Archive for the ‘Age Verification’ Category

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elspeth howeElspeth Howe, a member of the House of Lords, has written an article in the Telegraph outlining her case that the remit for the BBFC to censor internet porn sites should be widened to include a wider range of material that she does not like.This seems to tally with other recent news that the CPS is reconsidering its views on what pornographic content should be banned from publication in Britain.

Surely these debates are related to the detailed guidelines to be used by the BBFC when either banning porn sites, or else requiring them to implement strict age verification for users. It probably explains why the Telegraph recently reported that the publication of the final guidelines has been delayed until at least the autumn.


Categories of Porn

For clarity the categories of porn being discussed are as follows:

Current Proposed
offline online offline online
Softcore 18 BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Hardcore R18 BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Beyond R18
(proposal by CPS)
banned BBFC uncut BBFC uncut BBFC uncut
Cartoon Porn
(proposal by Howe))
banned BBFC uncut banned banned
Extreme porn banned banned banned banned
Child porn banned banned banned banned
  • Softcore porn rated 18 under BBFC guidelines

    – Will be allowed subject to strict age verification

  • Vanilla hardcore porn rated R18 under current BBFC guidelines

    – Will be allowed subject to strict age verification

  • Beyond R18 hardcore porn that includes material historically banned by the CPS claiming obscenity, ie fisting, golden showers, BDSM, female ejaculation, and famously from a recent anti censorship campaign, face sitting/breath play. Such material is currently cut from R18s.

    – Such content will be allowed under the current Digital Economy Act for online porn sites
    – This category is currently banned for offline sales in the UK, but the CPS has just opened a public consultation on its proposal to legalise such content, as long as it is consensual. Presumably this is related to the government’s  overarching policy: What’s illegal offline, is illegal online.

  • Extreme Porn as banned from possession in the UK under the Dangerous Pictures Act. This content covers, bestiality, necrophilia, realistic violence likely to result in serious injury, realistic rape

    – This content is illegal to possess in the UK and any websites with such content will be banned by the BBFC regardless of age verification implementation

  • Cartoon Porn depicting under 18s

    – This content is banned from possession in the UK but will be allowed online subject to age verification requirements

  • Photographic child porn

    This is already totally illegal in the UK on all media. Any foreign websites featuring such content are probably already being blocked by ISPs using lists maintained by the IWF. The BBFC will ban anything it spots that may have slipped through the net.


‘What’s illegal offline, is illegal online’

Elspeth Howe writes:

I very much welcome part three of the Digital Economy Act 2017 which requires robust age verification checks to protect children from accessing pornography. The Government deserves congratulations for bringing forward this seminal provision, due to come into effect later this year.

The Government’s achievement, however, has been sadly undermined by amendments that it introduced in the House of Lords, about which there has been precious little public debate. I very much hope that polling that I am placing in the public domain today will facilitate a rethink.

When the Digital Economy Bill was introduced in the Lords, it proposed that legal pornography should be placed behind robust age verification checks. Not surprisingly, no accommodation for either adults or children was made for illegal pornography, which encompasses violent pornography and child sex abuse images.

As the Bill passed through the Lords, however, pressure was put on the Government to allow adults to access violent pornography, after going through age-verification checks, which in other contexts it would be illegal to supply. In the end the Government bowed to this pressure and introduced amendments so that only one category of illegal pornography will not be accessible by adults.

[When  Howe mentions violent pornography she is talking about the Beyond R18 category, not the Extreme Porn category, which will be the one category mentioned that will not be accessible to adults].

The trouble with the idea of banning Beyond R18 pornography is that Britain is out of step with the rest of the world. This category includes content that is ubiquitous in most of the major porn websites in the world. Banning so much content would be simply be impractical. So rather than banning all foreign porn, the government opted to remove the prohibition of Beyond R18 porn from the original bill.

Another category that has not hitherto come to attention is the category of cartoon porn that depicts under 18s. The original law that bans possession of this content seemed most concerned about material that was near photographic, and indeed may have been processed from real photos. However the law is of most relevance in practical terms when it covers comedic Simpsons style porn, or else Japanese anime often featuring youthful, but vaguely drawn cartoon characters in sexual scenes.

Again there would be problems of practicality of banning foreign websites from carry such content. All the major tube sites seems to have a section devoted to Hentai anime porn which edges into the category.

In July 2017, Howe introduced a bill that would put Beyond R18 and Cartoon Porn back into the list of prohibited material in the Digital Economy Act. The bill is titled the Digital Economy Act 2017 (Amendment) (Definition of Extreme Pornography) Bill and is still open, but further consideration in Parliament has stalled, presumably as the Government itself is currently addressing these issues.

