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The UK’s Internet ‘Porn Block’ Delayed Indefinitely

June 20, 2019

5:47 am

The UK’s controversial ‘Porn Block’ legislation has been delayed indefinitely, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The proposed Porn Block was designed to prevent under-18s from accessing online pornography in the UK, following fears of children’s unfettered access to adult content online.

However, this latest delay marks another big policy climbdown for Britain’s embattled Conservative government.

Why Has the Porn Block Been Delayed?

jeremy hunt

Jeremy Hunt

According to Sky News, the issue is “not technical, but bureaucratic.” This will likely land Jeremy Hunt, the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary, in some hot water — though he is one of the final three candidates to become the next prime minister.

The stumbling block appears to be that key details of how the age verification system would be enacted hadn’t been clarified with the European Commission.

This isn’t the first time that the Porn Block has hit rocky waters, despite it being a headline policy in the Conservative’s 2015 General Election manifesto. At the time, then DCMS Secretary Sajid Javid said the block was key for “protecting children,” and was intended to be operational by March last year.

However, it seems as though the government underestimated the complexities of its proposal. The implementation was quickly pushed back until the end of 2018. Then, at the start of this year, the government announced that the block would come into effect by 15 July 2019.

How Was the Porn Block Supposed to Work?

The policy was designed to force online porn websites to verify the ages of visitors from the UK, in order to prevent children from accessing the sites.

However, the porn industry and civil liberties groups raised concerns that the information collected would enable widespread tracking of porn watchers’ identities and browsing habits. This could, rather than protecting vulnerable children, place law-abiding adults at risk of blackmail and online surveillance.

Concerns were also raised over the entire premise of the block. According to the policies guidelines, websites which were “more than one-third pornographic” could be blocked at the Internet Service Provider level if they failed to comply with the ban.

Moreover, there were proposals that porn watchers would have to provide their bank details, or buy a £5 ($6.40) card over-the-counter in a local store to access the sites. The former could leave users at high risk of fraud or hacking, while the latter would – at the very least – force a degree of real-world social embarrassment.

Campaigners also suggested that by tying porn watching to an internet identity, the government was creating a de facto database of sexual preference. Also of concern was the lack of clarity around how the porn block would deal with sites such as Reddit, which hosts vast quantities of pornographic material, but clearly isn’t a porn site.

What Happens Next?

Nothing, it seems. As the government cannot find an effective means of regulating access to online pornography, it seems the UK’s internet landscape will remain the same.

At the moment, though, internet users in the UK can opt in or out of accessing adult domains at an internet service provider level. However, this system is imperfect and can often block legitimate, non-pornographic websites.

With another general election due in 2020 (or perhaps beforehand, given the UK’s current Brexit crisis), there is every chance the porn block could again raise its head from the chopping block.

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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.co with a range of experience in the world of tech publishing. Tom covers everything from cybersecurity, to social media and website builders when he's not reviewing the latest phones, gadgets, or occasionally even technology books.