Scowling judge

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What could possibly go wrong?

British porn users could find themselves on a government database under the rules laid out in a new bill.

In a bid to prevent minors from accessing explicit pornography, the proposed Digital Economy Bill includes plans to legally require every porn website to verify that it’s users are over 18 years of age—not just make them click that meaningless “yes” button. The problem is, politicians have no real idea how this should be done.

At the moment, it looks like the burden to implement age-verification will fall on the websites themselves. Adult websites available in the United Kingdom will be policed by a regulator, who will inflict penalties and fines on sites that do not adhere to the rules—even pursuing the owners of these websites overseas and cutting off their U.K. payments.

The problem is that the regulator will only discriminate on whether a website practices verification and not on what system it uses to collect and store the user data. The owner of a porn site, forced to comply with the law, could opt for a cheaper age-verification system that leaves a user’s personal information vulnerable to third parties or data breaches.

“The proposals as they stand carry huge privacy risks and could lead to the collection of sensitive data about people’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison-style hacks,” digital rights advocate Jim Killock warned in an interview with the Daily Dot.

“There are no privacy obligations in the draft bill, yet it will be effectively compulsory to use these technologies,” he added. “[The bill] needs strong privacy regulation to avoid potential disaster.”

Killock is Executive Director of Open Rights Group (ORG), a British digital rights and privacy campaigning organization. His organization delivered evidence on two occasions to a government committee that has been put in place to scrutinize the bill. Already the committee’s members have heard from a whole host of ISPs, academics and charities, Killock said.

While calling the bid to prevent children accessing porn “well-intentioned” and attempting to constructively engage with the government, Killock is not entirely behind legislation that he sees could ultimately threaten privacy and free speech.

“As with previous policies to filter adult content, this is an attempt at finding a technological solution to a social problem,” he said.

“While this law may prevent young children from accidentally viewing porn, there are many ways that tech savvy teenagers could get round it—for example by using VPNs, proxy sites, portable media or accessing porn through social media sites.” 

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