Sex History Educational Site Wants To Know If It's Going To Be Bricked Up Behind UK's Porn Wall

from the are-you-old-enough-to-LEARN? dept

As the UK's porn filter move from "voluntold" to mandatory, questions are being raised (again) about the potential for overblocking. As is the case with any filtering system, things that should be allowed to go through sometimes end up caught in the netting.

In addition to the opt-out porn filtering system in place at UK internet service providers, the government is also demanding any site that meets its vague definition of pornographic verify users' ages before allowing them access. This will apparently be tied to credit cards and/or mobile phones, so the government can strip porn viewers of anonymity it will be slightly more difficult for the under-18 crowd to avail themselves of over-18 web goodies. (But not really.)

Because the blockaded content is so vaguely defined, education sites -- like the Whores of Yore site -- are likely to end up on the government's ID-please naughty list.

Whores of Yore is a website, run by academic Kate Lister, which describes itself as follows: “We are proudly sex-positive. An inter-disciplinary, pro-sex worker rights hub, dedicated to exploring the history of human sexuality and challenging shame and stigma.

The site is slightly NSFW but not really the sort of thing that should be targeted when targeting porn. Unfortunately, the UK government prefers shotguns to sniper rifles and is apparently comfortable with collateral damage. The provision -- tied up with lots of other stupid/bad stuff in the Digital Economy Act -- says anything covered the government's R18 and 18 certificates (roughly XXX and R-rated, respectively) will need to be blocked with a government-ordained registration wall. Harder porn is covered by the R18. The 18 certification covers simple things like nudity, if the government decides the content is "titillating."

There certainly are some titillating things at Whores of Yore, but there's also a great deal of educational material. Concerned her site might be blocked, Lister asked the blocking government body directly for its view on her site's content. Results were inconclusive.

So Kate contacted the BBFC, the UK’s soon-to-be Internet censor with a simple question: will she be a criminal, and will her site be blocked, under the new regime? After all, these rules are set to become law within a few months, and have been under discussion for years. Predictably, the BBFC responded to say they simply can’t answer:

“Work in this area has not yet begun and so we are not in a position to advice [sic] you on your website. Pages 23 and 24 of our Classification Guidelines detail the standards applied when classifying sex works at 18 and R18 however and may be of interest to you.”

In other words, the censoring agency has no idea. It simply asks questioners to read the same guidelines it will apparently be enforcing. As Lister says, reading the guidelines in hopes of finding clear delineations in content regulation is "about as useful as a chocolate dildo." Given this non-response, it's safe to assume when the blockade goes live, writers might need to search for less titillating metaphors if they're not behind an age verification wall.


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 3:44am

    "The provision -- tied up with lots of other stupid/bad stuff in the Digital Economy Act -- says anything covered the government's R18 and 18 certificates (roughly XXX and R-rated, respectively) will need to be blocked with a government-ordained registration wall. Harder porn is covered by the R18. The 18 certification covers simple things like nudity, if the government decides the content is "titillating.""

    It's worth clarifying a few things here, for the non-British audience.

    When dealing with DVDs, most titles (there are some narrow exceptions) have to be classified by the BBFC. The two highest ratings available are 18 and R18 (the work can also be rejected outright, and it's illegal to supply a non-certificated non-exempt work in the UK). 18 is roughly equivalent to R, but stricter in implementation (unlike the US R rating, the age limit is a hard 18, you can't get younger people into a cinema to see an 18 movie with a parent, for example).

    R18, on the other hand, can only be legally supplied in specially licenced premises (usually sex shops) with extra restrictions on how they operate. In the past this has meant porn, but there's some very different rules to the US and some wooly implementations that have been introduced over the last couple of decades - for example, some hardcore porn used to be banned at even the R18 level, while some art movies have been accepted uncut at the 18 level despite containing hardcore footage (e.g. some versions of Caligula, Baise-Moi, The Idiots, etc.).

    Obviously, now we have a number of issues with how the government plan to implement this with regard to websites, but I think the latter point is the most concerning. While the BBFC do have some hard guidelines for what is allowed at each level, some of it is very subjective and subject to the whims of whoever's in charge at a particular time. The owner of this website could find themselves at the wrong end of legality for any reason at any time.

    The whole thing is idiotic, and essentially a new version of the video nasties witch hunt that utterly failed the Tories in the 80s (though as someone who grew up at the time, I appreciated the list of "must have" titles to hunt down as a teenager - them being banned really helped the thrill of the hunt!). It will fail just as badly, but I suppose it helps as a distraction from all the other ways they're destroying the country in the meantime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      stderric (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 4:29am

      Re:

      I grew up in the 80's in the US and watched a lot of PBS - so plenty of Doctor Who, Masterpiece Theater, Connections, and The Young Ones. TV helped form a really weird overall picture of the UK in my mind: a land where Yakkity Sax plays ceaselessly while topless women chase people around until they're all crushed by giant walking hammers wearing periwigs. Still, 'Erudite Slapstick Oppression' is about the coolest kind of dystopian vibe I've ever heard of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 5:32am

      Re:

      So there's a censor that has to give their blessings to creative works that go into the UK. It's just being expanded to the internet. And we are complaining about China eh?

