MPs vote for a national censor

Amendments to the Digital Economy Bill were accepted by MPs during its third reading yesterday. This will mean that the the BBFC in its new role can instruct Internet Service Providers to block access to porn websites that don’t verify the age of their users, even though their content is legal in the UK.

In addition, sites that are not sanctioned must obey the regulator’s instructions and censor what is deemed unacceptable. The BBFC has indicated that:

  • Porn websites must censor ‘non-conventional sex acts’ that are unclassified in the UK. This could include whipping that causes marks, female ejaculation, acts involving urination and sex during menstruation.
  • Sites that do not censor according to the BBFC’s instructions could be sanctioned and blocked.

Executive Director, Jim Killock said:

“If the Digital Economy Bill is passed, the BBFC will have the power to instruct ISPs to block thousands of websites. This is unprecedented in the UK and the developed world.

“In the short term, this is likely to disproportionately affect sexual minorities. However, there are wider implications for free speech. Once this administrative power to block websites is in place, it will invariably be used to censor other content. MPs have already asked why other material that is unsuitable for children is not being censored.”

In addition, the proposals to demand that pornographic websites use age verification technology still have no privacy safeguards. Labour tabled an amendment outlining privacy duties for the regulator, but this was not adopted. The Government did not table any alternative privacy amendments.

Killock added: “Websites could choose age verification tools that cause risk data leaks, tracking and even encourage credit card fraud unless the government place privacy standards into the bill. “This is incredibly irresponsible.”

More than 11,000 people have signed an Open Rights Group petition calling for parliament to reject these plans.

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