Archive for the ‘Age Verification’ Category

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bbfc appointed The DCMS has published a letter dated 21st February 2018 that officially appoints the BBFC as its internet porn censor. It euphemistically describes the role as an age verification regulator.Presumably a few press releases will follow and now the BBFC can at least be expected to comment on how the censorship will be implemented..

The enforcement has previously being noted as starting around late April or early May but this does not seem to give sufficient time for the required software to be implemented by websites.

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mindgeek ageid logoAs the introduction of age verification for websites approaches, it seems that the most likely outcome is that Mindgeek, the company behind most of the tube sites, is set to become the self appointed gatekeeper of porn. Its near monopoly on free porn means that it will be the first port of call for people wanting access, and people who register with them will be able to surf large numbers of porn sites with no verification hassle. And they are then not going to be very willing go through all the hassle again for a company not enrolled in the Mindgeek scheme. Mindgeek is therefore set to become the Amazon,eBay/Google/Facebook of porn.There is another very promising age verification system AVSecure, that sounds way better than Midgeek’s AgeID. AVSecure plans to offer age verification passes from supermarkets and post offices. They will give you a card with a code that requires no further identification whatsoever beyond looking obviously over 25.  18-25 yea olds will have to show ID but it need not be recorded in the system, Adult websites can then check the verification code that will reveal only that the holder is over 18. All website interactions will be further protected by blockchain encryption.

The Mindgeek scheme is the most well promoted for the moment and so is seem as the favourite to prevail. TheDaily Mail is now having doubts about the merits of trusting a porn company with age verification on the grounds that the primary motivation is to make money. The Daily Mail has also spotted that the vast swathes of worldwide porn is nominally held to be illegal by the government under the Obscene Publications Act. Notably female ejaculation is held to be obscene as the government claims it to be illegal because the ejaculate contains urine. I think the government is on a hiding to nothing if it persists in its silly claims of obscenity, they are simply years out of date and the world has move on.

Anyway the Daily Mail spouts:

The moguls behind the world’s biggest pornography websites have been entrusted by the Government with policing the internet to keep it safe for children. MindGeek staff have held a series of meetings with officials in preparation for the new age verification system which is designed to ensure that under-18s cannot view adult material.

Tens of millions of British adults are expected to have to entrust their private details to MindGeek, which owns the PornHub and YouPorn websites.

Critics have likened the company’s involvement to entrusting the cigarette industry with stopping underage smoking and want an independent body to create the system instead.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has found that material on the company’s porn websites could be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act. A search for one sexual act, which would be considered illegal to publish videos of under the Obscene Publications Act, returned nearly 20,000 hits on PornHub. The Mail on Sunday did not watch any of the videos.

Shadow Culture Minister Liam Byrne said:

It is alarming that a company given the job of checking whether viewers of pornography are over 18 can’t even police publication of illegal material on its own platform.

A DCMS spokesman said:

The Government will not be endorsing individual age-verification solutions but they will need to abide by data protection laws to be compliant.

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dcms age verification risk assessment The UK government slipped out its impact assessment of the upcoming porn censorship law during the Christmas break. The new law requires porn websites to be blocked in the UK when they don’t implement age verification.The measures are currently due to come into force in May but it seems a tight schedule as even the rules for acceptable age verification systems have not yet been published.

The report contains some interesting costings and assessment of the expected harms to be inflicted on porn viewers and British adult businesses.

The document notes the unpopularity of the age verification requirements with a public consultation finding that 54% of respondents did not support the introduction of a law to require age verification.

However, the government has forged ahead, with the aim of stopping kids accessing porn on the grounds that such content could distress them or harm their development.

The governments censorship rules will be enforced by the BBFC, in its new role as the UK porn censor although it prefers the descriptor: age-verification regulator . The government states that the censorship job will initially be funded by the government, and the government is assuming this will cost £4.5 million based upon a range of estimates from 1 million to 8 million.

The government has bizarrely assumed that the BBFC will ban just 1 to 60 sites in a year. The additional work for ISPs to block these sites is estimated £100,000 to £500,000 for each ISP. Probably to be absorbed by larger companies, but will be an expensive problem for smaller companies who do not currently implement any blocking systems.

Interestingly the government notes that there wont be any impact on UK adult businesses notionally because they should have already implemented age verification under ATVOD and Ofcom censorship rules. In reality it will have little impact on UK businesses because they have already been decimated by the ATVOD and Ofcom rules and have mostly closed down or moved abroad.

Te key section of the document summarising expected harms is as follows.

The policy option set out above also gives rise to the following risks:

  • Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;
  • Development of alternative payment systems and technological work-arounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be achieved;
  • The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;
  • Reputational risks including Government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
  • The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;
  • The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1%).
  • Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.

The list does not seem to include the potential for blackmail from user data sold by porn firms, or else stolen by hackers. And mischievously, politicians could be one of the groups most open to blackmail for money or favours.

Another notable omission, is that the government does not seem overly concerned about mass VPN usage. I would have thought that the secret services wanting to monitor terrorists would not be pleased if a couple of million people stared to use encrypted VPNs. Perhaps it shows that the likes of GCHQ can already see into what goes on behind VPNs.

