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What the New British Porn Bill Means for You

What exactly you'll need to do if you want to watch porn in the UK.

This time two years ago, campaigners gathered outside Parliament to protest a ban on the depiction of face-sitting, female ejaculation and other consensual sex acts in British porn. Today, another law – The Digital Economy Bill – threatens the same kinds of "non-conventional" porn, but with consequences that are infinitely worse.

The Digital Economy Bill began as a way to implement age verification – compelling porn sites to collect personal information about you (driver's licence, credit card or other identifying data) to prove you're over 18. To say this is a bad idea is an understatement: not only will it be a scammer's paradise – teaching UK internet users to hand over their data in exchange for porn – it will also be an irresistible temptation to hackers. On top of that, it hands an extraordinary amount of power to whoever owns the inevitable database of our "porn tastes", whether that's a massive porn company, an intermediary or even the government itself.

But the Digital Economy Bill is far more sinister than that: this weekend the government announced that non-compliant sites won't just be fined, as was proposed in early drafts of the Bill, but blocked outright. Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, who has been campaigning hard against the Digital Economy Bill, explained that the government will effectively be "turning off" sites which contain perfectly legal material: "It's a shocking intrusion into the liberty of individuals that material which they are legally allowed to view will be blocked," he says.

To make matters worse, the government has nominated the BBFC – The British Board of Film Classification – as the age verification regulator. That's where the worry about "non-conventional" sex acts comes in: the BBFC is famous for enforcing bizarre notions about what can be depicted in film, based on outdated laws surrounding obscenity. To modern eyes, there's no logic behind the rules, bar what appears to be a ban on female pleasure – facial ejaculation is allowed as long as it's male ejaculate, but face-sitting and female ejaculation are both banned. Fisting is banned, double penetration is fine. Not only will the BBFC enforce a block on sites which don't – or can't – age-verify users, it will also be checking to make sure our porn complies with illogical notions of "acceptable" sex, based on obscenity laws so old they might as well compel porn stars to wear powdered wigs.

READ: We Called the UK Ejaculation Police to Find Out Why Squirting Vaginas are Illegal and Jizzing Cocks Are Fine

That enforcement won't be consistent, either: while it's hilarious to imagine the BBFC trying to watch all the videos on PornHub, in reality the censor can't possibly watch everything. It will perform checks, notify non-compliant sites, then issue fines or block them entirely. Given the literal impossibility of watching all the porn on the internet, the likely consequence is that producers and performers will self-censor and hope they don't get a letter through the door.

In the past, laws like this have disproportionately affected smaller, independent producers. Pandora Blake, an independent porn producer and outspoken campaigner against the law, had her porn site ordered offline last year because she depicted consensual kinky acts like spanking and caning. She appealed the decision and won, but this new law is far harder to comply with, and has much harsher consequences.

Pandora explained: "The cost of age verification will be borne by website owners; and the cost of age checking every site visitor will be prohibitive. For instance, my website Dreams of Spanking is a niche feminist BDSM site with only a couple of thousand visitors a day, and yet the cost of age-verifying each user will add up to more than my total monthly turnover. Users will be asked to surrender identifying personal information, accumulating in a database of our personal sexual tastes. Worse, the new amendment proposing ISP blocking of non-compliant sites sets a terrifying precedent for government blocking of legal websites, and would put the UK's internet on a par with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China."

If you heard the word "block" and thought, 'Oh fine, I'll just use a VPN,' then congratulations – you've spotted another of the myriad flaws in the Digital Economy Bill. Although the UK government clearly doesn't know its ISP from its elbow, anyone keen to log on to PornHub will be still be able to access it, in the same way they can still access blocked sites like The Pirate Bay.

Alec Muffett, a cybersecurity consultant who is on the board of directors of the Open Rights Group, said: "Although legal obligations may demand it, the concept of a 'national boundary' does not exist in the sphere of network communication, so savvy and capable teens will use perfectly legitimate tools like VPNs to saunter past these age-verification restrictions, yet single or child-free families will be impeded from accessing perfectly lawful content, while also being coerced to register their personal data into ad-hoc, hackable, proliferating databases of their porn interests."

He added: "Clearly the DE Bill committee's heart is in the right place [in trying to prevent children from viewing this material], but the way to protect children in this space is to educate them, not to build a 'British cyber bubble' to store them – and everyone else – inside."

There's a lot to get a handle on here, so let's summarise what this will look like for your average porn viewer. If the Digital Economy Bill comes into force, then in order to watch porn you'll have to prove you're over 18, thus giving your personal data either to a porn company, intermediary or the government. If you manage to access the porn you're after (assuming you haven't been falsely identified as under 18), you'll be unable to watch any videos that contain things the BBFC wouldn't approve: no fisting, female ejaculation, face-sitting, period sex or BDSM that leaves marks.

Even if your tastes are purely "conventional", but the site you're into is a small one, run by independent producers who don't make big bucks, it will probably disappear in a few months as the prohibitive costs of implementing age controls take hold. Alternatively, you can try your luck with a VPN or proxy. But the likelihood is that any UK-based website will have already self-censored so it won't show you face-sitting or female ejaculation. Meanwhile, anyone who plays by the government's rules will have their details stored on a server, just waiting for the first big hack.

So whatever way you look at it, this is the UK taking one big step backwards rather than forwards.

Girl On the Net

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