Plans for age checks on porn sites highlight the UK government's failure to understand the web

explicit-content

If there's anything that the UK government has demonstrated in recent years it is that it not only wants to try to take control of the web, but it also fails to understand the web. These two facts make for a terrible combination -- something highlighted by the snooper's charter and the government's desire to break encryption on demand.

The latest idea -- ushered in under the guise of protecting children in a bid to win points -- is the introduction of age restriction on porn sites. The Digital Economy Act will require porn sites to use credit card verification to check that users are aged 18 or over. There are numerous holes here, illustrating that the government simply doesn’t know what it's talking about.

That the subject of this latest legislation is porn is neither here nor there, but it is the latest attempt by the UK government to exercise control in a way that is misguided and unworkable. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wants all porn sites to have age verification controls in place by April 2018, but there are countless obstacles in the path ahead.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the internet is a global beast. The UK government is not able to force porn sites in, say, the US or Sweden to comply with UK law -- as much as it might like to think it could. We've seen this with torrent sites. Sure, the number of torrent sites easily accessible may have dropped slightly, but there's still a vast choice out there.

Secondly, even if the government were to implement laws that prevented ISPs from providing access to porn sites that failed to implement age checks, the torrent story rears its head again. With torrent sites, the government forced the big ISPs to put blocks in place. Note the "big ISPs," not all ISPs. And for anyone who uses one of the affected providers, there are countless ways (mirrors, proxies, VPNs) to get around restrictions. Why should it be any different with porn?

Thirdly, while porn accounts for a huge, huge amount of web traffic, not everyone who, er, uses it is willing to admit to it. It's fair to assume that only a very tiny percentage of porn consumers would be happy to hand over their credit card if only out of fear that it might expose their habit.

Fourthly, porn sites have a terrible reputation. Like torrent sites and other sites providing access to shady content, there is a risk in handing over credit card details -- particularly when said site is associated with something illegal or something that could be seen as embarrassing. This is why there are so many free porn sites out there -- people do not want to have entries for porn sites appearing on their credit card statement, nor are they willing to run the risk of being ripped off.

Fifthly, not everyone has a credit card. This might be through choice or circumstance, but it's safe to say that not everyone who might want to access online pornography is going to be able to prove their age by presenting a credit card. Are credit-card-less people to be denied access to porn? What's to stop a kid "borrowing" a parents' card?

Sixthly, what about educational or medical websites? These may well host content that could be deemed pornographic, but should these be subjected to the same sort of interference? And if there's one exception to the rule, or one loophole to be exploited, there will be more.

Of course, this is just scratching the surface. There are so many technology and societal reasons that porn-site credit card checks just won't work. Add to this that any governmental interference into the content of websites -- something which is yet to be suggested in this instance, but it’s a serious consideration when the government expresses an interest in a particular type of site -- and there's the obvious concern that puritanical views will be forced onto users.

The whole idea is simply unworkable and it deserves to fail for more reasons than I care to list.

Image credit: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

© 1998-2017 BetaNews, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy.