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!
Along with the statement about the Women's March, one of my first actions in my new role as spokesperson for Backlash was to write a briefing about section 3 the Digital Economy Bill, and send it out to 151 members of the Lords, in advance of the Bill going to Committee stage. We targeted the briefing to those members sitting on relevant committees, those who had contributed to the second debate on the Bill, and Liberal Democrats whom we might hope would be sympathetic to issues of net freedom, privacy and civil liberties.
It was no easy task to condense my research and findings on the potential harms of this bill into a short, easily digestible format. To make it more likely that the briefing would be read, I summarised the main arguments in a single cover page, and then fleshed out the three sections - privacy, freedom of expression and lack of supporting evidence - in more detail over three subsequent pages. If you're looking for a succinct introduction to the problems with the age verification policy, I think it's a reasonable start.
I had a great start to 2017 when I became a member of Backlash's management team in the role of co-spokesperson alongside Itziar Bilbao Urrutia.Backlash is the UK organisation that defends freedom of sexual expression among consenting adults in UK by providing legal, academic and campaigning advice, and they are keen to publically lend their support to the campaign for sex worker's rights and the full decriminalisation of sex work. Fittingly my first act as co-spokesperson was to release astatement about the Women's March in response to some see-sawing on theWomen's March Washington policy statement last week around sex worker solidarity.
Our laws around porn, obscenity, BDSM and sexual expression massively affect sex workers. Obscenity law is a sex worker's rights issue, and a labour rights issue, as well as affecting all our sexual liberties. I'm glad that Backlash are willing to stand up in solidarity with all sex workers, and I'm proud to be organising with them to defend our rights and freedoms.
This week Artefact Magazine has published a short article on the Digital Economy Bill following a phone interview I did with journalist Nana Baah, who had already written a piece in December on Porn Censorship. This piece fleshes out the details of the censorship overshadowing the UK internet, and includes quotes from my interview with her, and by Jerry Barnett of Sex and Censorship. Jerry rightly links this sort of censorship, to "rising intolerance to free expression" that is permeating our politics at the moment, both in the UK and beyond.
As well as pointing out the high costs of age verification software and the disproportionate impact this policy will have on small businesses, I talked about some of the knock-on effects of an increasing lack of accessibility to erotic media. '“I get messages daily from people who say that I have helped them to accept themselves, changed their lives and got rid of their shame. If you can’t find out that there are other people with these fetishes, learn about consent and how to practice it safely, then you might think that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. I did until getting online at 13 and seeing preview pictures of spanking - I finally thought ‘Wow, I’m not the only one’.”
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.