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DCMS logoThe Government has formally proposed that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) be designated as the regulator for the age verification of online pornography in the UK.

Age verification will mean anyone who makes pornography available online on a commercial basis must ensure under 18s in the UK cannot access it. This is part of the Government’s continuing work to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

The BBFC has unparalleled expertise in classifying content and has a proven track record of interpreting and implementing legislation as the statutory authority for age rating videos under the Video Recordings Act.

This, along with its work with industry on the film classification system and more recently classifying material for mobile network operators, makes them the preferred choice for regulator.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock said:

One of the missions of age verification is to harness the freedom of the internet while mitigating its harms. Offline, as a society we protect children from viewing inappropriate adult material by ensuring pornography is sold responsibly using appropriate age checks. It is now time that the online world follows suit. The BBFC are the best placed in the world to do this important and delicate task.

David Austin, Chief Executive Officer at BBFC said:

The BBFC’s primary aim is to protect children and other vulnerable groups from harmful content and we are therefore pleased to accept the Government’s proposed designation.

Age-verification barriers will help to prevent children accessing or stumbling across pornographic content online. The UK is leading the way with this age-verification regime and will set an international precedent in child protection.

The government’s proposal must be approved by Parliament before the BBFC is officially designated as the age-verification regulator.

The regulator will notify non-compliant pornographic providers, and be able to direct internet service providers to prevent customers accessing these sites. It will also notify payment-services providers and other ancillary service providers of these sites, with the intention that they can withdraw their services.

The Government will shortly also publish guidance on how the regulator should fulfil its duties in relation to age verification.

Response: The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous

15th December 2017 See  article from  strangethingsarehappening.com

open rights group 2016 logo Responding to the news that the BBFC are in line to be appointed Age Verification regulator, 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.

Killock also warned that censorship of porn sites could quickly spiral into hundreds or thousands of sites:

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.

Response: How to easily get around the UK’s porn censorship

15th December 2017 See  article from vpncompare.co.uk

vpn compare logoOf course, in putting together this hugely draconian piece of legislation, the British Government has overlooked one rather glaring point. Any efforts to censor online content in the UK can be easily circumvented by anyone using a VPN.

British-based subscribers to a VPN service such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN will be able to get around any blocked sites simply by connecting to a server in another democratic country which hasn’t chosen to block websites with adult content.

As much as Governments try to censor online content, so VPN will offer continue to offer people access to the free and uncontrolled internet they are legally entitled to enjoy.

…Read the full  article from vpncompare.co.uk

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DCMS logoBritain has some ludicrous and dated prohibitions on aspects of porn that are commonplace in international porn sites. For example the government requires that the BBFC cut fisting, squirting, gagging on blow jobs, dialogue references to incest or underage sex.It would be ludicrous to expect all of the worlds websites to remove such commonplace scene from all its films and videos. The originally proposed porn censorship law would require the BBFC to identify sites with this commonplace material, and ISPs would have then been forced to block these sites. Of course this would have meant that more or less all websites would have had to be banned.

Someone has obviously pointed this out to the government, perhaps the Lords had spotted this in their scrutiny.

The Daily Mail is now reporting that this censorship power will be dropped form the Digital Economy Bill. The age verification requirement will stand but foreign websites complying with age verification will not then be blocked for material transgressing some of the stupid UK prohibitions.

A source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that the proposals were imperfect , but said the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which covers sex shops, was too outdated to be used to regulate the internet.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport actually went further and said extreme material, including violent pornography and cartoons depicting child sex abuse, will be allowed to stay online as long as distributors put in place checks to ensure it cannot be viewed by children. (But note that downloading films including what is defined as extreme pornography and cartoon child porn would still be illegal). There will be no change to the capability of the IWF to block child porn (and occasionally, illegal adult porn).

Of course pro-censorship campaigners are not impressed by the lost opportunity for total porn censorship. Helen Lewington, of the morality campaign group Mediawatch-UK, claimed that the decision to allow extreme sites to operate behind the age verification barrier risked giving them a veneer of respectability .  She called on peers to reject the amendments this evening. She added:

We are deeply concerned by the Government’s apparent change of direction. These proposals will permit some forms of violent pornography to be viewed behind age verification checks.

This will unhelpfully allow what is illegal offline to be legally viewed online, and may in the long term lead to some regarding such material as acceptable.’

Pro censorship campaigner John Carr revealed that the government will now be reviewing the rules on what is currently prohibited from UK adult porn. He set out his pro-censorship stall by claiming that reducing censorship for adults would somehow endanger children. He claimed:

In his speech on the Digital Economy Bill, last Monday night in the House of Lords, Lord Ashton referred to the Secretary of State’s announcement in the context of there being a need for a wider discussion about the effects of pornography in society as a whole, not solely in respect of children. I would hope there will be an opportunity to contribute to that aspect of the review. I accept it was never envisaged that the Digital Economy Bill was to be a trigger for a wider debate about what sorts of pornography are more or less acceptable, whether being viewed by children or not. However, just because children cannot view certain types of material that have been put behind an age verification wall, it does not mean that its continued availability to adults does not constitute a threat to children. Such material might encourage, promote or appear to legitimize or condone harmful behaviours which either directly or indirectly put children at risk.

