Government delays ‘porn ban’ by six months following unforeseen kink

The government has been forced to apologise for a six month delay to incoming rules imposing age verification checks on all adult websites being accessed in the UK, following a failure to appropriately notify the European Commission of the new rules.

Speaking in the House of Commons this morning the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright apologised for the mistake and ensured that he has instructed the permanent secretary of his department to investigate the oversight and ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

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“It has come to my attention in recent days that an important notification process was not undertaken for an element of this policy and I regret to say this will delay the commencement date,” he told the house.

“In the meantime there is nothing to stop responsible providers of online pornography implementing age verification mechanisms on a voluntary basis and I hope and expect many will do so,” he added, optimistically.

Under the 2017 Digital Economy Act, the government promised to ensure that online pornography sites – not, somewhat crucially, social media sites, which lie beyond the legislation’s remit – be blocked by age verification technology to ensure users are over the age of 18, marking a world’s first for a law of this kind.

The act called for the implementation of an ‘age-verification regulator’, which has been assigned to be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The regulator will have powers to fine non-compliant sites and force internet service providers to block companies’ websites that fail to comply with the legislation. (There is also a somewhat bizarre exemption to the law in place for websites that publish pornographic content for free but where it makes up under one-third of their content.)

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has repeatedly stated that there had been no delays to the legislation in the past as it had never committed to a firm date for the rules to come into force. Now, having committed to 15 July as a launch date back in April, the department has put itself in an awkward position.

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Wright went on to outline the myriad other ways the Conservative government is “pursuing our objective to keep young people safe online,” including some new guidance to be published in the autumn.

This white paper will investigate “the use of technology to ensure children are protected from inappropriate content online,” he said. “The new regulatory framework for online harms announced in the white paper will be introduced as soon as possible because it will make a significant difference to action taken by companies to keep children safe online.”

“Although my statement is an apology for delay it is not a change of policy or a lessening of this government’s determination to bring these changes about,” he added. “Age verification for online pornography needs to happen and I believe it is the clear will of the house and those we represent that it should and in the clear interests of our children that it must.”

Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood responded by stating that “a serious and important policy issue has descended into an utter shambles under this government” and asked Wright to confirm when he found out about the error.

Wright said he was informed of the error Friday last week. He also engaged with concerns around privacy, saying: “I do not believe it is impossible to reconcile the important requirement that people’s data and privacy is protected along with the equally important requirement that children are protected from material they should not see, I believe it is perfectly feasible to do both in parallel.”

Wright said he will use the time afforded them by this error to ensure they get the mechanism right and understand technological changes that may impact the policy, such as the new DNS over HTTPS protocol.



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