Date For UK Porn Block Has Been Set – April 2019

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From April 2019, porn users in Britain will have to verify their age to prove they're "legal". The purpose of the new rule, surreptitiously added to the Digital Economy Act 2017, is to protect children who might otherwise "stumble across" pornographic content, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) says – but many have argued this line of thinking is flawed. (More on that later.)

The block was due to start almost a year ago (April 2018), yet was postponed as policymakers attempted to get to grips with the various logistical challenges it inevitably entails. Now, a spokesperson from Mindgeek (the proprietors of porn behemoths Pornhub and YouPorn) has spoken to the Metro about the age-verification system they are expected to introduce this April.

Users, we are told, attempting to reach a Mindgeek-owned site will be taken to a unique, non-pornographic "landing page", where they will be prompted to create an AgeID account by entering their email and a password. To complete the process, users will have to provide some kind of age-verifying document to show that they are 18 or over. This could be a passport, driving license, Mobile SMS, or credit card. Users will also have the option of buying a special age-verification card from retail outlets. From then on, Mindgeek says, users can log in to all AgeID-enabled sites with just their email and password.

Worried about some kind of Ashley Madison-style hack? James Clark, an AgeID spokesperson, told the Metro both email and password details will be protected with a salted, one-way hash. 

"AgeID does not know the identity or date of birth of its users, all it knows is whether a hashed account is over 18 or not," Clark explained. "AgeID has been designed with privacy and security at its core, so much so that we believe we provide the most robust solution available."

Of course, AgeID will not necessarily be a universal login system – competitors may choose other processes. But aside from concerns over data security (or lack thereof), will the government's block even work? Many argue it won't.

First of all, there is the issue of VPNs. Anyone with a hint of Internet know-how (the legislation's target, Generation X, being a prime example) will likely have heard of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). These allow Internet users to relocate virtually to countries with looser laws around censorship and online porn – in this case, any country but the UK. Alternatively, users may attempt to bypass the age restrictions by using systems like ToR and turning to dodgy sites on the dark web, a risk the government itself has acknowledged. 

Then, there are fake IDs (or related, borrowing one from an older sibling) – a teenage tradition that has existed since time immemorial (or at least as far back as the 1970s). As BBC Newsbeat reports, there's the possibility that adolescents set on accessing porn will be able to do so with the login details of someone older. 

Finally, there is social media, which won't be beholden to the same rules as dedicated porn sites and won't be under the authority of the BBFC. As the BBFC says itself, "Age-verification is not a silver bullet. Some determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography." Though they hope it will mean that "children will no longer stumble across pornography on commercial pornographic websites."

The policy also brings into question the matter of free speech. "As I’ve said before, pornography is the 'canary down the mine' of free speech, other freedoms will fall subsequently," Myles Jackman, one of the UK’s leading obscenity and pornography lawyers, told IFLScience last year.

Lo and behold, the idea of using age-verification is now apparently being discussed for sites like Facebook.

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