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The UK is going to introduce its controversial porn block on July 15

April 17, 2019

The new law will force websites to check that users are over 18 before allowing them to access pornographic content—but it’s been repeatedly delayed and widely criticized.

What that means: From July, anyone in the UK who wants to look at porn online will have to supply proof of age. Commercial porn sites will have to check the age of UK visitors, using documents like passports, credit cards, or driving licenses, and they will face being banned if underage. People will supposedly also be able to buy “porn passes” in stores for £4.99 ($6.50) per device.

In practice: The system will be overseen by the UK’s movie ratings agency, the British Board of Film Classification. So far the only company offering an age verification scheme is AgeID, owned by MindGeek, one of the world’s biggest porn streaming providers. Its system will provide a single sign-on for MindGeek sites, meaning anyone who has signed up has to provide proof of age only once.

Delays: The launch of the scheme—part of the Digital Economy Act passed in 2017—has been delayed several times. It was initially supposed to go live all the way back in April 2018.

Why this is so dumb: Allowing one private company to create a database of everyone who wants to watch porn in the UK will create a huge “honeypot” for hackers and blackmailers. And it isn’t even clear the scheme will work on its own terms: people can cheaply and easily use virtual private networks to mask their location. Most people in the UK haven’t even heard of the measures, according to a recent survey by YouGov.

UK alone: No other country in the world has attempted to implement this sort of scheme. You’d think that might have made the UK’s politicians think again, but evidently not.

Just to add insult to injury: The department in charge of implementing this system (and data protection in the UK more generally) accidentally leaked the contact details of hundreds of journalists as it announced the new implementation date. 

Correction: The original version of this story stated that AgeID is the first age verification system to be approved by the British Board of Film Classification. In fact, the BBFC have not approved any systems yet.

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