 and work our way through those, but we would not stop there. We would look to get new data every quarter, for example. As
you say, sites will come in and out of popularity. We will keep up to date and focus on those most popular sites for children.
We would also create something that we have, again, done with the mobile operators. We would create an ability for
members of the public--a parent, for example--to contact us about a particular website if that is concerning them. If an organisation such as the NSPCC is getting information about a particular website or app that is causing problems in terms of
under-age access, we would take a look at that as well. In creating this proportionality test what we must not do is be as explicit as to say that we will look only at the top 50.
First, that is not what we would do. Secondly, we do not want
anyone to think, "Okay, we don't need to worry about the regulator because we are not on their radar screen." It is very important to keep up to date with what are the most popular sites and, therefore, the most effective in dealing with
under-age regulation, dealing with complaints from members of the public and organisations such as the NSPCC.
Alan Wardle: I think that is why the enforcement part is so important as well, so that people know that if they do not put
these mechanisms in place there will be fines and enforcement notices, the flow of money will be stopped and, crucially, there is that backstop power to block if they do not operate as we think they should in this country. The enforcement mechanisms are
really important to ensure that the BBFC can do their job properly and people are not just slipping from one place to the next. Claire Perry Q Of those top 50 sites, do we know how many are UK-based? @ David Austin:
I would guess, none of them. I do not know for sure, but that would be my understanding. Claire Perry Q Secondly, I want to turn briefly to the issue of the UK's video on demand content. My reading around clause 15
suggests that, although foreign-made videos on demand will be captured by the new provisions, UK-based will continue to be caught by Communications Act 2003 provisions. Do you think that is adequate? David Austin: That is my
understanding as well. We work very closely with Ofcom. Ofcom regulates this UK on demand programme services as the Authority for Television On Demand, but it applies our standards in doing so. That is a partnership that works pretty effectively and
Ofcom has done an effective job in dealing with that type of content. That is one bit that is carved out from the Bill and already dealt with by Ofcom. Claire Perry
Open Rights Group has submitted Written evidence to House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Digital Economy Bill. The following is the groups views on some of the worst aspects of the Age Verification requirements for 18 rated adult
Open Rights Group (ORG) is the United Kingdom's only campaigning organisation dedicated to working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online. With 3,200 active supporters, we are a grassroots
organisation with local groups across the UK. We believe people have the right to control their technology, and oppose the use of technology to control people.
23. We believe the aim
of restricting children's access to inappropriate material is a reasonable one; however placing age verification requirements on adults to access legal material throws up a number of concerns which are not easily resolved.24.Our concerns include: whether
these proposals will work; the impact on privacy and freedom of expression; and how pornography is defined.
Lack of privacy safeguards
25. New age verification systems will enable the collection of
data about people accessing pornographic websites, potentially across different providers or websites. Accessing legal pornographic material creates sensitive information that may be linkedto a real life identity. The current wording of the draft Bill
means that this data could be vulnerable to the "Ashley Madison-style" leaks.
26. MindGeek (the largest global adult entertainment operator) estimates there are 20 to 25 million adults in the UK who access adult content
regularly. That is over 20 million people that will have to reveal attributes of their identity to a pornographywebsite or a third party company.
27. Current proposals2 for age-verification systems suggest using people's emails,
social media accounts, bank details, credit and electoral information, biometrics and mobile phone details. The use of any of this information exposes pornography website users to threats of data mining, identity theft and unsolicited marketing.
28. The currently proposed age-verification systems have minimal regard for the security of the data they will collect.
29. The Bill does not contain provisions to secure the privacy and anonymity of users of
pornographic sites. These must be included in the Bill, not merely in guidance issued by the age-verification regulator. They should ensure that the age-verificationsystem, by default, must not be able to identify a user to the pornographic site by
leaving persistent data trails. The user information that pornography websites are allowed to store without additional consent should be strictly limited.
Will age verification work?
objective of these proposals is child safety rather than age verification. Policy makers should not measure success by the number of adults using age verification. It is highly likely that children will be able to continue accessing pornographicmaterial,
meaning that the policy will struggle to meet its true goal.
31. The Bill does not outline an effective system to administer age verification. It sets out a difficult task to regulate foreign pornography publishers. This will be
difficult to enforce. Even if access to pornographic material hosted abroad is blockedin the UK, bypassing website blocks is very easy - for example through the use of VPNs. Using VPNs is not technically difficult and could easily be used by teenagers to
circumvent age verification.
32. Young people will still be able to access pornographic materials through some mainstream social media websites that are not subject to age verification, and from peer-to-peer networks.
33. As with ISP and mobile phone filters, age verification may prevent young children from accidentally finding pornographic material but it is unlikely to restrict a tech-savvy teenager.
against sexual minorities and small business
34. The age verification systems will impose disproportionate costs on small publishers. No effective and efficient age verification system has been presented and it is very likely
the costs imposed on smaller publishers will cause them to go out of business 3 .
35. Smaller publishers of adult materials often cater for sexual minorities or people with special needs. The costs associated with implementing age
verification systems threaten the existence of these sites and thus the ability of particular groupsto express their sexuality by using the services of smaller pornographic publishers.
36. It is unclear whether adults will trust
age verification systems, especially if they appear to identify them to the sites. It is possible that there will be a dissuasive effect on adults wishing to receive legal material. This would be a negativeimpact on free expression, and would be likely
to disproportionately impact people from sexual minorities.
