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UPDATE UK Government Confirm Move to Force ISPs into Blocking “Adult” Sites

Monday, November 21st, 2016 (8:35 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 171,814)
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As expected the Government has officially announced that Mobile and fixed line broadband providers in the United Kingdom will soon be forced into the mandatory blocking of all “adult” websites; specifically those that fail to offer an adequate method of age-verification for their visitors.

The new approach, which was first hinted at last month after Claire Perry MP tabled several directly related amendments (here), will be officially introduced as part of a change to the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill 2016-17.

However the idea itself has been on the table since last year (here), which is partly because the Government need a solution to help stop the EU’s new Net Neutrality rules from effectively banning network-level blocking systems (here); these are used by ISPs to censor websites, both voluntarily or following a court-order.

At present all of the biggest fixed line broadband ISPs and Mobile operators have already adopted a voluntary approach to blocking adult sites (Parental Controls), which gives new and existing subscribers a choice about whether or not to enable such censorship on their connection. But even the toughest of these systems will still provide account owners with the option to disable such blocks, yet this flexibility may soon be removed.

Under the new approach the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be given powers to make Internet Service Providers (ISP) restrict access to pornographic sites that fail to put “tough age verification measures” in place to protect children.

Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said:

“The Government is committed to keeping 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.”

Apparently the requirement to block such “rogue sites” would apply to all websites in the United Kingdom and overseas. Where websites originate in the EU the process will be “compatible with country of origin rules“, which is interesting because some EU states are a lot less puritanical than the UK has recently become.

In terms of pornographic websites, the Government claims that the top 50 sites account for 70% of users and “many“, including the largest free site by market share, have already agreed with the government to implement age verification. The bill also introduces a new power that forces payment services (e.g. VISA, Mastercard) to withdraw support from non-compliant sites.

As ever there are plenty of concerns with the new approach, not least the question of how you actually make ‘Age Verification‘ work without forcing people to share their private personal and or financial details with unreliable porn peddlers, and possibly the Government too. The infamous Ashley Madison hack showed just how dangerous such information can be in the wrong hands (following in its wake were multiple cases of blackmail and suicide etc.).

Naturally the Government focuses all of its energy on the word “pornographic“, while the legislation itself tends to prefer the much less specific “adult content” (i.e. open to interpretation and mission creep). We’ve seen in the past how dating websites, as well as sites that support victims of self-harm, social networks, sites that express different political views and medical sites can often end up being blocked because they are deemed to contain “adult content“.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, said:

“This could lead to tens of thousands of websites being blocked, despite their content being perfectly legal.

In no way should this proposal be legislated for in this bill. There has been no thought or consultation, and the government has not even begun to define how blocking might be attempted.

They have no idea if it would work well or badly, or whether there is serious enough harm to justify such a massive restriction on UK adults access to legal material.

We do however know that over 90% of parents manage their children’s activities online, according to OFCOM, and that 70% of households do not have children.”

The cost of implementing such a system isn’t such an issue for the bigger ISPs, but smaller providers could struggle (network-level filtering isn’t a cheap or easy thing to implement). A number of providers may be able to get around this because they already require customers to be over the age of 18, although this will depend upon how the final legislation is worded.

On top of that there will be questions about what happens if a website is wrongfully blocked. Plus we must not forget that most adults, usually those without children, don’t want to censor legal adult websites (here) and indeed a large proportion of adults do access porn online (here).

Finally, anybody who wants to find and access such material will easily be able to circumvent such blocks, such as via a proxy server or VPN. Lest we not forget Google’s image search, which displays naughty content unless ‘Safe Search‘ is enabled (will Google be blocked too?). All of these circumvention methods are easy to use and you can bet the last pound in your pocket that children above a certain age will know more about this than the rest of us.

UPDATE 24th Nov 2016

The proposed amendment to support the above change has now been tabled for the Digital Economy Bill (here).

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48 Responses
  1. dragoneast

    “Taking back control”. We asked for it.

  2. Optimist

    What next? Sites that satirise religions or politicians?

  3. Sledgehammer

    Smacks of idiots trying to make laws that could prove totally ineffective too anyone who knows how to evade such blocks.

  4. Chris

    Beach of basic human right?? Shame we don’t have the EU to temper the power of the power hungry !

