BBFC told it isn't up to the challenge

Posted at 13:00 on 12 May 2018 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: age verification, Backlash, BBFC, consultation, Myles Jackman, Open Rights Group

Age verification has been hanging over us for several years now - and has now been put back to the end of 2018 after enforcement was originally planned to start last month.

I'm enormously encouraged by how many people took the opportunity to speak up and reply to the BBFC consultation on the new regulations.

  • Over 500 people submitted a response using the tool provided by the Open Rights Group, emphasising the need for age verification tech to be held to robust privacy and security standards. I'm told that around 750 consultation responses were received by the BBFC overall, which means that a significant majority highlighted the regulatory gap between the powers of the BBFC to regulate adult websites, and the powers of the Information Commissioner to enforce data protection rules.
  • The Open Rights Group also submitted a weighty response that offered a deep dive into the privacy and security risks of age verification.
  • Security expert Alec Muffett, who also sits on the Board of Directors of ORG, wrote this punchy response highlighting the discrepancy between the security protocol in place for credit card transactions, and the lack of security requirements for age verification tools - which collect far more sensitive data with no means of redress in the case of someone being publically outed.
  • Backlash submitted a tremendously forceful response emphasising the extraordinary risk to individuals' privacy, and holding the BBFC to account for preventing another "Ashley Madison" style hack of even greater magnitude - which would have devastating consequences for millions of UK adults.
  • As well as helping out behind the scenes with the ORG and Backlash responses, after talking through the issues with Myles Jackman I submitted a response on behalf of both of us, which attempts a thorough review of the freedom of expression, privacy and security risks of age verification. It goes into detail about the impact of the policy on low traffic porn sites and independent sex workers, and the lack of credible evidence supporting age verification.

I'm delighted to hear that many other notable community members including Professor Clarissa Smith and Vex Ashley submitted responses which no doubt add their own forceful arguments against the implementation of age verification in its current form. I wanted to highlight a couple of exceptional responses from individuals which were shared publicly.

  • PhD candidate Rosie Hodsdon produced a succinct academic and legal response highlighting areas where the BBFC regulations overstep their authority - or don't go far enough to keep users safe. She also comments authoritatively on the social issues surrounding age verification.
  • Content creator Hywel Phillips wrote an impassioned expert testimony from his point of view as a BDSM practitioner and educator, tackling the difficulties with the BBFC classification schema (including illustrative pictures!) and the need for clarity for producers about what can and can't be published behind age checks, or in front of them. 

I'm delighted by the way the community has rallied together to stand up for our rights. Great work everyone! The consultation responses are summaries in this critical piece by The Register: UK age-checking smut overlord won't be able to handle the pressure.

The UK's smut overlord has been told it isn't up to the mammoth challenge it faces in regulating age checks for online porn, and that its guidelines do little to offer users much-needed guarantees on privacy.

Respondents to the consultation make it clear that they don't believe the plan is based on robust evidence, and that age verification is not a proportionate response: effectively, they see it as akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The responses show a lack of confidence in the BBFC to be able to do its job and concerns that the guidelines can't protect users as they don’t mandate privacy protections.

Read the rest of the article here.

The BBFC has a chance to revise its guidance before submitting it to Parliament for a vote, but without statutory authority granted by the Government to hold age verification tools to account, there's a limit to what they're empowered to do. We must maintain the pressure on the Government to establish powerful privacy and security requirements for AV providers, or the consequences could be devastating.

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