The UK’s AgeID porn filters are a recurring April Fool’s joke with a dark punchline

Posted on Mar 8, 2019 by Caleb Chen
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Will the United Kingdom (UK) start forcing its internet users to prove their age with documents and use a unique identifier if they wish to freely browse pornorgraphic websites on April 1st, 2019? According to some media like Hull, yes; according to others like Mirror, the date still isn’t set in stone. Starting in 2012 with the blocking of ThePirateBay and a porn blocking directive by Cameron, UK internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile data providers turned on adult entertainment filters by default. In 2016, the Digital Economy Act was passed, explicitly calling for a Great Firewall of Britain to block any tangentially adult-related sites that did not implement age verification by April 2017. Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, described the situation aptly:

“The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous. They are powerless to ensure people’s privacy.”

In April, 2017 the UK government announced that they were pushing the launch of said age verification system back to April 2018. In March, 2018 the government announced that the implementation date would be further pushed out to a To Be Announced date later in 2018. As 2019 came and started without mandatory age verification, now the UK’s netizens are speculating on community forums such as Reddit that the TBA means one year, and that the age verification to bypass the porn block will begin in earnest come the first day of April. A statement from the DCMS to Sky News read:

“The government, and the BBFC as the regulator, have taken the time to get this right and we will announce a commencement date shortly.”

How is the UK going to issue a unique porn ID anyways?

Under the guise of worse to come and under the cover of attention focused on Brexit, filters have long already been put in place. In 2016, the UK government proposed that corner convenience stores, known as news agents, would be responsible for accepting and verifying identifying documents from porn interested adults and issuing them a unique porn ID number. The issues with this approach are myriad including that corner stores may be easily fool-able and also that unique porn ID numbers could still make their way to underage users – through that vector or others. In 2019, it’s becoming clearer that the AgeID verification system developed by MindGeek will be utilized in conjunction with deputize small business owners. Specifically, according to Mirror, UK netizens will be able to buy a “porn pass” at any of 29,000 PayPoint locations through a partnership between OCL and MindGeek. A Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) representative told Sky News: “This is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online.

“The government, and the BBFC as the regulator, have taken the time to get this right and we will announce a commencement date shortly.”

The darkest punchline: UK porn filters already exist

The UK has already implemented a de facto porn filter. You have to turn off your adult filters to be able to access the open web. And of course, the filters have unnecessarily restricted access to non-pornographic content on the internet. How much so? At its height, 20% of the entire internet was blocked behind the UK’s overactiveporn filters. Even today, some of these adult filters are blocking the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine – one of the furthest things from a pornographic site. Even this site, Private Internet Access, was at one point misidentified as an adult site and blocked by default in the UK.

If you have to tell your ISP that you want to opt-out of your adult filter, and they mark that in their database – how is that different than a list of porn users? Why should you need to go to the corner shop to pick up a 24 hour porn pass if every home internet connection or smartphone dataplan is tied to a credit card or bank account? Basically, the government already has a list of which households want to view pornography – now they want to granularize that data so they can know which individuals are watching pornography.

The question remains: Is this the UK’s biggest 2019 April Fool’s joke? Is it the second iteration of a recurring April Fool’s joke? We won’t know for sure until April 1st rolls around. In reality, the truth is much more grim. The “save the children” rationale has been successfully pulled over the millions of netizens in the UK. Even if the addition of an age verification system on top of default adult filters isn’t forthcoming this April, when it does arrive, the United Kingdom will be well on its way to becoming the dystopian society predicted by George Orwell in 1984.

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About Caleb Chen

Caleb Chen is a digital currency and privacy advocate who believes we must #KeepOurNetFree, preferably through decentralization. Caleb holds a Master's in Digital Currency from the University of Nicosia as well as a Bachelor's from the University of Virginia. He feels that the world is moving towards a better tomorrow, bit by bit by Bitcoin.

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