  5. Ethel Prunehat

    > Lest we not forget Google’s image search

    So are you saying that we /should/ forget Google image search?

    • Image search porn and all the porn anyone could ask for is there. How do they plan to block Google, Twitter and every other free porn site there is? Without blocking every single site with anything that has a porn related word in it?

      Asking the BBFC to start checking what site needs banning and what site doesn’t it stupid it would take an army of people to even start. So it has to be done by algorithms that search for suspect words. Which means News Sites, including this one.

  6. Chris

    Oh no, what am I going to do on a wet autumn evening now?

    Yet another civil liberty breach, the UK really is becoming a big brother nation. This is non-proportional and the idea of giving my credit card details to such a site is laughable. Also, the cost to small ISPs will be very restrictive. Being in the last 5% I want to see nothing that will hinder my chances of accessing Internet above 3Mbs. Maybe that is already screwed by the snooping charter anyway. How can the government pretend it is serious about reaching the last 5% when it puts roadblocks like this in the way?

    And to top it all off it is pointless as people will use proxys and VPNs. I certainly use a VPN already. Will there be another exception clause for MPs like in the snooping charter?

    Grrr, makes me grumpy.

  7. DTMark

    I can think of one site we built and host for a customer which sells vaping products.

    It does have an “Are you over 18?” message that pops up. Getting past that is simply a matter of clicking the button labelled “Yes”.

    This is the sort of thing that I would imagine may be deemed to be “adult content”.

    Yet anyone can view with “self-verification” and pay using, say, a Visa Electron debit card which is available to under 18s.

    So the question is then: how do you “verify” the user?

    “we have appointed a regulator, BBFC, to make sure the right age checks are in place to make that happen”

    As Mark points out in the article: how?

    Is this going to make lots of money for providers like Experian who might be able to offer an API to actually check peoples’ ages?

    And if so, the customer may as well close their website. Nobody is going to fill in forms on entry to the site providing their full details before they even get to look at anything. They’ll just buy from a site (overseas) that does not have this requirement.

  8. Chess

    I forgot we were living in North Korea. Soon only a select few websites will be accessible and all just promoting government propaganda.

  9. captain.cretin

    Google wouldnt let me create a gmail account for my daughter because she is only 3; they had no problem when I changed the DOB to make her 116 years old.

    • DTMark

      IIRC Google displays your day/month of birth or your year of birth on your public profile page.

      You can choose which one, but neither is a great idea from the perspective of identity theft.

      Therefore you should indeed give Google an incorrect date of birth. Which comes neatly back to the topic of this news item 🙂

  10. Data Analysis

    Ridiculous you probably wont even need a VPN or proxy.

    If an age verification system via credit card number check is put in place just to enter the site then i imagine the old trick of 4222222222222 and selecting Visa will get around that.

    Unless a separate bank system then checks each name and number of each visitor to the site. Thats Highly unlikely given the huge amount of visitors on some porn sites, even less likely if its a non-pay for site like most are.

    Government never learn sigh 🙁

  11. Bob2002

    Anyone wondering why this site seems a bit sluggish … ISPreview has achieved a double-whammy on the reddit front page –

    https://s22.postimg.org/yyfbwrsld/redditisp.png

  12. Robert

    Why don’t parents just regulate their children’s internet usage? It’s not like kids can go out and buy a computer and pay for internet access. There are literally hundreds of options outside of governmental censorship.

    • timeless

      because most parents are lazy and treat the net like daycare.

    • Ricky

      “We do however know that over 90% of parents manage their children’s activities online, according to OFCOM, and that 70% of households do not have children.”

  13. Peter Rushkin

    First they came for the Porn Sites, and I did not speak out—
    Because I didn’t watch Porn.

    Then they came for the Torrent Sites, and I did not speak out—
    Because I didn’t torrent.

    Then they came for the Bitcoin Sites, and I did not speak out—
    Because I didn’t pay with bitcoin.

    Then they came for me for using VPN and there was no one left to speak for me.

    • hugh janus

      Sure there will be someone to speak for you – all those torrenters, and porn watchers and bitCoin users will all be on VPNs by that time (assuming they are not already).

