In early November I gave a talk with Myles Jackman at ORGCon, the UK’s biggest digital rights conference. Journalist Wendy Grossman (@wendyg) facilitated a discussion with me and Myles (@MylesJackman) about age verification.
We outlined the issues as well as we could in 20 minutes - which isn't long given the complexity of the situation. I mentioned that the whole premise of the Digital Economy Act - that children can ‘stumble across’ porn and be damaged by it - is not backed up by any evidence. We also talked about the unworkability of implementation within the deadline; with enforcement announced for April 2018, the regulator has still not been appointed, and porn producers in the UK aren't going to have enough time to evaluate and choose an age verification service.
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.
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!
When I started making spanking films I never once imagined that I would get a chance to screen them at the British Film Institute. Porn - especially queer porn and fetish porn, and Dreams of Spanking is firmly in both camps - is in many ways innately counter-cultural. When I launched the site I didn't expect the draconian criminalisation that would follow; but equally I didn't expect that queer porn, specifically my queer spanking films, would be considered cultural enough to be shown somewhere like the BFI.
It's a bittersweet juxtaposition, perfectly illustrated by something I noticed when I arrived at the BFI for Flare, the LGBTQ film festival, at which I was taking part in a panel discussion around how porn law affects queer porn. The banner across the Flare reception desks proclaimed the sponsors of the event; and there on the left was the legend "Supported by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport." How ironic that the very department of the civil service supporting this event is the one which introduced a statutory instrument in 2014 criminalising many forms of queer porn, including my own. It was surreal to speak about that criminalisation, to a sympathetic audience eager to learn how they can resist state oppression, at an event supported by the very public body responsible for that oppression. For me, that dissonance aptly summarised the widening gap between legislation imposed from above by those who have no clue about sexuality or sex work, and an increasingly open-minded public who mostly consider the sex lives of consenting adults to be their own damn business.
Before the panel proper, I recorded a video interview alongside queer porn icon Jiz Lee, and Chocolate Chip, who stars in Snapshot, the new "porn noir" sexy whodunnit by Shine Louise Houston, with questions asked by Flare programmer Jay Bernard. Jay is one of the curators of the festival, and they did an amazing job co-ordinating the Sexit panel and programming queer films that center people of colour. The interview was intended to be streamed via Facebook Live, but apparently the BFI is an old old building with shitty connectivity, so it was recorded instead - I'll link the video as soon as it's available.
The article has received over one and a half thousand comments - and I was pleasantly astonished to discover that the majority of them are sympathetic or supportive. It seems that many people share my outrage that the Government think it a worthwhile use of time and money to legislate what consenting adults do for fun - or think that this bill is a proportionate, workable answer to the problems emerging from young people's lack of sex education.
I'm finally ready to announce some exciting news that I've been working on behind the scenes for over a month - ever since I realised the full extent of the harm that will be done by the Digital Economy Bill. The bill is currently going through Parliament, and proposes to bring in mandatory age verification for online porn without any provisions to safeguard the personal privacy and sexual liberty of web users. The bill has been debated twice by MPs and on 8th October will go through to the committee stage; and yet none of the concerns which I and other civil liberties activists have raised have yet been satisfactorily addressed.
Do you want to have to enter personal identifying details before you're allowed to look at porn - such as your real name, address, or date of birth? Do you trust porn sites to keep this data secure - and do you want a database of your accumulated porn browsing history to be owned by private companies, exploited for commercial gain and at risk of Ashley Madison style data breaches that would leak your personal sexual preferences into the public domain?
5. Problems with the existing classification system
The proposals assume a straightforward definition of “pornography” which is not workable in practice. During the second reading of the Online Safety Bill in the House of Lords Baroness Brinton argued that:
“A simplistic definition of pornography will cause immense problems in our courts. How do you define arousal and to what level of arousal - partial, full? Is that arousal the view of the average person on the Clapham omnibus, or should the definition cover the various fetishes that people may have? The famous film director Quentin Tarantino is a foot fetishist. There are a number of people who have assessed his use of bare feet in all his films. Clearly they arouse people with the said fetish.”
If a website calls itself “porn” or “erotica” but none of its contents depict nudity, staged violence or sexual acts - a foot fetish website is a perfect example - should it be categorised as a “sex work” for classification purposes? What harm could a young person possibly come to, looking at artistically lit videos of bare feet?
Today thirty British fetish film-makers met to discuss UK porn censorship, particularly the news that at the start of 2016 video-on-demand regulator ATVOD was shut down and re-absorbed into its parent body, Ofcom. The occasion was the British Fetish Film Festival, a new event that aims to bring film-makers together and showcase the diversity and creativity of kinky erotica produced in the UK and abroad.
Led by femdom pornographer, artist and activist Itziar Bilbao Urrutia - who organises with Backlash, the UK non-profit organisation defending freedom of sexual expression - we shared knowledge around the changing landscape of porn censorship in the UK, and brainstormed strategies to resist attempts to close us down. As Itzi pointed out, “putting all of us out of business is not going to stop porn being available online.”
Under the ATVOD regime, many of us were targeted for censorship, and some of us have had our websites forced offline entirely. Some, such as myself, have appealed to Ofcom regarding ATVOD’s decision - as Itzi did, successfully, in the wake of ATVOD’s investigation into her site the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell. While many appeals to Ofcom are still pending, that organisation has become the sole regulator of video on demand, and none of us knows how we will fare under the new regime.