Myles Jackman and I will be sharing a 30-minute slot, covering how porn is "the canary in the coalmine" when it comes to free speech, the privacy risks of the Digital Economy Act, and where we go from here. I also hope to cover within that how porn censorship will impact upon members of marginalised communities, with a particular focus on queer sexuality - a subject close to my heart, and to many of yours I think.
I am delighted to have been invited to speak at an event in October, organised by the Society for Computers and Law (SCL), entitled 'Sextech, porn and the law - a glimpse into the future of sex and sexuality and its regulatory framework'.
I shall be on a panel with the fantastic Dr Kate Devlin, Sarah Jamie Lewis and laywer Neil Brown, and the event will explore the technology of sexuality in detail including its history, current and future developments, privacy and security, and legal issues affecting production and sales. My talk will centre on how the legal framework affects the production and distribution of online pornography, with a focus on the new Digital Economy Act and its forthcoming policy of mandatory age verification. After the four talks there will be a Q&A session which provides an exciting opportunity to ask the opinions of some of the leading experts in this field.
The idea for the event was prompted by the interest in Neil Brown's excellent article 'Sextech: sticky legal issues?' which talks about sex toys that have internet connectivity, and the resultant data collection, privacy and security issues; and about sex robots and the various ethical issues around them. I really recommend a read.
I’m not the only one concerned about this. The Open Rights Group are also worried about the consequences of this badly-worded new law. This month I’ve had meetings with Executive Director Jim Killock and Legal Director Myles Jackman about age verification and what we can do about it. ORG have a long history campaigning for digital rights, and I've been a member for over ten years. We'll working together over the coming months to campaign on age verification and privacy, alongside my work with Backlash and as an independent voice.
I joined ORG in meeting Chris Ratcliff from the Digital Policy Alliance, the cross-party group consulting to the Government on the age verification policy, and also with a representative from the DCMS (the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - the ‘digital’ has been recently added), the branch of the civil service who are responsible for implementing it. The meetings were useful in allowing me both to make my concerns known, and ask questions to improve my understanding of the situation. Although I learned a lot, overall it seems that as far as age verification is concerned, there are still more questions than answers.
So while I was away this month, I got cited by a Radio 4 presenter.
I listened to the segment on the BBC website after a heads up from some kind folks on Twitter. You can listen to it here until Wed 16 August - the relevant section begins at 32:51. Presenter Eddie Mair was interviewing Matt Hancock, the Digital Minister, about the age verification policy enshrined in the Digital Economy Act 2017. Unfortunately, Matt Hancock didn't come across very well. He sounded bumbling and under-informed, unable to give any clear answers about how age verification will work in practice. After claiming that age verification won't require giving any identifying information, the only means of verifying your age that he was able to think of were a passport and credit card - both of which involve revealing your identity, and exclude many marginalised adults without access to these documents from being able to look at porn. Not only that, but it's in doubt whether credit cards will be accepted by the regulator as a compliant form of age verification, as it's possible for under 18s to have them. Clearly Matt Hancock hasn't spent much time looking into this.
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.
The event was hosted at Newspeak House, a political community space dedicated to helping technologists improve the way that we make collective decisions as a country. It has regular communal meals and there's lots going on, so if you can get to Bethnal Green and this sounds like your cup of tea, I recommend looking it up.
Videos like this are made possible by my Patreon supporters - if you want to help me create more free-to-access public resources like this about UK porn censorship, obscenity law or any other issues, please donate - even $1 a month is valuable, and every penny adds up to time I can spend campaigning on behalf of our community.
Since the Digital Economy Bill passed to the House of Lords a few months ago, I’ve been following its progress closely. I’ve also been doing my best to intervene in the amendment of the Bill by lobbying the Lords - specifically, sending out a briefing on behalf of Backlash after the second debate, before the Bill was discussed in committee. Each time any transcripts have been published, I’ve read them - and started writing blogposts about each stage of the debate. But I’m not a lawyer, and the passage of a Bill through Parliament is a dense legislative process. Honestly, it’s taken all of my capacity to read, digest and comprehend the Hansard transcripts; I didn't also manage to write succinct, accessible reports on the changes as they happened.
I'm going to have to ditch those half-written drafts now, because the Lords have voted on their final amendments to the Bill, and passed it back to the House of Commons for approval. Section 3 on age verification for online porn has changed in some significant ways. In theory there is still the opportunity for MPs to disagree with the changes and propose amendments of their own; bills can be passed back and forth between the Houses until agreement is reached. But realistically, with a General Election just having been announced for 8 June, it's very unlikely that there will be time for an extended game of legislative ping pong. It's much more likely that the Bill will be rushed through in wash-up without any further changes. So this draft is probably the final shape of the forthcoming Digital Economy Act 2017.
I’ve spent a couple of days reading up on the Lords committee report and third debate, and I think I understand them as well as I’m going to. So here’s my overview of the final shape of the Digital Economy Bill.
You may remember my post last month, telling how I had a journalist and photographer over to my home one evening to watch me and Blath shooting a ritualistic, witchy content share scene. Well, the photos and resultant article are now available in Huck Magazine.
The piece contains some good stuff: talks in a positive way about queer kinky porn, critiques the Digital Economy Bill and Age Verification, and quotes Vex Ashley and Bishop Black along with me and Blath. It also does a bit to center our work in the historical context of political porn, rather than trying to claim that we are inventing it (as a lot of journalists do when they hear about alt porn for the first time). And at least there isn't any pointless "can porn be feminist???" questioning. I have to admit I'm also struck by the pictures - the photographer did a great job of capturing the dark sexy vibes of the scene (credit to Blath for the arty lighting). Sequins and "decriminalise sex work" postcards: yup, that's a queer porn set.
Next week I shall be speaking alongside Myles Jackman in a discussion with Martin Ashworth of ORG London (Open Rights Group), on the potential impact of the Digital Economy Bill and Age Verification on individuals in the UK. ORG London has over 1200 followers on Meetup, so hopefully this will be a well-attended event and will help to get the word out prior to the upcoming vote on the Bill.
If you're in London next Tuesday evening (April 11th), come along to Newspeak House in Bethnal Green to learn more, and to meet me and Myles!