UK Age Verification Proposal Omits Privacy Protections

Even as the American organizations CDT and FSC work to promote consumer privacy for adult websites, UK authorities continue to plow ahead with their ill-conceived plan to require mandatory age verification for consumers to access adult material. (A similar plan in the US was defeated in court partly over First Amendment concerns regarding the right to receive controversial speech anonymously.) The UK has designated the British Board of Film Classification to perform age verification, but astonishingly, the law makes no provision to protect the privacy of adult-website visitors.

As described in this petition, “The Digital Economy Bill currently before Parliament will introduce compulsory age verification without guaranteeing privacy protections for subscribers. This omission risks users’ personal details and private sexual preferences being exploited for commercial gain and/or leaked into the public domain.”

Discussion of the Digital Economy Bill by The Independent

Update: adult industry stakeholders held a protest outside Parliament today against the bill, which they say “imposes state censorship and surveillance of consensual adult sexual content in the U.K.”

Groups Aim to Improve Adult-Site Privacy

In the aftermath of ongoing revelations about mass surveillance and enormous data breaches, consumers have rightly become more concerned with online privacy and security. As Xbiz reports, the Center for Democracy and Technology has partnered with adult industry group Free Speech Coalition to promote the use of privacy-enhancing https technology by adult websites to reduce the erosive effects of indiscriminate dragnet monitoring programs. (This website has not yet adopted https technology because of hosting company limitations but plans to do so as soon as it is feasible.)

FSC Pushes to Make Adult Sites More Secure

The Free Speech Coalition and the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital civil liberties group, have agreed to work together to advocate use of the encryption protocol HTTPS for adult sites. Read more>>

US Candidates on Internet Policy

Ars Technica has posted the most comprehensive article I have seen thus far about the four US presidential candidates’ positions on Internet law and policy. I was surprised that Donald Trump confuses Net Neutrality with the completely unrelated 20th century radio and television “Fairness Doctrine,” and I am disappointed that he feels that ISP’s can effectively self regulate on price and service in the absence of meaningful competition. Hillary Clinton says that she champions Net Neutrality and consumer protection, but the fact that she accepts money from anti-competition ISP lobbyists calls into question the sincerity of her commitment.

Libertarian Gary Johnson strongly opposes governmental surveillance but otherwise believes that ISP’s should be completely unregulated, regardless of the potential harm to consumers. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, although a medical doctor, promotes pseudoscience claims including the dubious assertion that WiFi radiation is a health hazard. She also holds peculiar views on gender and censorship.

Can You Guess Which Country?

First Amendment lawyer J. D. Obenberger recently wrote at Xbiz:

Censorship starts here with porn. It always does. And, as always, this repression of speech starts with the proclaimed aim of “protecting the children.” Given the haphazard record of actual prosecution for distribution of porn and its selectivity against the lowest hanging fruit, least capable of defending itself, the thought that porn is a pretextual target for more sinister and wider purposes — and to justify the acquisition of tools for general censorship — has special appeal.

He might well have been referring to the USA or the UK, where officials have recently argued for laws prohibiting strong encryption on the pretense of preventing crime, but in this case he was writing about his experience visiting Russia, which can serve as a cautionary tale for Western democracies.

The article itself is fascinating and well worth a read:

Porn Effects Disputed in UK; Privacy Under Attack in US

I have not been able to post as much as I would like because of recurring medical issues, but two stories relevant to our community are in the news.

First, the BBC recently published a report repeating the old canard that frequent porn use supposedly causes erectile disorder in young men by desensitizing them to real-life sexual stimuli. Maxim, although generally considered more of a “lad’s mag” than a serious news publication, responded to the BBC claims with a well-sourced article citing two scientific studies showing that porn use is not inherently harmful.

Second, the dominant US Internet provider, Comcast, has indicated its desire to charge ISP customers additional fees for privacy, similar to what AT&T has been doing to certain fiber Internet subscribers. Caroline Craig has an excellent article at Infoworld explaining the current privacy situation in the US and the FCC’s new role in protecting consumers from intrusive practices by ISP’s, which, due to lack of meaningful competition, can impose onerous conditions on customers at will.

Trump Signs Anti-Porn Pledge

According to XBIZ and other news outlets, GOP presidential candidate (and former Playboy cover model) Donald Trump has signed an anti-porn pledge promulgated by a notorious pro-censorship organization called “Enough is Enough.” Most of the pledge is standard “save the children” fare with scant reference to adult erotica, but concerningly, it also affirms the false claim made this year by the Utah legislature — and now enshrined in the GOP platform — that online adult content is a hazard to public health.

The pledge also calls on private companies to partner with the government in “voluntary” efforts to reduce the supposed threat of minors seeing adult content, which sounds to me like an attempt to reinvigorate the age-verification and de-anonymization schemes which the US Government promoted in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s before they were mostly struck down by the courts. Such partnerships could also include more surveillance and data sharing by private companies, ostensibly to protect minors from being chatted at by perverts, but effectively invading everyone’s online privacy along the lines of the proposed “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).”

Trump Signs Pledge to Crack Down on Porn If Elected

In a development that could sway stakeholders in the industry, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump signed a pledge two weeks ago stating he would aggressively enforce existing laws that prevent the sexual exploitation of children, including federal obscenity laws, child pornography laws, sexual predation laws and the sex trafficking laws. Read more>>

US Presidential Candidates on Net Neutrality

With Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) having now endorsed his rival, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Benton Foundation describes the two remaining US major-party presidential candidates’ positions on Net Neutrality:

The presumptive nominees have already staked out positions supporting (Hillary Clinton) and opposing (Donald Trump) network neutrality. A Trump-appointed FCC would presumably stop utilizing Title II powers and refrain from enforcing the network neutrality rules, but a formal recision of the FCC’s decision would take some time and would require some legal gymnastics. There is plenty of time to address that scenario if and when it happens.

Nonetheless, according to DSL Reports, even Mrs. Clinton continues to accept money from anti-Neutrality Internet providers such as AT&T:

AT&T’s Top Lobbyist Backs Hillary Clinton

Net Neutrality Now

Net Neutrality Now

Sky Broadband Latest UK ISP to Block Adult Sites

According to Wired UK, Sky Broadband is the latest UK Internet provider to block adult websites by default for new customers as well as for existing customers who haven’t yet elected to opt out. As the article notes, the plan includes some potential pitfalls:

[T]he first time a user goes to a restricted website, they will be invited to amend the filter settings, or turn it off altogether. However, only the account holder will have the ability to do this – not necessarily a hurdle for families, but potentially a problem in shared houses of adult occupants. Sky’s announcement does not specify what filters will be used to determine whether a site is “inappropriate” or not.

I thought it would be interesting to see how this blog is filtered in the UK, as determined by (image below)

Open Rights Group report on this blog

Open Rights Group report on this blog