How Britain is trying to censor the porn you watch

It's the end of porn as we know it?
Image: Pitarakis/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Britain wants to put its nose in the porn you watch.

The Queen has rubberstamped the Digital Economy Bill, a law that will force any website that benefits commercially from porn to verify the age of users.

If they fail to do the monitoring and checks, payment providers and third parties will be legally required to intervene. Should the websites refuse to comply, the ISPs will block content, even though it’s legal.

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, said the wide-ranging legislation, which also targets the UK’s electronic communications infrastructure, was designed to ensure a more connected and stronger economy.

The act will enable major improvements in broadband rollout, better support for consumers, better protection for children on the Internet, and further transformation of government services, he said.

But if the bill sounds draconian it’s because it is, according to advocacy groups like Open Rights Group, which have criticised the legislation as an “unworkable proposal.”

“The law poses significant concerns regarding privacy, security and censorship,” according to Myles Jackman, ORG’s legal director.

Here’s a breakdown of the big issues.

Censorship of ‘extreme’ sex acts, like depictions of asphyxiation

The body in charge of classifying and censoring porn websites, even if they’re not based in the UK, will be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which already does a similar job for films.

One of the main provisions of the law will force ISPs to prohibit access to porn sites that include “extreme pornographic content” enshrined in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008.

It’s a significant change from a controversial proposal in the draft bill which originally included “non-conventional sex acts” namely urination, female ejaculation or menstruation as well as sex in public as certified by the BBFC for commercial DVD sale.

This “extreme” porn content is perhaps considered “non-acceptable” in the mainstream public perception, and includes sexual acts likely to cause deaths, serious harm and realistic depictions of rape.

However, advocacy groups raise a question of freedom of expression in reference to these acts, in the sense that porn sites offer a fictionalised version that could be ascribed to personal taste or even art.

“The definition of sexual acts likely to cause death is incredibly vague and could include fictionalised practices like asphyxiation, for example,” Jackman said.

Privacy threat from companies who don’t know how to keep your data safe

Age verification checks by porn sites could lead to a serious privacy breach.

Companies that provide these checks have no experience of privacy or how to keep personal data safe, according to Jackman. Moreover, there is no statutory body to ensure the information provided through the checks is secure.

“Companies could scrape personal information with no restrictions and monetise the information for financial gain,” he said. There is also the possibility that hackers could access the data and leak the information as it happened with the Ashley Madison leaks.

As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about peoples sex lives, has huge repercussions for those involved,” ORG’s Executive Director Jim Killock said in a statement.

One of the world’s biggest porn website operators, MindGeek, controls 90 percent of the UK porn market and has also offered to implement Age Verification.

According to Jackman, the company is trying to become the “Facebook of porn,” using personal and backend data from age verification to sell targeted ads or sell your details to other porn companies.

“They would have all the interest to monetise as much as they possibly can,” he said.

Even overseas companies could be forced to self-censor in order to comply

As mentioned, even porn sites that aren’t based in the UK and which aren’t subject to UK law can be blocked by ISPs.

That raises not only a freedom of expression issue, but also a potential trade war, according to ORG.

“Porn sites are already negotiating with credit card processors to comply in advance with the age verification checks,” Jackman said. “Otherwise they could be financially at risk.”

For instance, Canada-based Fetlife, the self-declared “Facebook of fetish,” is closing down parts of their site to comply with the British law, based only on economic reasons, Jackman said.

“By closing down various parts of their site, websites are coerced into censorship on economic basis.”

WATCH: The best prop in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is Dave Bautista’s bicep

More From this publisher : HERE