The UK government slipped out its impact assessment of the upcoming porn censorship law during the Christmas break. The new law requires porn websites to be blocked in the UK when they don't implement age verification.
The measures are currently due to come into force in May but it seems a tight schedule as even the rules for acceptable age verification systems have not yet been published.
The report contains some interesting costings and assessment of the expected harms to be inflicted on porn viewers and British adult businesses.
The document notes the unpopularity of the age verification requirements with a public consultation finding that 54% of respondents did not support the introduction of a law to require age verification.
However, the government has forged ahead, with the aim of stopping kids accessing porn on the grounds that such content could distress them or harm their development.
The governments censorship rules will be enforced by the BBFC, in its new role as the UK porn censor although it prefers the descriptor: age-verification regulator . The government states that the censorship job will initially be funded by
the government, and the government is assuming this will cost £4.5 million based upon a range of estimates from 1 million to 8 million.
The government has bizarrely assumed that the BBFC will ban just 1 to 60 sites in a year. The additional work for ISPs to block these sites is estimated £100,000 to £500,000 for each ISP. Probably to be absorbed by larger companies, but will be an
expensive problem for smaller companies who do not currently implement any blocking systems.
Interestingly the government notes that there wont be any impact on UK adult businesses notionally because they should have already implemented age verification under ATVOD and Ofcom censorship rules. In reality it will have little impact on UK
businesses because they have already been decimated by the ATVOD and Ofcom rules and have mostly closed down or moved abroad.
Te key section of the document summarising expected harms is as follows.
The policy option set out above also gives rise to the following risks:
Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;
Development of alternative payment systems and technological work-arounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be
The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;
Reputational risks including Government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;
The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and
peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1%).
Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.
The list does not seem to include the potential for blackmail from user data sold by porn firms, or else stolen by hackers. And mischievously, politicians could be one of the groups most open to blackmail for money or favours.
Another notable omission, is that the government does not seem overly concerned about mass VPN usage. I would have thought that the secret services wanting to monitor terrorists would not be pleased if a couple of million people stared to use
encrypted VPNs. Perhaps it shows that the likes of GCHQ can already see into what goes on behind VPNs.