Definition of pornographic material
37. The definitions of pornographic material included in the Bill are much broader than what is
socially accepted as harmful pornography. The Bill not only covers R18 materials typically described as "hardcore pornography", which offline can only be acquiredin licensed sex shops, but also 18-rated materials of a sexual nature. The
boundaries of 18 classification are dynamic and reflect social consensus on what is acceptable with some restrictions. Today this would include popular films such as Fifty Shadesof Gray. This extension of the definition of pornography to cover all
"erotic" 18 rated films also raises questions as to why violent - but not sexual - materials rated as 18 should then be accessible online.
38. Hiding some of these materials or making them more difficult to access puts
unjustifiable restrictions on people's freedom of expression. Placing 18-rated materials beyond the age-verification wall under the same category as hardcore pornography willdiscourage people from exploring topics related to their sexuality.
Suggestions for improvement
39. The online age verification proposed in the Bill is unworkable and will not deliver what Government set out to do. We urge the Government to find more effective solutions
to deliver their objectives on the age verification. The online age verificationshould be dropped from the Bill in its current version. 40. The updated version of age verification should incorporate:
41. 1) Privacy safeguards
The regulator should have specific duties to ensure the systems are low risk. For instance, Age verification should not be be in place unless privacy safeguards are strong. Any age verification system should not create wider
security risks, for instanceto credit card systems, or through habituating UK Internet users into poor security practices.
42. Users of adult websites should have clarity on the liability of data breaches and what personal data is
42. 2) Safeguards for sexual minorities
Requirements should be proportionate to the resources available and the likelihood of access by minors. Small websites that cater for sexual
minorities may fall under the commercial threshold.
43. 3) Remove 18-rated materials from the definition of pornographic materials
Placing all materials of a sexual nature under the definition of
pornography is not helpful and will greatly increase the impact of these measures on the human right to impart and receive information, including of older children and young adults.
Open Rights Group make equally valid arguments against the
criminalisation of file sharing and the introduction of many features of an ID card to tie together vast amounts or personal data held in a variety of government databases.
Pandora Blake, award-winning activist and feminist pornographer, has won her appeal to Ofcom against ATVOD and can reinstate her site Dreams of Spanking, which was banned under the AVMS guidelines in August 2015, triggering widespread anger among
free speech advocates as well as porn fans.
The controversial Audiovisual Media Services Regulations came into effect in December 2014, banning consensual sex acts from online porn including facesitting, female ejaculation, and
spanking that leaves marks. Pandora Blake took part in the facesitting protest outside Westminster, and also spoke on Newsnight and Women's Hour challenging the sexist and regressive nature of the regulations. She believes that speaking out made
her a target for censorship.
ATVOD - the Association for TV on Demand - were tasked with regulating online porn in 2010. While porn critics often focus on the mainstream industry, ATVOD made a point of targeting independent
niche and fetish porn producers, including a disproportionate number of female filmmakers. In January 2016, Ofcom shut down the quango amid rumours that it was acting beyond its remit.
Pandora Blake said:
The point of Dreams of Spanking was to make ethical porn based on my own fantasies. I'm not ashamed of being kinky and there's no harm in adults sharing consensual BDSM films. The AVMS regulations effectively criminalised my
sexuality. I was singled out because I criticised the new laws. ATVOD tried to shut me up, but they failed.
Now I've won my appeal I feel vindicated. It proves that it's worth standing up to bullies. The war against intrusive and
oppressive state censorship isn't over, but this decision is a landmark victory for feminist porn, diversity and freedom of expression.
Update: Candy Girls tool
3rd October 2016. From Xbiz
The operator of Candy Girl Productions, Laura Jenkins, also won her appeal involving two online adult sites AllTeensWorld.co.uk and CandyGirlPass.com as well as 33 other affiliated adult subscription sites.
Ofcom reversed decisions made by
previous co-regulator ATVOD and decided the sites listed in the appeal cases were not on-demand video websites and subject to regulation, including requiring a system that verifies that the user is 18 or over at the point of registration. Each of the
online adult companies were subject to fines prior to the appeal cases.
Ofcom said in the rulings that it proposed to quash previous ATVOD determinations in the cases and replace it with the current determinations.
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
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.
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
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
Offsite Comment: No one can stop teenagers from watching porn -- not even David Cameron
30 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
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
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
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.
ATVOD was sacked from its job as the Video on Demand censor a few weeks back. Ofcom has now taken over the role from 1st January 2016.
Ofcom has just published a paper outlining transitionary arrangements for Video on Demand Censorship and has
outlined proposals for future changes to processes. Ofcom is consulting on these proposals and invites responses by 1st March 2016.
Ofcom will take on some employees from ATVOD and in the first instance the ATVOD censorship rules and processes
will be continued. However Ofcom makes the following proposals for the future:
Service providers will still be required to register for censorship using more or less the same impossibly convoluted rules that currently exist (perhaps with improved explanation).
Ofcom proposes that service providers should no longer be
charged a fee. (Ofcom note that the marginal cost to extend current TV censorship processes to Video on Demand are not great).
Ofcom will reorganise the complaints procedure along the lines of that used for broadcast complaints
will rewrite the censorship rules in the style of the TV broadcast rules but substantive content will not be likely to change much as it is basically derived from EU and UK decrees.