Acton Institute Powerblog

The UK porn ban

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Free weekly Acton Newsletter

In the United Kingdom, the government has taken many steps to ensure the protection of children from pornography and other adult material; most recently an Age Verification law was scheduled to be legislated on July 15 but has again been pushed back. Its opposition has legitimate reasons for concern; however, if we agree that children need to be shielded from pornographic material, we need to look at how those laws can be appropriately implemented.

The timeline of the United Kingdom censorship has two main parts: First, that of governmental pressure for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to filter content, and second, for pornography websites to require Age Verification. The former has already been in place since 2012, which sets a dangerous precedent for governmental censorship. Age Verification however, despite push back, I believe is a rightful form of government enforcing a law: Keeping children safe from pornographic material.

The fight to end open access pornography began after the abduction and rape of a 5 year girl in late 2012, as well as several polls showing a high rate of porn addiction among children and the devastating effects it produces. Then Prime Minister David Cameron began a campaign to ensure ISPs would filter out this content. By mid-2014, all four of the major ISPs in the UK had filters in place that would block a list of adult content, including drugs, pornography, suicide and violence. Customers would automatically have their internet filtered unless they manually opted out, which approximately 87% did.

Debate around the censorship increased in 2017, when the United Kingdom passed the Digital Economy Act of 2017, which states that all adult websites must provide an Age Verification process to ensure that users are 18 or older. This is juxtaposed to a simple “click here if you’re 18.” This Act mandates that websites need a more rigorous system that takes proof of age and identification. Failure to meet these requirements would result in financial penalties for up to 250,000 Euros and/or the deletion of the website.

ISP Filters

ISP filters are a much greater intrusion on individuals and families than requiring people to prove they are old enough to access certain material. It seems that the government calling for the censorship of certain material, despite moral arguments, is an absolute overreach and could spell out an Orwellian future. ISP filters will undoubtedly censor things that are out of the scope of the government to censor. For the UK government to require ISPs to have an opt-out filter in place is taking censorship too far. It is a slippery slope for the government to be asking ISPs to censor material, despite its good intentions. It is not the government’s role in deciding what people can and cannot watch, but the individuals and families.

Furthermore, how will the UK government draw the line on what will be deemed “unsuitable”? Many movies, for instance, have material in them that is inappropriate for a younger audience. Would that be filtered as well? It is easy to rationalize small steps in blocking material, but many small steps can bring government censorship much farther than anyone thought, given enough time. Censoring webpages via the ISP filtering systems have already been seen to over-ban material, including sex education and suicide help. In other cases, it fails to ban pages it is designed to censor. No matter how many times the level of censorship is tweaked, there will always be under and over blocking.

Age Verification

Age Verification for what is already illegal is a different story. It is already the law that those under 18 should not be viewing explicit content, and, therefore, I would argue that it is the government’s job to make sure that law is followed. Clearly, a “click here if you are 18” checkbox is not an effective system. It is a system that children and people under 18 can easily bypass. How would we respond if it were that simple for children to receive other illegal items and services with a click, such as drugs or alcohol?

Some have raised concerns about privacy issues and how Age Verification could be achieved, as there are many ways for people to get around the system, such as the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VPNs allow a user to appear as if they are anywhere in the world. This means that a user in the UK could seem as if they were on the internet through a country that has no ISP filters and pornographic Age Verification.

Despite these challenges, I think there are many solutions that have not been given enough credit. There have already been several attempts to keep people’s information as secure as possible. One such way utilizes a third party to store all the users’ information, and then sends a pass or fail to a site called “Age ID.” The sites are intentionally separated so that none of the users’ information can be traced back to them, but they still can acquire the credentials to show they are of age.

VPNs also do pose a significant challenge, however they would, at the very least, provide another hurtle for children from either coming across or getting onto a pornographic website in the first place. This is because VPNs are a paid service, and most children, especially younger ones, would have a harder time acquiring it as they would need a credit card.

I believe Age Verification is needed because it is at least a step in the right direction of keeping children safe. We need to recognize what the role of government is and is not. It is not to pressure ISPs to filter content. But government should protect children from harmful material. With the technology becoming ever more present in our lives, it is nearly impossible for families to keep up with the internet and for parents to know how to keep their children safe. As it is now, the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11 years old and almost all these occurrences are in the home. This is unacceptable. By creating a more rigorous system to check the age of users, children will be much less likely to be exposed to pornography. As Jeremy Wright, the United Kingdom Culture Secretary said, “Age verification needs to happen, and in the interest of the needs of children, it must.”

Photo Credit: Todd Trapani

Enjoy the article?

Click below to view our latest and most popular posts!

Read More

Spencer Haven Spencer Haven grew up in Kansas and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he completed his Bachelors in Kinesiology at Calvin College. During this time, he participated in numerous leadership and volunteer positions, including initiating and leading a ministry to assist the homeless. After, Spencer volunteered for Peace Corps in Guatemala to help provide health resources for local schools. Since then, he has been involved in several international development opportunities, including work in Tanzania, Kenya, and Guatemala. Spencer is enjoying working at the Acton Institute as a Development Associate and is enrolled at Eastern University working toward an MBA in Social Impact and plans to pursue academic and professional work in business and social entrepreneurship.

Comments