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UK Gov Delays Internet Porn Block and Targets Social Media Sites

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 (2:28 pm) - Score 3,712
banned from the internet cross

The government has revealed that its new Age Verification system, which will be targeted at commercial websites and “apps” that contain pornographic content (broadband ISPs will be expected to block any that don’t comply), will not now be introduced until Easter 2019. But in the future Twitter may also be targeted.

At present all of the major ISPs should already be giving their subscribers a choice over whether or not to block adult content via their network-level Parental Controls, which is useful if you have children. Despite this the Digital Economy Act 2017 (summary) then went further by forcing an age-verification system upon websites that primarily contain pornographic content.

Under the new approach the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be given powers to make Internet Service Providers (ISP) restrict access to commercial pornographic sites (e.g. DNS level filtering / blocking), albeit only if they fail to put “tough age verification measures” in place to protect children.

Sadly it isn’t possible to create such a system online without first forcing people to hand over sensitive personal details and those systems could end up being managed by the same companies who offer such websites in the first place (details on how all this will work are still vague). New safeguards for personal data have since been introduced but these appear to be voluntary.

Margot James MP, UK Minister for Digital, said (Independent):

“We can expect it be in force by Easter of next year. It has taken longer than I would have liked, but I’d balance that with a confidence that we’ve got it right.”

Margot has also confirmed that the Government will go much further and future legislation could be introduced that would extend the aforementioned changes to include social media sites, such as Twitter. Apparently this would set a time limit for the removal of “harmful content” (hate speech etc.), although it’s not clear what penalties would be imposed when this doesn’t happen (blocking seems unlikely due to the inevitable outcry over free speech).

Such a change would no doubt force social media sites that allow adult or harmful content to introduce aggressive automated filtering systems (i.e. it’s impossible for humans to moderate hundreds of millions of users without becoming economically unviable), which tend to be universally awful at understanding context (e.g. telling the difference between humour / parody and genuine threats of violence).

All of this is unlikely to go down well on Twitter, where members went into a virtual riot when asked to input their phone numbers, which is hardly surprising given the endless news stories about hacks and personal data breaches. The last thing people need is a new system asking them for even more personal data, particularly one associated with the stigma of gaining access to adult content.

Meanwhile ISP-level blocking of any type is merely a placebo, the equivalent of leaving a door wide open with the words “do not enter” stuck outside. This is not the fault of ISPs and reflects how the internet functions. Anybody who wants to access such content will easily be able to circumvent the blocks by using various Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Proxy Servers, which only require basic knowledge to use (background).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Avatar Optimist

    Meanwhile, thousands of girls every year are subject to genital mutilation, and the British government sits back and does nothing.

  2. Avatar NE555

    It will be moot when Firefox+CloudFlare offer DNS over HTTPS by default.

    DNS queries won’t hit the ISP’s nameservers, and the ISP won’t be able to separate out DoH from regular HTTPS.

  3. Avatar Harry

    If this dose go through. I be buying a vpn

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