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UPDATE ISP Blocking and Age Verification of Porn Websites from April 2018

Monday, July 17th, 2017 (11:47 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,395)
censored access internet

The Government has confirmed that, from April 2018 onwards, they will require broadband ISPs to block access to pornographic websites that fail to introduce at least a Credit Card based Age Verification system. This is intended to stop children being able to access naughty images and videos.

The measure was pushed into law earlier this year as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, although until now some of the details have remained quite vague. Today the BBC has revealed a little bit more and also published an introduction date. It’s still expected that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be tasked with regulating the system.

PART 3 Online pornography

14. Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under 18

(1) A person contravenes this subsection if the person makes pornographic material available on the internet to persons in the United Kingdom on a commercial basis other than in a way that secures that, at any given time, the material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18.

One of the many problems with the new approach is that all of the major broadband ISPs already offer subscribers an optional network-level filtering system (Parental Controls), which works well and allows users to choose whether or not they censor access to websites featuring “adult content.” Most parents already appear to be making use of this.

However the Government clearly wants to go further and so their new Age Verification policy is seen as one solution, which would apply to both sites in the UK and abroad. Obviously the UK can’t force such changes on non-UK sites, but they can require ISPs to block those that don’t comply.

The law also introduced a new power that forces payment services (e.g. VISA, Mastercard) to withdraw support from non-compliant sites and the Government can even impose a financial penalty of up to £250,000.

Matt Hancock, UK Digital Minister, said:

“All this means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the UK will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world.”

As ever there are plenty of other concerns about the new approach, although the Government has so far seen little problem with the privacy side of things. The new system would effectively force people to share their private personal and financial details with unreliable porn peddlers. The infamous Ashley Madison hack showed just how dangerous that can be (stolen info. fuelled multiple cases of blackmail and suicide etc.).

The United Nations has similarly warned that this approach lacks “data sharing safeguards” and may damage the vital “right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression” (here). On a more positive note the final Act did at least drop the “adult content” wording in favour of using the specific term “pornography,” which helps to mitigate some of the fears about mission creep.

However it’s still unclear whether the new measures will also be applied to Internet search engines like Google (i.e. when ‘Safe Search‘ is disabled) or the websites of certain UK newspapers that frequently post revealing pictures of semi-naked young women. Not forgetting that such pictures can also be found on social networks, such as Twitter. In that sense the new law presents a difficult dilemma for certain sites.

Meanwhile a lot of children have a good knowledge of I.T (usually more so than their parents) and will have no trouble finding one of the many easy ways to circumvent website blocks that have been imposed by a broadband ISP, which tend to be wafer thin in their effectiveness (this is not the ISPs fault, it’s just how the Internet itself works). Suffice to say that children who go actively seeking such content will have no trouble finding it.

UPDATE 1:19pm

A comment from the Open Rights Group.

Jim Killock, ORG’s Executive Director, said:

“Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks.

The Government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of web users.

There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification. We are concerned that the porn company MindGeek will become the Facebook of age verification, dominating the UK market. They would then decide what privacy risks or profiling take place for the vast majority of UK citizens.

Age verification risks failure as it attempts to fix a social problem with technology. In their recent manifestos, all three main political parties called for compulsory sex and relationship education in schools. Sex education would genuinely protect young people, as it would give them information and context.”

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11 Responses
  1. Mike

    This will just encourage porn sites to use alternative payment models like Bitcoin and increased VPN usage to avoid checks.

  2. Pedant

    Existing card verification systems are already useless, fooled by teens’ cards. What’s the point? Oh yeah, to get a list of the “dirty porn watchers”.

  3. Sep

    Doubt this will this stop Google returning pornographic images in a search.

  4. The fact that they’re targeting “commercial” pornographic material only, makes this legislation totall ineffective (it’s not exactly difficult to find that kind of material on sites like twitter, tumblr, reddit, imgur etc etc etc)

    Plus of course the fact that the use of Proxies and VPNs is well known amongst more internet savvy people already for getting access to location locked material, so it’s not a stretch to do it for this.

    On top of the privacy concerns, there’s also the very real risk that people will end up going to less reputable sites which mirror content from commercial sites and are likely to be infested with malware.

  5. Alan

    The funniest and most stupid thing is…
    “Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under 18”

    Yet the legal age of consent for sex is 16, so quite what they think a 16 year old will see which they possibly have already done is anyones guess.

    As for the Card verification entering 4111111111111111 or 6011111111111117 or a whole bunch more known verification numbers will likely bypass that.

    You can also with permission from an adult have a debit card at 16, so errr many may already have a card which will in some form verify.

    In other words retarded and stupid. AKA GOVERNMENT.

    • No

      Most likely not, credit and debit card numbers would be generated by an algorithm and repeating numbers over and over again is probably the first thing someone would try. Most also try to charge a dollar to the card to make sure that it is real anyway, so keeping privacy will be much more difficult. There are temporary prepaid cards that you could use, but thats a nuisance and people will find ways around these blocks with VPN’s

  6. Going to end up playing whack-a-mole with alt domains using proxy_pass to avoid A-V and obscure providers geographic awareness, TPB style.

  7. hmm

    These puritan Clowns in Government no nothing about the Internet at all levels
    Utter Fail

  8. Darren

    This is pointless on so many levels it beggers beleif the government think it’s a good idea.

    We are doomed, governed by morons who clearly don’t care about our security, privacy or safety.

  9. dragoneast

    Will this protect children? Or make actual child abuse more common? The road to hell is, as ever, paved with good intentions. Our politicians meanwhile continue playing their childish games of whack-a-mole as much as they ever did. Those who make the money out of porn (and other evils) must be laughing all the way to the whatever bank they choose. I suppose the politicians stupidity supports the economy. Just whose? “Trust me, I’m a politician”. Yeah, right.

  10. spurple

    Actually porn sites probably love this. Finally the government requires UK citizens to give them credit card numbers. Expect the industry to become even more profitable as they sign people up for recurring payments.

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