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Age Verification and UK ISP Internet Porn Ban Quietly Delayed UPDATE

Monday, March 12th, 2018 (9:26 am) - Score 3,423
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The government has quietly delayed their new age verification rules until the end of 2018, which was set to be targeted at websites and “apps” that contain pornographic content. Broadband ISPs would also be required to block sites that fail to comply with the new rules.

Until a couple of days ago the Digital Economy Act 2017 (summary), specifically its plan to force an age-verification system upon commercial websites that predominantly contain pornographic content, had been due to be implemented from next month (April 2018).

Under this approach the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which has been handed the responsibility of regulating all this, will gain the power to force broadband ISPs and mobile network operators to block pornographic websites and apps that fail to put “tough age verification measures” in place (seemingly without any judicial oversight to prevent poor censorship decisions).

However it’s fair to say that many questions remained over how the age verification system would actually work, at least not without forcing people to share their private personal and or financial details with unreliable porn peddlers. The infamous ‘Ashley Madison‘ hack has already highlighted just how dangerous such information could be in the wrong hands (multiple cases of blackmail and suicide etc.).

Meanwhile MindGeek, which runs major sites like PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube, proposed to use a mix of credit card, mobile SMS, passport or driving licence based identification through their AgeID system to manage the process; this will also be licensed out to other sites (i.e. one-click verification across many sites).

Some fear that the AgeID approach proposed above could disadvantage those using other solutions that would require the user to re-verify, while MindGeek’s own sites have previously been criticised for making money by allowing users to upload video content (often this is pirated from other producers) and then monetising it via advertising.

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

“The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous. They are powerless to ensure people’s privacy.

The major publisher, MindGeek, looks like it will dominate the AV market. We are very worried about their product, AgeID, which could track people’s porn use. The way this product develops is completely out of BBFC’s hands.

Users will not be able to choose how to access websites. They’ll be at the mercy of porn companies. And the blame lies squarely with Theresa May’s government for pushing incomplete legislation.

While BBFC say they will only block a few large sites that don’t use AV, there are tens of thousands of porn sites. Once MPs work out that AV is failing to make porn inaccessible, some will demand that more and more sites are blocked. BBFC will be pushed to block ever larger numbers of websites.”

All of this comes before we even get into the complicated question over which ISPs and what kind of systems they would be required to adopt in order to filter out the websites (it’s been suggested that a basic DNS filter might pass the test). Never mind the fact that ISP-level blocking of any type is also merely a placebo, the equivalent of leaving a door wide open with the words “do not enter” stuck outside (i.e. easy to circumvent).

Suffice to say that more than a few people have criticised the government’s approach for seemingly failing to properly consult on their changes and ignoring some of the more contentious aspects (privacy etc.). With only a few weeks left until launch there were still a lot of unanswered questions.

Fast forward to Saturday and if you read all the way down to the bottom of the government’s almost completely unrelated announcement about 5G Mobile trials then you’d find this little surprise.

Age Verification Delay Statement (From 5G Trials Announcement)

The Strategy also reflects the Government’s ambition to make the internet safer for children by requiring age verification for access to commercial pornographic websites in the UK. In February, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was formally designated as the age verification regulator.

Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.

For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.

So instead of April, we should now expect the new rules to be enforceable by the “end” of 2018, although it remains to be seen whether any changes will be made as part of the consultation. Meanwhile some MPs have already begun calling for the expansion of the Age Verification approach to cover social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.). Mission creep and that’s before they’ve even got the first attempt working.

UPDATE 26th March 2018

The BBFC has uploaded their consultation document (here), which will run until 23rd April 2018.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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10 Responses
  1. occasionally factual

    Perhaps the MPs are trying to figure out how to exempt their works PCs from the age verification.
    You know, all in the name of research.

  2. I was wondering about this; as someone who’s paid for something, if the website gets blocked, am I entitled to compensation from somebody for paying for a service I can no longer access or… or what?

    • JustAnotherFileServer

      The only reason why it would get blocked would be if it’s an illegal website. If that was the case then getting your money back would be the least of your worries.

      If you pay for legal and above board services, then you should be okay.

    • It’s a legal site, it’s just I don’t understand why it should dance to the whims of the British government when it’s an overseas website, and the UK doesn’t have any jurisdiction outside of the UK.

    • Sorry, forgot to point out that “non-compliant websites” will be blocked, too, according to their proposals.

    • JustAnotherFileServer

      Eventhough you are accessing a website that is hosted in another country, you still have to abide by the laws in the UK

    • Joe

      Life’s too short just get a VPN

    • JustAnotherFileServer

      @Joe I think before long they will ban VPN usage in the UK

    • Mike

      They will likely go down the Russian/Chinese root of forcing VPNs to comply with data retention/blocklists or face being blocked themselves.

  3. David

    Just a few quick (long) thoughts. First not all but most the big ISP’s have internet shields to allow and block content (this includes mission creep like social media) easiest option would be to educate parents but put some effort into it!

    Next if they block VPN’s they cause issues all over the place but do they also block access to the TOR network? If not then people will wonder into much worse stuff than porn. (There are other secure ways to bypass this as well)

    I have loads of issues with the way the government have been blocking content on the internet and collecting it. Just where will it stop?

    But my last point as well known and talked about is on 2 fronts. First what can and will happen to personal and financial details handed over to porn sites and when does the government come in to clean up the mess and has that been budgeted for?

    Second exactly how secure are porn sites, what current incentives are there for “free ones” to be kept secure (to start with)? These will be high value target(s) to access personal and financial data, similar to other well known “black hat hacking” that’s been going on.

    Have the government actually taken advise and listened to it or just seen more ways to default block content into the future??? (Also what happens with as mentioned, mission creep 2 or 3 years down the road). Cost? Yes internet access , broadband/ADSL/fiber/cable/etc will all go up in price

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