If you ever needed confirmation that the UK is not run by a shadowy cabal of sinister plotters but a bunch of chinless fucking idiots then the upcoming Digital Economy Bill is a good place to start.
As well as massively increasing personal information sharing amongst government departments, the proposed new laws will seek to ensure that all pornographic content available on the internet in the UK carries an age verification system. The bill will also introduce new copyright legislation which could mean that simply sharing or retweeting an internet meme, such as the one that accompanies this post, could mean prosecution with a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment. Really.
According to the government age-verification is necessary to protect children from the danger of online porn. And wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy. The reality is that this bill will do nothing to stop teenagers accessing porn but will create a potentially chilling effect on all creators of online material which could be said to be adult in nature. If this legislation is successfully implemented then it is unlikely to end there. If seeing sex on the internet is banned for under 18s then why not violence, or swearing, or anything else that government censors decide is unfit for young minds?
Of course this legislation will not be successful because it was drafted by a bunch of dickheads who don’t appear to have ever used the internet. They can’t even decide what internet pornography is, insisting that anything which would normally carry an 18 certificate, and which is designed to sexually stimulate, should be covered by the law. So content creators will not even know that they need to provide age verification until some state-appointed literal wanker decides that they are pornographers. The new laws will also apply to content which is sound only, ominously bringing the written word under censorship laws. Sites hosting ebooks with erotic content may find themselves falling foul of the legislation. We could be heading back to the days when someone faces legal sanctions for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in an audio format.
At a protest this week outside parliament, feminist and queer porn producers warned this law will shut them down leaving only the big mainstream porn companies able to afford the age verification software that will be necessary to comply with the law. And astonishingly this software does not yet exist – the government has decided that the market will somehow invent a solution. Anti-privacy campaigners have warned this will lead to the creation of giant databases detailing the UK’s porn watching habits, with all the risk that entails of that information being released to the public. Of equal concern is that there is a shitload of adult content on sites like twitter, tumblr and wordpress, potentially meaning that social media and blogs may also be required to implement age verification.
None of this will have any impact on the availability of online porn, most of which is not produced in the UK. These sites will only face the possibility of the government asking credit card companies to refuse to process payments from the UK. They may well tell the government to fuck off. And it is unlikely that the large number of youtube style porn sites, who are largely funded by advertising, will give a shit either. All this legislation is likely to achieve is the annihilation of an industry catering to sexual minorities and massive insecurity for anyone making edgy or erotic content who could face sanctions if they accidentally give a government censor a hard-on.
The new copyright laws are equally draconian. The Open Rights Group, who campaign to protect free speech and privacy online, warn that simply sharing a well known image online could lead to prosecution, using the archetypal image of the Vietnamese child suffering napalm burns as an example. Millions of social media users may soon find that many of their posts are technically illegal. The group also caution that these new laws could affect teenage file sharers, with a new threat of prosecution for anyone uploading to torrent sites. The same government that wants to protect young people from seeing sex is quite happy to terrify them with the threat of prosecution and jail if they impact even in the slightest way on the profits of the giant entertainment corporations.
What these laws are attempting to do is change the culture of the internet in the UK. Most of the internet is not in the UK though and will carry on as normal. Meanwhile those of us here will face complex censorships rules and petty legal action – such as the recent attempt by police to prosecute a man for having a video of someone dressed up in a tiger suit having sex. A government which introduces laws which will affect millions of its citizens is a dangerous thing. That they seem to be doing it by accident is even more chilling. Much like the police, don’t assume that just because they are stupid it means they aren’t dangerous.
You can sign a petition aimed at stopping this bill at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/ensuring-personal-privacy-and-sexual-freedom
I’m back by the way, but will be some time before I’m up to full speed. DWP/benefits stuff is coming up.
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