The bill adds in to the list of prohibitions any content that has been refused a BBFC certificate or would be refused a certificate if it were to be submitted. This would catch both the Beyond Porn and Cartoon Porn categories.

The government is very keen on its policy mantra: What’s illegal offline, is illegal online and it seems to have addressed the issue of Beyond 18 material being illegal offline but legal online. The government is proposing to relax its own obscenity rules so that Beyond R18 material will be legalised, (with the proviso that the porn is consensual). The CPS has published a public consultation with this proposal, and it should be ready for implementation after the consultation closes on 17th October 2018.

Interestingly Howe seems to have dropped the call to ban Beyond R18 material in her latest piece, so presumably she has accepted that Beyond R18 material will soon be classifiable by the BBFC, and so not an issue for her bill.
Still to be Addressed

That still leaves the category of Cartoon Porn to be addressed. The current Digital Economy Act renders it illegal offline, but legal online. Perhaps the Government has given Howe the nod to rationalise the situation by making banning the likes of Hentai. Hence Howe is initiating a bit of propaganda to support her bill.  She writes:

The polling that I am putting in the public domain specifically addresses the non-photographic child sex abuse images and is particularly interesting because it gauges the views of MPs whose detailed consideration of the Bill came before the controversial Lords amendments were made.

According to the survey, which was conducted by ComRes on behalf of CARE, a massive 71% of MPs, rising to 76% of female MPs, stated that they did not believe it was right for the Digital Economy Act to make non-photographic child sex abuse images available online to adults after age verification checks. Only 5% of MPs disagreed.

There is an opportunity to address this as part of a review in the next 18 months, but things are too serious to wait .The Government should put matters right now by adopting my very short, but very important two-clause Digital Economy Act (Amendment) (Extreme Pornography) Bill which would restore the effect of the Government’s initial prohibition of this material.

I — along with 71 per cent of MPs — urge the Government to take action to ensure that the UK’s internet does not endorse the sexual exploitation of children.

I haven’t heard of this issue being discussed before and I can’t believe that anybody has much of an opinion on the matter. Presumably therefore, the survey presented out of the blue with the questions being worded in such a way as to get the required response. Not unusual, but surely it shows that someone is making an effort to generate an issue where one didn’t exists before. Perhaps an indication that Howe’s solution is what the authorities have decreed will happen.

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open rights group 2016 logo MPs left behind unfinished business when they broke for summer recess, and we aren’t talking about Brexit negotiations. The rollout of mandatory age verification (AV) technology for adult websites is being held up once again while the Government mulls over final details. AV tech will create highly sensitive databases of the public’s porn watching habits, and Open Rights Groups submitted a report warning the proposed privacy protections are woefully inadequate. The Government’s hesitation could be a sign they are receptive to our concerns, but we expect their final guidance will still treat privacy as an afterthought. MPs need to understand what’s at stake before they are asked to approve AV guidelines after summer.

AV tools will be operated by private companies, but if the technology gets hacked and the personal data of millions of British citizens is breached, the Government will be squarely to blame. By issuing weak guidelines, the Government is begging for a Cambridge Analytica-style data scandal. If this technology fails to protect user privacy, everybody loses. Businesses will be damaged (just look at Facebook), the Government will be embarrassed, and the over 20 million UK residents who view porn could have their private sexual preferences exposed. It’s in everybody’s interest to fix this. The draft guidance lacks even the basic privacy protections required for other digital tools like credit card payments and email services. Meanwhile, major data breaches are rocking international headlines on a regular basis. AV tech needs a dose of common sense.

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david austin march 2016David Austin as penned what looks like an official BBFC campaigning piece trying to drum up support for the upcoming internet porn censorship regime. Disgracefully the article is hidden behind a paywall and is restricted to Telegraph paying subscribers.Are children protected by endangering their parents or their marriage?

The article is very much a one sided piece, focusing almost entirely on the harms to children. It says nothing about the extraordinary dangers faced by adults when handing over personal identifying data to internet companies. Not a word about the dangers of being blackmailed, scammed or simply outed to employers, communities or wives, where the standard punishment for a trivial transgression of PC rules is the sack or divorce.

Austin speaks of the scale of the internet business and the scope of the expected changes. He writes:

There are around five million pornographic websites across the globe. Most of them have no effective means of stopping children coming across their content. It’s no great surprise, therefore, that Government statistics show that 1.4 million children in the UK visited one of these websites in one month.

The BBFC will be looking for a step change in the behaviour of the adult industry. We have been working with the industry to ensure that many websites carry age-verification when the law comes into force.

