December 16, 2016 | Jim Killock

How it works: website blocking in the Digital Economy Bill

We realised that what will and will not be blocked under the Digital Economy Bill is becoming increasingly hard to understand. So here is a handy guide.


Blocking takes two shapes, after the Lords debate.

Websites

Firstly, websites that either don’t use Age Verification, or supply pornography that the new national censor, the BBFC, deems “non-conventional” can be blocked. In addition, if they use an Age Verification technology that seems inadequate, such as credit cards, this could lead to a block, although we believe this would be less likely as it would seem a very harsh response.

Ancillary services

Secondly, “ancillary services” is now clarified to include Twitter or other platforms where an account is used to promote a pornographic website. Here, a block could only be applied if the BBFC has decided to sanction the website for non-compliance. This would mean it could block an account from a website that publishes “non-conventional” pornography, or one that doesn’t provide Age Verification, or only uses credit card verification. However, other similar accounts from sites that had not been reviewed cannot be blocked under this power.

Blocked Twitter feeds would not need to be displaying pornography, they might just provide links.

As a further example of where this might go, we have also included DNS results in the table. Provision of DNS results for a pornographic website could easily be included in the expansive concept of an “ancillary service”.

BBFC classification and blocking will be selective

To complicate matters further, blocking can only take place if the BBFC has decided to classify a website. So the whole process is limited by their capacity to review  hundreds of thousands of pornographic websites. Furthermore, the BBFC cannot block “non-commercial” websites.

This incredibly complicated picture of course risks being perceived as extremely arbitrary. That is the inevitable result of pursuing censorship as a legitimate sanction against regulatory compliance, rather than limiting it to clearly illegal and harmful material.

Don’t forget to sign our petition against these proposals. 

Our summary of what will be blocked

Type of pornographic related content

Type of age verification

Can it be blocked

Will it be blocked in the UK

Major website with US style legal pornography {1}

Credit card or none

Yes

Yes

Website with BBFC-compliant content (2)

UK approved (4)

No

No

Website with BBFC-compliant content

Credit card only

Yes

Maybe

Non-commercial site with US style legal content

None

No

No

Major website with US style legal pornography

UK approved

Yes

Probably

First thousand websites by market share, reviewed by BBFC (3)

Credit card or none

Yes

Probably

Next three million websites by market share, not reviewed by BBFC

Credit card or none

No

No

Twitter feed for BBFC approved commercial website

None

No

No

Twitter feed for a website deemed non-compliant by the BBFC

None

Yes

Probably

Twitter feed for the millions of websites not classified by BBFC

None

No

No

Non-commercial Twitter feed

None

No

No

DNS result locating website

None

Yes

Possibly

 

Notes

1 This table uses “US style legal content” as a shorthand for content that may not be legal in the UK, or legal but not approved by the BBFC.

2 BBFC-compliant means approved by the BBFC, a more restrictive concept than legal in the UK

3 Or whatever number of websites the BBFC feels able to classify. We assume they wll aim to cover market share, so 1000 websites seems a reasonable number to target

4 By "UK approved" age verification we mean systems that meet BBFC requirements. These are currently undefined other than that they must verify age. Privacy and interoperability requirements are absent from the bill.


Comments (8)

  1. mark:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 10:01 AM

    God I really hope you can fight this in court

  2. neil:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 11:24 AM

    I don't give a fig for pornography, but do think this is a dangerous precedent for only being able to look at government approved websites in general.. and where have we already go tthis around the world? Welcome to Mirthless May's Britain.

  3. mark:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:19 PM

    Have you considered tweeting the last leg to see if they will talk about it on today's show?

  4. mark:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    Have you concidered tweeting the last leg to see if they will talk about it on today's show?

  5. Andrew:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:59 PM

    "Type of age verification: UK approved"

    WTF is "UK approved" age verification? Will we have to visit our local police station or post office (if we can find one still open) and have a face to face meeting?

  6. Jim Killock:
    Dec 16, 2016 at 01:44 PM

    Andrew, thanks. I've added a note but essentially nobody really knows what these systems will look like although some have been touted.

  7. James Blessing:
    Dec 17, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    You also need to worry about the definition of "non-commercial" for UDRP take down of sites all it takes is a single advert in order for it to be deemed commercial (the content of the advert will sway wether its a general or specific breach)

  8. myeconomy:
    Dec 19, 2016 at 02:57 PM

    the blocking of sites will never be able to protect the way our children, because, unfortunately, for every step forward they will always make one back. If there is a strong will be tough



This thread has been closed from taking new comments.