      There's also the point you raised so well: porn is widely available on the internet from sources the UK government can have limited control at best. So yeah, it's just fireworks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 27 Jul 2017 @ 5:38am

        Re: Re:

        So there's a censor that has to give their blessings to creative works that go into the UK. It's just being expanded to the internet. And we are complaining about China eh?

        I'm perfectly capable of complaining about more than one thing at once! ;)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 5:58am

        Re: Re:

        "So there's a censor that has to give their blessings to creative works that go into the UK"

        Certain types of works, yes. Always has been, which is why it's been so important for the US to ensure that freedom of speech transcends media. Look up the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and its use against Lady Chatterley's Lover and the 1984 Video Recordings Act and its use during the video nasties scare for examples - and both of those acts were intended to clarify and improve rules already in existence, not introduce new forms of censorship. Whenever the Tories are in power, they will tend to bow more toward the Mary Whitehouse way of thinking, which is not positive for a free society.

        When Orwell was writing 1984, and when Moore wrote V For Vendetta to update it to the Thatcher era, they were basing it on things that were really happening. Recent developments in China are not new in the UK, or in many other countries, they usually just happen to be better as making it less obviously authoritarian.

        "There's also the point you raised so well: porn is widely available on the internet from sources the UK government can have limited control at best"

        As mentioned, I was a teenager during the late 80s/early 90s and the list of "video nasties" produced by the 1984 VRA were something I was very interested in collecting. I was able to get hold of most of them on VHS via post. Online blocks won't be any more effective, especially if the target is "everything pornographic" rather than "these specific 39 or 72 films".

        But, "fireworks" or not, there's some very real problems that will be caused by these kinds of moves, be it censorship of otherwise legitimate material (such as the educational content in question here) or other unintended consequences.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:35am

      Re:

      So it sounds more like 18 is equivalent to our NC-17 rating, not R. It's no one under 17 period.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re:

        Yes and no. The ratings in the UK go - U, PG, 12A, 12, 15, 18, R18. U is the same as G, and PG is the same in the UK and US. 12A is similar to PG-13 (under 12s can be admitted with parent but the BBFC recommend 8 as the youngest, though this is not enforced).

        Beyond that, the age limits are hard limits. A 14 year old cannot legally get in to see a movie rated 15, a 17 year old cannot get into see an 18 rated movie.

        The comparison between R and 18 therefore tends to be variable. It used to be that most movies that were released as an R in the US would be released as an 18 in the UK. In recent years, distributors have tended to cut the movie slightly to get a 15, or the BBFC's stance has softened to the point where they don't mind passing things as a 15, so long as the violence isn't too extreme and there's no explicit sex or sexual violence. So, Deadpool was a 15 uncut in the UK, while some films that were traditionally released as 18 have been reclassified as 15 when resubmitted (sometimes with hilarious effect - some films that were banned as video nasties are not avaialable uncut as 15 rated!).

        I hope that all makes sense. The BBFC's official website (http://bbfc.co.uk/) is an excellent resource.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 4:02am

    A yes, law of unintended consequences. I remember work a IT project for a NHS trust the day the turned on there new firewall with Content-control software fillters, a member of staff was trying to get to an off domain hosted public website to update the calendar on when nurse were visiting schools and colleges in the area. The problem was it was the trust own sexual health website an now was been blocked. Good thing the manger was smart and looked at the website address on the auto email before he came into the room to have good laught and ask how to get the site unblocked. was also told it got breast and testicular cancer support sites

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      peter, 27 Jul 2017 @ 5:27am

      Re:

      Ah yes the law of unintended consequences. I worked for a company working in Defence with very strict instruction about emailing anything with restricted, confidential or secret. So a filter was introduced for any email with those words in it.

      At the same time our lawyers got nervous about outgoing emails and liability so had a disclaimer automatically appended to every email which included the phrase that the "distribution was restricted to the intended recipients".

      We spend a few days in happy ignorance that every single one of our our outgoing emails was being blocked.

      That was fixed but we noticed certain emails were not getting through to us. We eventually worked out that every time someone replied to our email, it included the disclaimer and so got automatically trashed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 4:10am

    What I want to know is how this will validate age, as all it requires is knowledge of the card number belonging to someone over the age of 18. its not as if the person presenting the evidence actually has to present the card, so all it takes is one person in a peer group to get the card infomation to enable the whole group to use it to 'validate' age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:30am

      Re:

      all it takes is one person in a peer group to get the card infomation to enable the whole group to use it to 'validate' age.

