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BBFC consultation: a look at responses

Mon. 14 May 2018

Those who like to keep informed on what is happening in the world of BDSM also need to pay attention to the political world. It may be unfortunate that this is the case, but it is the reality. The latest serious case-in-point is the impending introduction of age verification (AV) for an as-yet-unspecified range of Web sites. The new, government-appointed regulator, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), recently concluded a “public consultation” on AV, and the first roundups of the results are beginning to appear.

I’ve mentioned a few times previously two major campaigners fighting the good fight, Myles Jackman and Pandora Blake. Last week, as part of the afore-mentioned early roundups of the BBFC consultation, they were among the interviewees for an article by The Register, a mildly satirical technology and science news site. Among the many concerns they and other commentators expressed in the article was the uncertainty surrounding AV service providers’ undoubted ability and unknown intentions regarding the tracking of users.

There is even the (well-founded) suggestion that AV providers are likely to track users, which would compound the consequences of a catastrophic data breach. Tracking will probably occur in the guise of providing ease of use and convenience for an estimated 20 million (or more) UK citizens who choose to create an age-verified login to access adult Web sites. Myles and Pandora are quoted in the article as saying such ease of use and convenience of login, especially across different sites, can “only be achieved if the AV provider keeps records about which websites have been visited by which verified individuals”. That much should be obvious to anyone who knows anything at all about the way online service providers work, but apparently it isn’t to those responsible for AV policy; either that, or they simply don’t care. (We may speculate as to why they don’t care: Incompetence? Assuming the role of a moralistic and vengeful god?)

On the topic of Web sites targetted for compulsory AV, Pandora and Myles put forward an eminently and inherently sensible recommendation: “that the regulation be changed to set a minimum number of visitors per day, or a minimum turnover a year, below which sites don’t have to comply”. The bigger, more commercial and more popular sites are much better equipped and resourced to deal with the burden of AV – thus this proposal would put the AV burden where it belongs and wouldn’t subject small, independent, niche and minority-interest sites, and non-commercial sites to an existential threat (as long as they complied with the “extreme-porn” law, the targetted content of which has been illegal since 2009). This should in fact dovetail very well with the BBFC’s latest stated aims of a “proportionate approach” targeting only the most popular sites and those sites “most frequently visited” by children – although the BBFC’s ability to determine its “proportionate approach” have also essentially been debunked.

The Register article finishes with an applaudable flourish of unabashed reality: the BBFC’s currently proposed AV regime is “an insufficient guidance for a fundamentally flawed regulation”. Hear hear!

In another post-consultation summary, The Open Rights Group (ORG) has offered a more technical round-up of the inadequacies and risks inherent in the proposed AV regime. ORG did not mince it’s words; here is their opening sentence: “We asked the BBFC to tell government that the legislation is not fit for purpose, and that they should halt the scheme until privacy regulation is in place”. ORG went on to outline 22 risks from AV technologies, a number of which are “overlapping”. One result of “...when it goes wrong” will be that “blame will lie squarely at the government’s door”.

Yes, well, the consensus appears to be that AV as currently proposed will, if implemented, be a disaster waiting to happen: that sooner or later there will be a catastrophic data breach or industrial-scale fraud victimising AV users (or both). As I’ve written before, it’s not looking good.

The Register article is: UK age-checking smut overlord won’t be able to handle the pressure – critics.

The ORG summary is: The government is acting negligently on privacy and porn AV.

Now, I’ve written about UK internet censorship and related issues previously. A good place to start could be with my two most recent items on the subject, After the BBFC age-verification consultation, here is Backlash’s response, and Unrealistic expectations and the delay in implementing age verification. Or you could go back to the beginning, to when I started commenting on what was happening; this item of mine has links to all my subsequent ones: ‘Extreme porn’ and internet censorship.

Mistress Geo