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My response to the obscenity consultation

Posted at 17:00 on 26 Oct 2018 by Pandora / Blake

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recently ran a public consultation on the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) - submissions closed last week. I was really glad to see them open the consultation, as the current guidance is out of date with case law and with modern social standards of obscenity, and is well overdue for review.

The fact that the CPS are considering updating their guidance is massive. The CPS Guidance on the OPA is what's behind the 'facesitting law' (AVMS 2014) which criminalised the depiction of facesitting, fisting, watersports, BDSM that leaves marks, full bondage with a gag, etc in online porn. These same rules were nearly reinforced with new draconian web blocking penalties via the Digital Economy Act 2017 - thankfully we were able to talk them out of it via an amendment in the Lords. And they are also behind the BBFC classification guidelines, and the reason these acts are banned from classification even under R18, the highest classification (and therefore from DVD distribution) in the UK.

I've been advocating an update to the guidance (and a root and branch review of obscenity law in general) for years now: seeing the OPA Guidance finally updated would be a huge win for freedom of expression, sex positivity, and fair representation of diverse sexualities.

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Tags: consultation, CPS, Obscene Publications Act, obscenity, politics, porn law

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BBFC told it isn't up to the challenge

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

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.

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

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