Offsite Comment: Lib Dems lay into the governments censorship efforts

19th March 2017 See  article from libdemvoice.org by Brian Paddick

Lib Dems logoTo add to the list of obnoxious new laws such as the new offence of driving while being a suspected illegal immigrant and giving the police unfettered access to innocent people’s web histories, the Tories have waded into the swamp of online pornography and they are completely out of their depth.

The Digital Economy Bill, another universal answer to everything they couldn’t get through when we had one hand on the reins of power, professes to protect children from online pornography.

Nonetheless, if we are to prohibit access to online adult material unless there is an age-verification solution in place, the privacy of those who are being forced to part with their sensitive personal information in order to verify their age, must be protected. We have already seen user databases for a couple of major porn sites, containing sensitive personal information, being hacked and the details traded on the dark web. When details of users of the Ashley Madison site were leaked, it reportedly led to two suicides.

…read the full  article from libdemvoice.org

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House of Commons logoA group of MPs have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would force pornography websites to be blocked by ISPs if they fail to verify the age of their users.This is the second time such amendments have been suggested. The MPs involved are Claire Perry, David Burrowes, Fiona Bruce, Derek Thomas, Jeremy Lefroy, Caroline Ansell, Heidi Allen, Andrew Selous, Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller, Fiona Mactaggart.

Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock said:

Perhaps these MPs have realised that plans to make all adult websites apply age verification are unworkable as foreign porn sites may simply not comply. They are now suggesting that websites who don’t comply should be blocked — even though their content is perfectly legal.

While child protection is important, this proposal is disproportionate. Censorship of this kind should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.

We are talking about potentially thousands of websites with legal material being censored, something that is unprecedented in the developed world.

The Digital Economy Bill has proposed that all pornography websites should be forced to verify the age of their users. This has sparked concerns that the privacy of adults could be violated. It is not yet clear how age verification will be implemented but it could lead to the collection of data on everyone who visits a porn website. This kind of information could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style data breaches.

The Open Rights Group further commented:

open rights group 2016 logoThe amendment has been tabled because MPs understand that age verification cannot be imposed upon the entire mostly US-based pornographic industry by the UK alone. In the USA, age verification has been seen by the courts as an infringement on the right of individuals to receive and impart information. This is unlikely to change, so use of age verification technologies will be limited at best.

However, the attempt to punish websites by blocking them is also a punishment inflicted on the visitors to these websites. Blocking them is a form of censorship, it is an attempt to restrict access to them for everyone. When material is restricted in this way, it needs to be done for reasons that are both necessary for the goal, and proportionate to the aim. It has to be effective in order to be proportionate.

The goal is to protect children, although the level of harm has not been established. According to OfCom: More than nine in ten parents in 2015 said they mediated their child’s use of the internet in some way, with 96% of parents of 3-4s and 94% of parents of 5-15s using a combination of: regularly talking to their children about managing online risks, using technical tools, supervising their child, and using rules or restrictions. (1)

70% of households have no children. These factors make the necessity and proportionality of both age verification and censorship quite difficult to establish. This issue affects 30% of households who can choose to apply filters and use other strategies to keep their children safe online.

It is worth remembering also that the NSPCC and others tend to accept that teenagers are likely to continue to access pornography despite these measures. They focus their concerns on 9-12 years olds coming across inappropriate material, despite a lack of evidence that there is any volume of these incidents, or that harm has resulted. While it is very important to ensure that 9-12 year olds are safe online, it seems more practical to focus attention directly on their online environment, for instance through filters and parental intervention, than attempting to make the entire UK Internet conform to standards that are acceptable for this age group.

That MPs are resorting to proposals for website blocking tells us that the age verification proposals themselves are flawed. MPs should be asking about the costs and privacy impacts, and why such a lack of thought has gone into this. Finally, they should be asking what they can do to help children through practical education and discussion of the issues surrounding pornography, which will not go away, with or without attempts to restrict access.

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arms of the british governmentjpg logo The Queen’s Speech contained the following reference to the Digital Economy Bill:

Digital Economy Bill

Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. Legislation will be introduced to make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy.

It seems a bit of a contraction that one of the main elements of the bill is designed to make the UK a world straggler in the digital economy when it comes to adult contents,The notes reveal a little more about the internet censorship section of the bill which reads:

Protecting citizens in the digital economy

  • Protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing, and that the Information Commissioner is empowered to impose fines on those who break the rules.
  • Protection of children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.

The government notes that the bill will apply to the entire UK.

For further details about government porn censorship proposals see Consultation document [pdf] from gov.uk and the introductory page from gov.uk

Internet censorship also rears its head in:

Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill

Legislation will be introduced to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration.

In one of the clauses of the bill the government mentionsas:

We will also close loopholes so that Ofcom can continue to protect consumers who watch internet-streamed television content from outside the EU on Freeview.

The government seems to have scaled back on its widely circulated idea of allowing of Ofcom to pre-censor TV broadcasts of ‘extremist’ content.