UK Reportedly Thwarted Yet Again in Quest Against Horny Teens

The Houses of Parliament in London, 2018.
The Houses of Parliament in London, 2018.
Photo: Jack Taylor (AP)

The UK government’s plan to implement a mandatory, nationwide age verification system for pornographic websites attracted ridicule from technical experts who pointed out it could easily be evaded by anyone with minimal technical know-how, but would likely require sweeping tracking of porn viewers’ identities and web histories. Now, according to Sky News, sources say the project is “indefinitely delayed” (after being previously delayed twice) and will not in fact be rolling out next month on July 15 as planned.

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According to Sky, a government spokesperson did not deny the indefinite delay and confirmed that culture minister Jeremy Wright would deliver a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday morning. Apparently, the problems are not technical. They’re legal, Sky wrote: “When laying the BBFC’s guidance in Parliament in late 2018, [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] failed to notify the European Commission as it is required to, undermining the legal basis of age verification.” Per the Guardian, that means the issue of implementation could be left up to the next prime minister, who could be frontrunner Boris Johnson.

Under the proposed regulations, each porn site would have been required to implement their own age-verification system—which as Wired UK noted, would create a bewildering array of options and potentially require porn viewers to hand over sensitive personal information to multiple services to get past age gates. The delay does not bode well for these providers, who were planning on making “the UK a hub for global age-verification systems,” the Guardian wrote:

The delay is also damaging to many British age-verification businesses who had invested substantial sums of money in developing systems to provide the tools required to check internet user’s identities. They were relying on the launch going well in order to sell their product around the world and make the UK a hub for global age-verification systems, with many backed by small investors who could lose out in the event of a lengthy delay.

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As the New York Times noted, however, one of the frontrunners to implement the system across the most websites was AgeID—which sought to be a sort of all-purpose login portal for porn and is owned by MindGeek, the operator of some of the world’s largest adult sites including Pornhub, Redtube, and YouPorn. That raised numerous questions, including whether the UK government was effectively handing over massive power to a titan often accused of exploitative business practices, including widespread piracy on its tube-style sites, aggressive promotion of racist and misogynistic content, and stripping creators of revenue.

“In the name of child protection, the government has given a massive leg up to an enormous pornography company to have a monopoly on age verification in the U.K.,” Jim Killock, executive director of digital freedom advocacy organization Open Rights Group, told the Times. “That’s quite a surprising outcome.”

A YouGov survey earlier this year found that 76 percent of Britons were unaware such a regulation was on the way, and though about two-thirds say they supported it after being filled in, only 34 percent believed it would be effective. The British Board of Film Classification, the regulatory agency assigned responsibility for implementing the plan, conceded as much earlier this year by admitting easy-to-use virtual private networks (VPNs) would render the system useless.

The government opted to impose the restrictions solely on commercial porn sites, exempting social media and discussion platforms like Twitter, Imgur, and Reddit. While there was some talk of subjecting those sites to increased scrutiny, an implementation delay would push that timetable back.

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As the Guardian noted, the delay also “raises questions as to how a similar age-verification system for all mainstream websites—as proposed by the information commissioner’s office—could be implemented.”

[Sky News]

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DISCUSSION

Here in Ireland there has been a really harrowing case where a teenage girl was murdered by two boys from her school. The Gardaí (our police service) found thousands of pornographic images on a phone belonging to one of the boys.

Our government are considering a block like the one in the UK and are cynically using this awful case as an excuse to look into it. There are so many reasons why I’m opposed to this.

  • It’s parental responsibility to monitor children’s access to the internet. Instead of wasting valuable money on this, fund education for parents into online monitoring and safety
  • The idea is that we will have to provide a driver’s license or passport to a porn site in order to gain access. I wouldn’t trust those sites as far as I could throw them and giving them that level of access to personal information is dangerous
  • There is the argument that it is the start of a slipperey slope towards censorship, and this morning on Irish breakfast TV, the anchors and reporter talking about the case mentioned licensing internet access. That will limit access to valuable information and communication for a lot of people. It’s also doubly bad when such a huge part of our economy is geared towards being the tech hub of Europe.

I really hope this gets out of the greys because it’s a very serious issue.