BREAKING: Digital Economy Act 2017 receives Royal Assent

Posted at 18:05 on 29 Apr 2017 by Pandora Blake

Tags: age verification, Digital Economy Bill, in the news, politics, porn

I'm told that a grand total of 13 MPs showed up to the House of Commons vote on the Digital Economy Bill. If so, it's a pretty damning indictment of the democratic process. Rushing to get legislation through before Parliament recesses for the election campaign, a total of 21 Acts of Parliament received Royal Assent yesterday - and the newly minted Digital Economy Act 2017 was one of them.

After it was passed by the Commons, the Bill bounced back to the House of Lords for final consideration. I've only skimmed the transcript of the debate  so far, but as far as I can tell there were no substantive changes to Section 3, covering age verification for online porn.

That's it, folks. Age verification is coming. There's likely to be a year's or so leeway to allow websites to comply before enforcement begins, during which time the BBFC will publish their promised guidance on how they're going to go about regulating the internet, and perhaps we'll even find out who the "enforcement" regulator is going to be, assuming that doesn't end up being lumped in with the BBFC's other duties as well.

If you're a site owner, check out my YouTube video How the Digital Economy Bill Will Affect Sex Workers for details of what sort of content and site are covered by the new rules. And if you haven't read it yet and want to get up to date with the final shape of the Act after Lords Amendments, have a read of my briefing which you can find here.

I'm now swimming in a soup of mixed feelings which include:

  • relief that our hard-won 'extreme porn' amendment was left in
  • disgust that the law does nothing to protect user data and privacy (The Register has already written about these problems today - and I was pleased to see they thought my video worth including)
  • frustration that ISP blocking is going to be used to penalise non-compliant websites - another nail in the coffin of UK net neutrality
  • concern for the site owners who will be affected by this, and particularly the future of the UK alternative porn scene
  • feeling like I want to sleep for a thousand years
  • being well aware that it's not over, and there is ongoing work to do around applying pressure on the BBFC to come up with reasonable guidance, create resources helping site owners comply with the new law, and other initiatives to mitigate the harms of this badly-drafted, regressive piece of legislation.

But right now, I think I'm going to take a badly needed day off.

Enjoy your bank holiday weekend, folks. Politics will still be here next week.

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