      They could fine the card owner whenever their card used that way, like how they fine vehicle owners when someone (whether the owner or not) runs a red light in the vehicle. But why would the kids be looking for British porn specifically, rather than using the millions of other sites?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:49am

        Re: Re:

        How do they even find out, unless they require all uses of cards to validate age to be fed to a government database. Its not like Theresa May order that, but rather there is no may, but rather will in Theresa May when it comes to Intrusive Interference with her Citizens lives.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 9:53am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How do they even find out, unless they require all uses of cards to validate age to be fed to a government database.

          They could require credit card companies to detect and block "suspicious" uses of the card for verification. They wouldn't necessarily define what that means, they'd just leave it vague so credit card companies would over-block to avoid fines.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Richard (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 1:44pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think CS Lewis put the objections to this most eloquently:

          "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
          The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
          They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:54am

        Re: Re:

        Well, they probably wouldn't be (certainly not exclusively), which is why this kind of thing is concerning. On the face of it, it's a ridiculous prospect, with the BBFC not having the resources to rate everything, the age verification solutions unworkable with any kind of accuracy and them only having any kind of jurisdiction to force rating on UK-based sites to begin with.

        But, the flaws are so obvious, you have to wonder if there's more to the plan. It's a really stupid plan if the idea is to stop kids from accessing porn. But, as a backdoor way towards forcing mandatory individual ID, online tracking, censorship of politically undesirable speech, squashing dissent, etc., it might be quite handy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Theresa May, 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:20pm

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jul 27th, 2017 @ 4:10am

      Just photograph a parent's credit card and use that. Which will be great for those porn sites which use age verification as an excuse to charge the cards of careless visitors and I can foresee a lot of puzzled and angry adults.

      "I swear, that wasn't me, I would never go on that sort of site."

      "Well if it wasn't you, who was it?"

      [Silence for a few seconds then both slowly look towards teenager's bedroom door]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 27 Jul 2017 @ 4:27am

    So let me get this straight...

    I, me, want to participate in an activity, a private, personal activity, that society at large considers vulgar and in some cases taboo.

    You want to make it so that everyone who participates in this activity, which you consider vulgar, has to be registered, identified and verified.


    ...I forgot, what was this taboo subject that was so serious that you need to identify everyone who shows an interest in it? Was it pornography, or drugs, or terrorism, or a certain religion, or a certain country, or...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 27 Jul 2017 @ 5:59am

      Re: So let me get this straight...

      I, me, want to participate in an activity, a private, personal activity, that society at large considers vulgar and in some cases taboo.

      You want to make it so that everyone who participates in this activity, which you consider vulgar, has to be registered, identified and verified.

      Yes, absolutely! People who want to blow their nose or pass gas should absolutely have to be registered with a government registry. For the protection of us all. Think of the children!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    \tin-foil-hat, 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:03am

    Who didn't see this coming?

    I wonder how long it will before they block more things?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Machin Shin, 27 Jul 2017 @ 6:43am

    "about as useful as a chocolate dildo."

    That is being far to generous. At least with a chocolate dildo you still have some tasty chocolate. In fact it would be very useful for getting the bad taste out of your mouth that has been left by these regulations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Howard (II), 27 Jul 2017 @ 7:11am

    the UK government prefers shotguns to sniper rifles

    Only if you consider a blunderbuss to be a shotgun...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 8:18am

    the UK has gone well over the top with what it is doing as far as censorship and website restricting is concerned! and dont be fooled that it's to protect the children! it's all a front to please the entertainment industries and distract people from them what is really going on. blocking sites those industries dont like, dont want and the desire to take control of the Internet!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 27 Jul 2017 @ 10:42am

    As Lister says, reading the guidelines in hopes of finding clear delineations in content regulation is "about as useful as a chocolate dildo."

    Just put it in the freezer for a couple hours and it should be good for at least one session.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2017 @ 10:58am

    So, those who want to view the content can use a VPN to get past the block.

    One adult chat room I like to go to, a lot of chatters from Britain are already using VPNs to evade the new porn wall

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vic, 28 Jul 2017 @ 12:42pm

    Yeah, I tried to open it at work (since it's NSFW of course), and was promptly blocked as "adult and pornography".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Genord92 (profile), 11 Aug 2017 @ 1:38pm

    What I want to know is how this will validate age, as all it requires, is knowledge of the card number belonging to someone over the age of 18. its not as if the person presenting the evidence actually has to present the card, so all it takes is one person in a peer group to get the card information to enable the whole group to use it to 'validate' age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
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