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December 12, 2016

Brits: Hope You Like Your Porn Extra-Bland

LONDON—As many free speech advocates already know, the United Kingdom doesn't have constitutionally mandated freedom of speech; that "right" is very much subject to the whims of Parliament—and when it comes to porn, the barriers to watching it online are getting higher, with some sexy activities facing a complete ban in the near future. According to the online news site DailyStar.co.uk, among the acts that will be prohibited by the new Digital Economy Bill, which recently passed the House of Commons and is about to be before the House of Lords, "Spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object associated with violence, physical or verbal abuse, urolagnia (female ejaculation), role-playing as non-adults, physical restraint, humiliation, strangling, face sitting or fisting are all on the government's naughty list." Also expected to be banned are vomiting on another person, playing with excrement, and whatever activities the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has already declared to be verboten on DVDs sold in the country, including urination, any penetration of a person's vagina or anus by more than four fingers, and sex where the woman is clearly menstruating, as well as those that "depict and encourage rape, including gang rape; depict non-consensual violent abuse against women; promote an interest in incestuous behaviour; promote an interest in sex with children; and bestiality." And, of course, everyone who tries to rent an adult DVD must be 18 or older, and that restriction is about to be extended to online content, requiring ISPs to verify a viewer's age before allowing him/her to access hardcore content. In fact, the BBFC has already been tapped to be the agency responsible for the age verification program, and naughty ISPs who refuse to put content behind the age wall, or who do a bad job of verification, can find themselves subjected to fines of up to £250,000 (US$310,000)—or five percent of revenues, whichever is higher. But as bad as the censorship of certain sex-play is likely to be, worse is the fact that those who wish to access porn sites by providing a government-issued ID or valid credit card will be laying themselves open to identity theft, since there's nothing in the Digital Economy Bill that calls for the list of approved porn viewers to be protected from hackers. “Websites could choose age verification tools that risk data leaks, tracking, and even encourage credit card fraud unless the government place privacy standards into the bill,” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said in a statement. “This is incredibly irresponsible.” "There are no provisions in the bill as it's currently drafted to secure the privacy and anonymity of those who are using these sites," said Alistair Carmichael, of the small Liberal Democrats opposition party, adding that the restrictions proposed could be "circumvented pretty easily by any tech-savvy 14-year-old." "All of the data measures in this act and all of the consequences of the age verification process will be within the Data Protection Act, which has a very strong consensus of support behind it," responded culture minister Matt Hancock. "It will be held in such a way that it is required to be secure and the data is not made available." Trouble is, that "way" has not yet been specified, and privacy advocates continue to be worried. Another problem with the legislation is that it could lead to some sites, which offer a wide variety of viewing material, being banned altogether, but according to xHamster, the world's third largest adult site, similar bans in other countries haven't always been as effective as censors would imagine. Despite strict porn filters—and, often, specific bans on the xHamster site—in many countries, millions of users are still getting around the filters. For example, though xHamster is banned in India, 655,039,182 people have nonetheless visited the site so far in 2016. Likewise, 125,214,402 in Thailand, 95,447,737 in Turkey, 83,401,435 in the United Arab Emirates, 73,545,085 in Russia, 60,841,625 in China, 42,257,057 in Malaysia, 11,045,297 in Kazakhstan and 8,486,277 in Iran, all of which had banned access to the site. “Despite the best attempts of censors, users are finding their way to the xHamster using web-based proxies, VPNs, and networks like Tor,” said Alex Hawkins, a spokesperson for xHamster in a press release. “Unlike political bans, porn bans may have the opposite of the intended effect by pushing otherwise apolitical citizens into networks that bypass government blockades.” According to xHamster, the UK is the site's third-largest source of traffic, so the company is launching a campaign for all UK visitors, asking them to sign a petition repealing the Investigatory Powers Bill, a wide ranging bill that allows the government to monitor sites visited. The companion Digital Economy Bill would ban adult sites that feature specific "objectionable" content like public sex or urination, and require mandatory age-verification checks to prevent people from accessing sites anonymously. "If the Digital Economy Bill passes, most adult websites could be effectively banned," Hawkins warned. More information on this issue can be found on xHamster's blog, and those in the press and media who wish more information may contact Alex Hawkins at media@xhamster.com.

 
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