Millions of British adults watch pornography online. So age-verification will have a wide reach. But it’s not new. It’s been a requirement for many years for age-restricted goods and services, including some UK hosted pornographic material.

I guess at this last point readers will be saying I never knew that. I’ve never come across age verification ever before. But the point here is these previous rules devastated the British online porn industry and the reason people don’t ever come across it, is that there are barely any British sites left.

Are children being protected by impoverishing their parents?

Not that any proponents of age verification could care less about British people being able to make money. Inevitably the new age verification will further compound the foreign corporate monopoly control on yet another internet industry.

Having lorded over a regime that threatens to devastate lives, careers and livelihoods, Austin ironically notes that it probably won’t work anyway:

The law is not a silver bullet. Determined, tech-savvy teenagers may find ways around the controls, and not all pornography online will be age-restricted. For example, the new law does not require pornography on social media platforms to be placed behind age-verification controls.

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Telegraph logoThe Telegraph reveals:

The government is braced for criticism next week over an anticipated delay in its prospective curbs on under 18s’ access to hardcore porn sites.

The current timetable culminating in the implementation of UK porn censorship by the end of the year required that the final censorship guidelines are presented to MPs before they go on holiday on Thursday. They will then be ready to approve them when they return to work in the autumn. It sound like they won’t be ready for publishing by this Thursday.

The BBFC noted that they were due to send the results of the public consultation along with the BBFC censorship rules to the government by late May of this year so presumably the government is still pondering what to do.

‘Best practice’ just like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Back in April when the BBFC initiated its rather naive draft rules for public consultation its prose tried to suggest that we can trust age verifiers with our most sensitive porn browsing data because they will voluntarily follow ‘best practice’. But in light of the major industry player, in this case Facebook, allowing Cambridge Analytica to so dramatically abuse our personal data, the hope that these people will follow best practice’ is surely forlorn.

GDPR

And there was the implementation of GDPR. The BBFC seemed to think that this was all that was needed to keep our data safe. But when t comes down to it all GDPR seems to have done is to train us, like Pavlov’s dogs, to endlessly tick the consent box for all these companies to do what the hell they like with our data.

Ingenious kids

Then there was a nice little piece of research this week that revealed that network level ISP filtering of porn has next to no impact on preventing young porn seekers from obtaining their kicks. The research notes seems to suggest that it is not enough to block porn one lad because he has 30 mates whose house he can round to surf the web there, or else it only takes a few lads to be able to download porn and it will soon be circulated to the whole community on a memory stick or whatever.

Mass Buy in

I guess the government is finding it tough to find age verification ideas that are both convenient for adult users, whilst remaining robust about preventing access by the under 18s. I think the governments needs to find a solution that will achieve a mass buy in by adult users. If the adults don’t want to play ball with the age verification process, then the first fall back position is for them to use a VPN. I know that from my use of VPNS that they are very good, and once you turn it on then I find it gets left on all day. I am sure millions of people using VPNs would not go down well with the security services on the trail of more serious crimes than under age porn viewing.

I think the most likely age verification method proposed to date that has a chance of a mass buy-in is the AVSecure system of anonymously buying a porn access card from a local shop, and using a PIN, perhaps typed in once a day. Then they are able to browse without further hassle on all participating websites. But I think it would require a certain pragmatism from government to accept this idea, as it would be so open to over 18s buying a card and then selling the PIN to under 18s, or perhaps sons nicking their Dad’s PINS when they see the card lying around, (or even perhaps installing a keyboard logger to nick the password).

The government would probably like something more robust where PINS have to be matched to people’s proven ID. But I think pron users would be stupid to hand over their ID to anyone on the internet who can monitor porn use. The risks are enormous, reputational damage, blackmail, fraud etc, and in this nasty PC world, the penalty of the most trivial of moral transgressions is to lose your job or even career.

A path to failure

The government is also setting out on a path when it can do nothing but fail. The Telegraph piece mentioned above is already lambasting the government for not applying the rules to social media websites such as Twitter, that host a fair bit of porn. The Telegraph comments:

Children will be free to watch explicit X-rated sex videos on social media sites because of a loophole in a new porn crackdown, Britain’s chief censor has admitted.

David Austin, chief executive of the BBFC, has been charged by ministers with enforcing new laws that require people to prove they are over 18 to access porn sites. However, writing for telegraph.co.uk, Mr Austin admitted it would not be a silver bullet as online porn on sites such as Facebook and YouTube would escape the age restrictions. Social media companies will not be required to carry age-verification for pornographic content on their platforms. He said it was a matter for government to review this position.

