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The final shape of the Digital Economy Bill

Posted at 18:37 on 18 Apr 2017 by Pandora Blake

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.

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Tags: age verification, BBFC, classification, cybersecurity, Digital Economy Bill, extreme porn legislation, lobbying, online harassment, privacy, prohibited content, slut-shaming, young people

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The Adult Provider Network discusses problems with the Digital Economy Bill

Posted at 12:29 on 28 Sep 2016 by Pandora Blake

The Adult Provider Network

Last month I attended the second meeting of the newly reinstated Adult Provider Network - an adult industry trade association formed last month to co-ordinate responses to the Digital Economy Bill. It was an absolutely fascinating meeting, and I learned a lot. Read on to discover how this will actually affect your business if you run a UK porn site, why the bill potentially discriminates against the visually impaired, and how the bill risks creating a new trade barrier between UK industry and overseas.

Who are the Adult Provider Network?

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Tags: Adult Provider Network, age verification, ATVOD, AV consultation, AVMS, BBFC, BBFC guidelines, censorship, child safety, civil liberties, Digital Economy Bill, digital rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, health and disability, MindGeek, obscenity, Ofcom, politics, porn, privacy, sex education, surveillance, technology, young people

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Age verification: The Digital Economy Bill and what it means

Posted at 22:30 on 30 Aug 2016 by Pandora Blake

The government have published their reply to the consultation responses we submitted earlier this year on their proposed policy to enforce age verification for UK viewers of online porn. These proposals are not evidence-based, are classist to the core, and have worrying implications for privacy and freedom of speech. Along with many of you, I submitted a response to the consultation in April, which you can read in full here (it's split into six parts - turns out I had a lot to say). My response was also submitted to the Liberal Democrat policy committee, as well as to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the civil service. 

Since then I've attended meetings with representatives from DCMS, the UK Adult Producer trade association, and the Adult Provider Network to discuss the age verification proposals. In these meetings the civil servants I spoke to worked hard to come across as reasonable, open-minded, and interested in listening to our concerns and improving the proposals. But now they've published their official response to the consultation, it's clear that this was a performance purely for our benefit. The Digital Economy Bill reproduces the original policy proposal pretty much unchanged; which in turn is drawn straight from a Conservative party manifesto pledge. It seems that the consultation was a mere box-ticking exercise, paying lip-service to the of listening to experts, industry and the public, but without any intention to actually take the responses into account. Despite seeming open to criticism when we met in person, the official response makes it clear that they don't care what we think, and intend to go ahead with the proposals as if the consultation had never taken place. 

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Tags: age verification, ATVOD, AV consultation, AVMS, BBFC, BBFC guidelines, censorship, child safety, civil liberties, credit cards, Digital Economy Bill, digital rights, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, obscenity, Ofcom, politics, porn, privacy, surveillance, technology, young people

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Age verification: Privacy, surveillance and freedom of speech

Posted at 16:32 on 8 May 2016 by Pandora Blake

Ceiling Cameron is watching you masturbate - by @wefail

Response to the Government consultation on Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography

1: Evidence of harm

2: Sex education

3: Privacy, surveillance and freedom of speech

Freedom of expression is important and must be protected. The UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, stated last year in his report on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression that "the right to freedom of expression includes expression of views and opinions that offend, shock or disturb". His report also noted that restrictions on access to information can have a "chilling effect", whereby individuals restrict their own activities in anticipation of being forced to comply, often over-estimating and censoring themselves far more effectively than if it were left to government enforcement. He concluded that restrictions on access to information online must be:

  • limited to exceptional circumstances
  • governed by law and a clear legal process
  • necessary and the least restrictive means required to achieve the aim.

The Open Rights Group has reiterated the importance of these principles; they limit the extent to which governments, businesses or others can limit the free access to information, whether through overzealous efforts to protect citizens, or more abusive attempts to control free access to information.

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Tags: age verification, AV consultation, censorship, child safety, freedom of speech, media, politics, porn, privacy, surveillance, young people

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Age verification: Young people, porn and sex education

Posted at 14:51 on 27 Apr 2016 by Pandora Blake

Response to the Government consultation on Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography

1: Evidence of Harm

2: Sex education

The consultation opens with the bold claim that:

"The UK is a world leader in child online safety" (p4)

In the context of recent revelations showing how unsafe children in the UK are at the hands of exploitative individuals abusing their power within church, political and media institutions, this opening sentence is in poor taste. The Government's obsession with conjuring a demon to fight in the form of online pornography, while ignoring the real problems of child sexual exploitation, poor sex education, unsafe sex, and sexual violence faced by young people in our society, is reminiscent of the politician's syllogism: "We must do something! This is something - therefore we must do it!" Policy-makers would be far better served by devoting their energies to reducing real incidents of child sexual exploitation, that have caused provable and lasting harm, rather than going to great lengths to defeat the nebulous and unprovable harms of online pornography.

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Tags: age verification, AV consultation, censorship, child safety, DCMS, gender politics, media, Ofcom, politics, porn, R18 material, sex critical, sex education, sex positive, young people

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Age verification consultation response: Evidence of harm

Posted at 20:59 on 14 Apr 2016 by Pandora Blake

I recently responded to a Government consultation proposing mandatory age verification for porn - not only within the UK, but worldwide. This is an expanded version of my response, the first of several posts. Before the deadline, I posted a list of key bullet points; if you want an at-a-glance view of why these proposals are a bad idea, that's a good place to start.

In this first section, I look at the evidence to see whether it supports the proposal's assertions that a lot of children are looking at online porn, and that doing so causes them developmental harm. These claims pop up again and again, often accompanied by the same shoddy statistics and debunked studies; this isn't the first time we've needed to challenge them, and sadly I don't think it will be the last. My hope is that if we share resources, it will make it easier to marshal our arguments next time.

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Tags: age verification, AV consultation, censorship, child safety, DCMS, Ofcom, politics, porn, R18 material, young people

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Teaching porn in schools

Posted at 20:53 on 20 Mar 2015 by Pandora Blake

On Monday a Guardian article entitled "Porn belongs in the classroom" made waves in the UK. I got home on Monday afternoon to several journalist interview requests, and an invitation to discuss the topic on BBC Newsnight (which I politely declined because seven hours notice really isn't enough for that sort of thing, although apparently it's standard). This idea has clearly made waves.

Prof Christian Graugaard of Aalborg University has called for pornography to be shown to older teens in schools to kickstart discussion and education that will help them become "more conscientious and critical consumers".

“My proposal is to critically discuss pornography with 8th and 9th graders [age 15 – the legal age of consent in Denmark – and 16 respectively] as part of a sensible didactic strategy, carried out by trained teachers,” he told the Guardian.

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Tags: ethical porn, feminist porn, gender politics, in the news, media, politics, sex critical, sex education, sex positive, young people

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