In late November there was a parliamentary debate about online pornography. ‘So what?’ you might yawn. After all there is a long held perception that porn and the web are indivisible. ‘I’m fairly sure if they took porn off the internet, there’d be only one website left, and it would be called ‘Bring back the porn!”. Yet we need to be aware what the government is doing because there are fundamental changes afoot.
It’s not the first time. Government have been threatening our sex based internet freedom for years. Since 2013 UK Internet customers are prohibited from accessing a range of sites. David Cameron oversaw the implementation of porn filters so net users had to ‘opt in’ to access certain sites. Crucially in 2014, there was a law implemented which restricts what sex acts could be seen on sex shop DVDs. And we let it happen.
The Digital Economy Bill
There are a couple of major developments introduced by the Digital Economy Bill. UK commercial providers of online pornography will need to introduce age verification controls. This is generally done using credit card checks, which aren’t always secure. They are bringing online porn in line with adult DVD classification.
The bill introduces a regulatory framework to monitor and enforce compliance. Civil sanctions against sites giving access to adult material include blocking access. The law will also apply to websites hosted outside the UK.
Your sex toys are safe…for now
Access to your favourite online sex shops are not in any immediate danger. But there seems to be an atmosphere of creeping censorship and invasion of privacy. Where will it end? My fear is that one day you’ll be purchasing a sex toy, which will alert your internet service provider. If you’re buying such a product, you’re probably heading online to a porn site. And if your taste is deemed ‘unconventional’ what is to stop the government requiring ISPs informing the authorities?
Protests about what is acceptable have been going on for two years. It includes female ejaculation, fisting, public sex, and caning, whipping, or spanking that leaves a mark. A 2014 amendment to the Communications Act ensured that video-on-demand (VoD) porn has to follow the same guidelines as DVDs by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).
Not just sexual freedoms
This bill isn’t just threatening sexual freedoms. Our personal data will be shared across government departments and private‑sector companies. Without our knowledge or consent. This should fill us all with horror given the data leaks and patchy government data security. The two main political parties supported the bill. It was only opposed by the Liberal Democrats. They described ‘it as a draconian piece of legislation more akin to what the Chinese or Russian governments would pass’.
We should all be concerned about the future. Privacy and data protection campaigners are worried. The Internet Service Provider Association has asked the government to consider how this will impact ‘the rights of UK Internet users’. It is easy to sit and let this censorship happen. It will be too late when people do a search for porn, and they find only one site saying, ‘bring back the porn!’.