Wednesday 6 April 2016

Government Consultation on Age Verification for Porn

Deadline for responses: 12th April 2016
Proposal document: 

The UK government are proposing to enforce age verification for porn websites, under the mantra of protecting children. Regardless of one's stance on porn itself, the proposals are fundamentally flawed in various ways. For example, the current proposal is to implement a system of age verification (by entering credit card details, for instance). The regime (their term, not mine) will target the most popular websites (or, as the survey puts it, sites most accessed by children - good luck substantiating that claim). The survey posits that there are over '5 million' websites hosting porn. Restricting access to a major, visible website like PornHub won't protect children; it will fragment traffic, redirecting users to a host of smaller, less visible websites. Blocking a handful of sites will not prevent access per se.
Even if the restrictions were imposed on all porn sites (which is impracticable), the government would be faced with the same problems that plagued their attempt to block porn at ISP level. For instance, all manner of non-porn websites would be erroneously targeted (recall that sex education sites and even the government's own website were blocked by the previous filter). Moreover, the system would almost certainly be circumvented; the previous filter was bypassed via a browser extension within 24 hours of its implementation. The previous filter attempt failed; that much is evident from this attempt to find a new restriction system. One of the reasons it failed (even before being branded 'illegal' by the EU) is that the uptake for filtering was so small; most users opted out. This might not signal that the public want porn, but it certainly suggests that the public do not want a poorly implemented system that is unfit for purpose.
Even anti-porn campaigners should be worried about this proposal on the grounds that it stands little chance of being effective. If anything, anti-porn campaigners should be insulted by the proposal since it appears to be a superficial gesture aiming to placate complainants rather than a genuine attempt to protect children. 
If the agenda really is to protect children - and I remain unconvinced that it is - then the implementation of age verification is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Personally, I would rather that time and money were invested into improving sex education rather than creating a number unnecessary and short-lived legislative changes. 
I have registered my concerns via the consultation survey, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.