On Monday the 17th of October, civil liberties campaigners, porn producers and protesters will stage a demonstration over the Digital Economy Bill – currently past its second reading in parliament – which has serious implications for internet freedom. The event has been organised by feminist pornographer Pandora Blake and obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, and isn't going to look much like your average protest.
Joining forces with Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Index on Censorship, NO2ID and Big Brother Watch, Blake and Jackman are holding the "Backlash Kink Olympixxx", featuring games as yet absent from the mainstream sporting arena, including Fisting Volleyball, a Spanking Relay Race and a Squirting Water Fight.
The event will be reminiscent of last year's "face-sitting protest" and will, as that event did, draw attention to the bizarre list of sexual acts that are legal to perform in real life, but illegal to represent, possess or publish under UK law.
Attention-seekers and perverts will be welcome, but you don't have to be into anything kinkier than a non-censored internet to be concerned about the Digital Economy Bill.
The bill covers various internet-related issues, some of which are non-controversial – for instance, legislating broadband speed – others more alarming. Those you should be alerted to include increasing sentences for online copyright infringement (e.g. file-sharing), allowing for greater data sharing between public bodies and introducing age verification for online porn.
The implications of age verification are far-reaching. The mechanism by which this would work hasn't been confirmed. The most simple – and worrying – will be for users to provide personal details or documents such as a passport or driving license. Other options include credit card checks (but what if, despite being over 18, you don't want or can't get a credit card?) or requiring users to verify though a US-style system such as VeriMe. All of these carry risks in the form of traceable identities and data breaches, a la Ashley Madison. It's enough to spoil anyone's wank.
Key for independent porn producers like Blake – who makes fetish spanking porn at Dreams of Spanking – will be whether the cost of this is passed on to their business. "Age verification is costly to implement, and will be unaffordable for most small businesses," Blake told VICE.
Not only will UK-based sites be required to install age verification software; every porn site – worldwide – will be expected to check the ages of UK visitors. Problems of enforceability aside, campaigners say we should be up in arms about this step towards internet censorship.
"This is an unprecedented power grab from the UK government," Blake wrote on her blog. "Over the last couple of decades our legislators have often shown an interest in controlling and restricting internet freedom, but this is the first time they have sought to extend that control to websites hosted and operated overseas."
Beyond this remains the question of what exactly should be hidden from view. At present, R18 content must be behind a credit card paywall, but the bill suggests that that 18 content too should be placed behind age verification. And some content will be banned outright. Since December of 2014, when the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations came into force, online content is no longer permissible if it doesn't fit the R18 category, as defined by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC).
Acts that are unclassifiable are those deemed obscene by the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. Falling foul of this are: spanking, caning and whipping beyond a gentle level; penetration by any object "associated with violence"; activities that can be classed as "life-endangering", such as strangulation and, yes, face-sitting; fisting, if all knuckles are inserted; the portrayal of non-consensual sex; urination in various sexual contexts; and female ejaculation.
"The bill prohibits the depiction of harmless sex acts which are legal to perform in real life," Blake says. "Consensual adult sex should not be criminalised. If this becomes law, we'll see a shrinking in the variety and diversity of sexual expression as marginalised groups are silenced and large corporations increase their monopoly. This bill threatens our privacy, our freedom of speech and our sexual liberty."
Those who support the introduction of age verification do so through concern about children. "A generation of children are in danger of being stripped of their childhoods," said Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC.
But are they? A widely reported NSPCC "study" to this effect was debunked, while the 2010 EU Kids Online survey found that, although a quarter of the UK's 9 to 16-year-olds say that they have seen sexual images in the past 12 months, only 11 percent viewed those images online. Films and magazines were a more common source of viewing sexual images. Meanwhile, just 2 percent of 9 to 10-year-olds said they'd viewed porn.
So back to the Kink Olympics. Jackman is worried about cheating. "We've received concerning reports that some of our competitors may be considering enhancing their performances by way of chemical stimulants such as Viagra," he told VICE. "We simply cannot tolerate sport's impeccable reputation being dragged through the mud. Fortunately our crack squad of dominatrixes will be on hand to clamp down on any misbehaviour, disobedience or otherwise foul conduct."
Show up for the squirting water fight, stay for your civil liberties.
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