What is the Digital Economy Bill?

The Digital Economy Bill covers a wide range of Internet and tech issues - from making sure people have better Broadband to changing the way data is shared across Government. It also includes proposals to try and stop under 18s from seeing porn by making porn sites verify that their users are over 18. The BBFC - who currently categorise films - will oversee this.

How are websites expected to verify users’ ages?

We don’t know yet. The proposals so far have included credit cards (dodgy), analysing social media (very dodgy) and using bespoke age verification products (better). The problem is that the Bill doesn’t require porn sites to protect the privacy of their users, which may mean that sites can use solutions that risk people’s privacy.

What will happen if porn sites refuse to verify the age of their users?

After it announced the proposals, the Government realised that many foreign porn sites would simply refuse to comply so they added a new amendment. The BBFC can tell Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block sites that don’t comply - even if the content on the site is perfectly legal. Social media sites, such as Twitter, may also be forced to block accounts belonging to non-compliant porn sites.

Will the proposals work?

Age verification might stop a young child from accidentally stumbling on porn but it is unlikely to deter a tech-savvy teenager, who will get round the proposals by using VPNs, Tor or sharing porn in other ways.

The BBFC will have to classify massive amounts of adult content in order for this scheme to work. Nobody knows exactly how many porn websites there are. The figure could be somewhere between hundreds of thousands and millions.

Even if they block thousands and thousands of legal porn sites, they won’t be able to block all of the porn on the Internet.

Will they really block thousands or millions of websites?

Maybe, maybe not. The power allows them to block as much or as little as they like, as they don’t have to get a Court Order—they just issue a notice. Reassurances that only a small number of sites will be blocked are worthless, as they could change their mind at any time. And politicians will want more and more sites blocked, when they work out that Age Verification won’t be implemented by most foreign sites.

Will the BBFC really employ people to classify the Internet?

No. The Government are not currently creating millions of jobs to classify porn. BUT, if they really want their plans to censor porn on the Internet to work, they would need to do this.

How could this affect me?

Your privacy could be at risk.

Age verification has privacy risks and could leave porn users open to Ashley Madison style hacks. There are no safeguards in the Bill that would make sure data about your identity and what you watch online is protected.

Your free speech could be restricted

Fears about privacy may deter many adults from watching legal pornography. Your free speech could also be restricted if the BBFC start blocking legal websites that you want to watch.

Your future rights will be affected.

This law can be used against porn sites for now but who knows how it will be used in the future. It means it will be much easier for the Government to censor websites without going through the Courts.

Which other countries block porn in this way?

Pornographic material is also censored in China and Philippines. They decided to censor porn to protect children from obscenity. Those are the same reasons the UK Government gave us when they introduced the Bill.

What has happened so far?

The Government put their proposals for age verification and blocking forward in the Digital Economy Bill. They were approved by both Labour and Tory MPs in the House of Commons. The Bill is now in the House of Lords and peers will vote on it in the next couple of weeks.

This is one of our last chances to show the Lords what an absurd plan this is and stop Internet censorship.

What can I do about it?

You can tell the Government you don’t agree with their plans and sign our petition. Or join ORG to support our work.

Think censorship's a stupid idea?

Sign the petition