      You know what is interesting though – the Investigatory Powers Act, leading to more people using VPNs, and now this. I wonder how many MPs have been buying shares in VPN companies recently…

    • Eoin Flaherty

      The current blocking and tracking arrangements in the UK are DNS based. No need for VPN, just DNSSEC or DNSCRYPT to get around the transparent DNS proxy. They’re going to have to spend a shitload of money to achieve their stated aims.

    • NH

      Yea if it’s even possible. The internet was built from the ground up to prevent this kind of control. There’s always way around it. Look how hard China have been trying and still people easily get round their firewall.

  14. Jack

    Makes me proud to be an American where at least I’m able to disperse some knuckle children without being forced to look at a blank wall

    • Jonathan Marshall

      In the future Jack, when voicing your “opinion”,
      please don’t announce your US citizenship.
      It makes the rest of us seem like fools. Thanks.

  15. theone

    It’s so sad to see that poor country of yours collapsing under such an awful government, maybe people will eventually take a stand

    • >[…] maybe people will eventually take a stand […]

      As someone from the UK, you’re kidding, right? That would require the apathetic masses to tear themselves away from their bread and circuses for more than a second.

  16. Anthony Buck

    Please sign and share this petition:

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/173407/sponsors/aeXJMT2Df37mvburYqLK

    It reads:

    Do not censor the internet. Please rethink forcing ISPs to Block “Adult” Sites.

    As part of the Digital Economy Bill 2016-17 the government has officially announced that Mobile and fixed line broadband providers in the United Kingdom will be forced to block all “adult” websites. This is a slippery slope which can be used to force ever increasing censorship on undesirable views.

    The bill also introduces a new power that forces payment services (e.g. VISA, Mastercard) to withdraw support from non-compliant sites. The legislation uses the term “adult content” (i.e. open to interpretation and mission creep.) Dating, self-harm support, social networks, different political views and medical sites have historically been tagged as “adult content“. More at: http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/11/uk-government-confirm-move-force-isps-blocking-adult-sites.html

    • Billy

      We’re checking this petition

      5 people have already supported Anthony Buck’s petition.

      We need to check it meets the petition standards before we publish it.

      Please try again in a few days.

    • sleepwalking-into-a-new-wol

      Oh the irony:

      Your connection is not private

      Attackers might be trying to steal your information from petition.parliament.uk (for example, passwords, messages or credit cards). NET::ERR_CERTIFICATE_TRANSPARENCY_REQUIRED

  17. Chris

    I’m reading through the bill currently & I’m really struggling to find the language that dictates sites will be blocked if they fail to comply. All I have been able to find so far is a financial penalty will be imposed of an amount of up to £250k.

  18. Greg

    Pretty rich for a government fresh from covering up vip paedo rings to presume to have any kind of moral authority, then awkwardly enough… treat everyone like children.

  19. timeless

    l wonder if ppl realise this is how censorship starts… once you have a system in place other things can be blocked too.. that coupled with the new snooping laws sets a pretty worrying trend.

  20. Covey

    So people will start using Tor to access their Porn, what a complete waste of peoples time and money.

  21. I must say that this is outrageous in my opinion. There are many things that a kid can see on TV that need to be blocked. We are step away from blocking everything that is not pleasant for some eyes. Really, its just a shame.

  22. Paul

    Big brother plain and simple

  23. James Blunt

    Remember how Mary Whitehouse’s actions resulted in the Whitehouse magazine?
    Someone ought to do the same for her protege Claire Perry.

  24. Christopher Wedge

    Tor? This is just a DNS filtering bill – not at all fit for it’s stated purpose. It’s not hard to use a different DNS service. It helps stop malicious JavaScript AND allows unfiltered (well, unfiltered by anyone other than you) access.

    If, however, the actual focus is on blocking those pesky political dissidents (feminists are really on the defensive after being forced by the public and some MPs to pay lip service to International Men’s Day) then it might see more success. Phone companies such as O2 have already done such things of their own volition. This is one of the reasons why it kind of wrankles me when people say “the government” as if that reveals much about the individuals involved. After all,an age where the public trusts a lyong media is an age where politicians have no choice but to follow the orders of said media.

  25. Non-conventional porn (e.g. female ejaculation) will be banned in the UK along side sites that “fail the rating.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/nov/23/censor-non-conventional-sex-acts-online-internet-pornography

  26. tedd

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  27. Elow Mate

    No of this nonsense will ever works. ISPs blocking is dinosaur compared to the current technology of the internet.

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