UK to withdraw from online porn block, censorship crusade

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When the UK government announced plans to instill Internet-wide censorship on pornography in order to prevent minors from accessing adult content, it didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the country’s proposed wall.

Due to be introduced on July 15, 2019, a date only weeks away, the barrier would force online providers to shoulder the burden — and cost — of age verification checks through means including the submission of credit card details or scanned copies of ID cards and passports in order to prove a visitor is over 18 years of age.

Websites which monetized pornography would be forced to comply or “face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK users,” according to the UK government.

The efforts were overseen by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), an organization which told ZDNet that if a website was not compliant, the BBFC would “request that they [search engines and payment providers] withdraw services.”

Request is the key phrase here, rather than demand, as attempting to regulate access to a global pornography platform is not an easy task to accomplish.

Back in April, we outlined only some of the reasons why the porn block was likely to backfire, the least of which being that the simple use of a virtual private network (VPN) or the Tor network would bypass such restrictions.

See also: Why the UK’s porn block will backfire spectacularly

Given that today’s UK teenagers have grown up with the benefit of broadband, smartphones, and tablets — rather than dial-up and PCs which came with storage numbered in the megabytes — working out how to dance around an ill-thought-out blockade would be no problem to many of them.

(It has also been shown that the most popular ways to outsource age verification checks on the market today can be circumvented in mere minutes through a quick Google search.)

Giving adult content providers the opportunity to link your credit card, ID, and porn preferences together in digital profiles, with the risk of this information being leaked through data breaches — potentially leading to subsequent blackmail in a scenario reminiscent of the Ashley Madison breach — is also of serious concern.

However, another issue which was not so easy to see on the horizon has potentially shelved the project indefinitely — a failure to comply with EU standards in launching the block.

The UK government, which has shifted its focus from attempting to thrash out an agreement with the EU for Brexit to a conservative leadership battle reminiscent of a season of Fawlty Towers, has confirmed the indefinite delay, according to the BBC.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary Jeremy Wright said the project has been suspended due to a failure to keep the EU informed of key details.

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The irony cannot be lost here, considering the porn block would have moved the responsibility of verification to vendors with potentially severe consequences for failure, and yet, the government has not performed its own validation and legal checks ahead of the project’s launch.  

While the porn block was originally intended as a means to protect children and prevent them “stumbling across” adult material, you are far more likely to ‘stumble’ across these forms of content while on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, due to spam and bots.

Attempting to regulate these massive platforms, in the same way, would be a losing battle and the challenge of creating safety controls for major websites is simply not one that the UK government and a film classification organization have the technical expertise or influence to implement.

CNET: Your car’s data privacy comes into question in Georgia Supreme Court case

The UK government, as the creators of the Snooper’s Charter, may wish this was not the reality of the situation. However, there are more pressing matters to be handled politically, and it will likely be up to the next prime minister to choose whether to resurrect the porn block or not.

For the sake of our privacy and security at large, let us hope this is not the case. 

Previous and related coverage


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