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BBFC logo Nobody seems to have heard much about the progress of the BBFC consultation about the process to censor internet porn in the UK.The sketchy timetable laid out so far suggests that the result of the consultation should be published prior to the Parliamentary recess scheduled for 26th July. Presumably this would provide MPs with some light reading over their summer hols ready for them to approve as soon as the hols are over.

Maybe this publication may have to be hurried along though, as pesky MPs are messing up Theresa May’s plans for a non-Brexit, and she would like to send them packing a week early before they can cause trouble.

The BBFC published meeting minutes this week that mentions the consultation:

The public consultation on the draft Guidance on Age Verification Arrangements and the draft Guidance on Ancillary Service Providers closed on 23 April. The BBFC received 620 responses, 40 from organisations and 580 from individuals. Many of the individual responses were encouraged by a campaign organised by the Open Rights Group.

Our proposed response to the consultation will be circulated to the Board before being sent to DCMS on 21 May.

So assuming that the response was sent to the government on the appointed day then someone has been sitting on the results for quite a long time now.

Meanwhile its good to see that people are still thinking about the monstrosity that is coming our way. Ethical porn producer Erica Lust has been speaking to News Internationalist. She comments on the way the new law will compound MindGeek’s monopolitistc dominance of the online porn market:

The age verification laws are going to disproportionately affect smaller low-traffic sites and independent sex workers who cannot cover the costs of installing age verification tools.

It will also impact smaller sites by giving MindGeek even more dominance in the adult industry. This is because the BBFC draft guidance does not enforce sites to offer more than one age verification product. So, all of MindGeeks sites (again, 90% of the mainstream porn sites) will only offer their own product; Age ID. The BBFC have also stated that users do not have to verify their age on each visit if access is restricted by password or a personal ID number. So users visiting a MindGeek site will only have to verify their age once using AgeID and then will be able to login to any complying site without having to verify again. Therefore, viewers will be less likely to visit competitor sites not using the AgeID technology, and simultaneously competitor sites will feel pressured to use AgeID to protect themselves from losing viewers.

…Read the full  article from newint.org

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BBFC logo Age verification has been hanging over us for several years now – and has now been put back to the end of 2018 after enforcement was originally planned to start last month.

I’m enormously encouraged by how many people took the opportunity to speak up and reply to the BBFC consultation on the new regulations .

Over 500 people submitted a response using the tool provided by the Open Rights Group , emphasising the need for age verification tech to be held to robust privacy and security standards.

I’m told that around 750 consultation responses were received by the BBFC overall, which means that a significant majority highlighted the regulatory gap between the powers of the BBFC to regulate adult websites, and the powers of the Information Commissioner to enforce data protection rules.

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avsecure age verification cardAdults who want to watch online porn (or maybe by adults only products such as alcohol) will be able to buy codes from newsagents and supermarkets to prove that they are over 18 when online.One option available to the estimated 25 million Britons who regularly visit such websites will be a 16-digit code, dubbed a ‘porn pass’.

While porn viewers will still be able to verify their age using methods such as registering credit card details, the 16-digit code option would be a fully anonymous option. According to AVSecure’s the cards will be sold for £10 to anyone who looks over 18 without the need for any further identification. It doesn’t say on the website, but presumably in the case where there is doubt about a customer’s age, then they will have to show ID documents such as a passport or driving licence, but hopefully that ID will not have to be recorded anywhere.

It is hope he method will be popular among those wishing to access porn online without having to hand over personal details to X-rated sites.

The user will type in a 16 digit number into websites that belong to the AVSecure scheme. It should be popular with websites as it offers age verification to them for free (with the £10 card fee being the only source of income for the company). This is a lot better proposition for websites than most, if not all, of the other age verification companies.

AVSecure also offer an encrypted implementation via blockchain that will not allow websites to use the 16 digit number as a key to track people’s website browsing. But saying that they could still use a myriad of other standard technologies to track viewers.

The BBFC is assigned the task of deciding whether to accredit different technologies and it will be very interesting to see if they approve the AVSecure offering. It is easily the best solution to protect the safety and privacy of porn viewers, but it maybe will test the BBFC’s pragmatism to accept the most workable and safest solution for adults which is not quite fully guaranteed to protect children. Pragmatism is required as the scheme has the technical drawback of having no further checks in place once the card has been purchased. The obvious worry is that an over 18s can go around to other shops to buy several cards to pass on to their under 18 mates. Another possibility is that kids could stumble on their parent’s card and get access. Numbers shared on the web could be easily blocked if used simultaneously from different IP addresses.