If you read our last blogpost about the impact of the UK's impending Digital Economy Bill and want to know how you can help, I have something for you. This petition is hosted by the Open Rights Group, a UK organisation dedicated to campaigning for digital rights. It has over 11,000 signatures already, and you can sign it if you're in the UK or anywhere in the world - it only needs a name and email address to sign.
Why should you care? Here are the headlines:
- By making age verification compulsory, this law will force UK internet users to surrender personal information to porn sites in order to be able to look at adult content. This might include your legal name, date of birth, address or phone number - a massive breach of personal privacy.
- The Bill has no safeguards to protect this data, which means governments or private companies could collect everyone's browsing histories in a vast "porn database" - at huge risk of being hacked, sold or leaked.
- The cost of running approved age verification software will fall to the website owner, who will be charged per age check - regardless of whether that user goes on to pay for porn. This will put most small, niche websites (including Dreams of Spanking) out of business.
- As well as age verification, the Bill imposes the out-dated 'prohibited content' guidelines used by the British Board of Film Classification on the internet, reinforcing the bans brought in by the Audio Visual Media Services Regulations in 2014. So even behind age verification, it will be criminal for any site visible in the UK to publish images, stills or video depicting consensual adult sex acts including facesitting, fisting, female ejaculation, bondage with all four limbs plus a gag, and spanking or BDSM that leaves marks. (Dreams of Spanking is exempty from the AVMS regulations following our successful appeal, but this law will outlaw us all over again).
- A new amendment to the Bill - added by MPs at committee stage, and publicly backed by the government - gives the new porn regulator the power to compel UK internet service providers to 'turn off' non-compliant websites and block them from being viewed by anyone in the UK. So any sites that don't (or can't) install sufficient age verification, and any sites that have include any "prohibited content" - even if that content is behind an age check and only visible to consenting adults - will be blocked at source.
- This is unprecedented censorship for a democratic country. It will give this government - and every future government - the power to block any sites it doesn't like. Perhaps it will only affect porn today; but it might be dissent tomorrow.
We must act now to prevent this dangerous legislation from being passed - which will affect millions of people in the UK and worldwide. Blocking websites is a disproportionate, technical response to a complex, social issue. The UK’s children need education, not censorship, to keep them safe.