In a move to protect the privacy of individuals and shield children from sexually explicit content, the United Kingdom wants to introduce a rule that requires adult users to buy so-called “porn passes” in stores, in order to verify their age online. While not necessarily being a restriction on people’s choices, the move is a needless complication on people’s most intimate consumption, and is also unlikely to be effective in its own intention.
Only a few things could be more embarrassing than a pharmacy assistant with a loud voice. “Olivia, do we still have something against herpes for the gentleman here?”, while the customer’s face reddens in shame. In terms of a feeling of unease, pornography has upheld a similar sense of shame when it comes to its purchase. Buying a DVD with pornographic material is, for many, an awkward task, often accompanied with the purchase of unrelated items to cover up the indecent movie. With the emergence of online shopping and internet video libraries that only require a subscription, consumers were released of that burden.
But of course, regulators have soon understood the massive risks that online use can be for individuals, and are now moving in to create “comprehensive rules”. The idea: if users want to subscribe to a pornographic website anonymously (which makes the protection of their privacy easier in case of a leak of flat-out data breach), they need to verify their age. In an initial proposal, the government sought verification by credit card, yet quickly found itself struck by the fact that 40 per cent of Brits don’t own a credit card. Adding to that 1.6 million Brits are completely “unbanked”, meaning they do not own a bank account at all. In March of this year however, Her Majesty’s Government delayed these new age-verification laws, notably because there was massive confusion over how they were going to applied.
Under a new suggestion, users would be required to buy a porn pass at their local newsagent, for which they will be asked to show ID or a driver’s license. However, this would also ask considerable questions of privacy, and risks of data-hacking and blackmail, let alone the bureaucratic nightmare of enforcing such a policy. Are we expecting law enforcement to spend its time and resources on the verification if the verifications passes were verified by the verification desk of YouPorn? Where does this lead to?
And yes of course, advocates of the policy could retort that critics (such as me) just “don’t think about the children”. Outside of the fact that this would be a manifested straw man argument, can we just appreciate the ignorance of lawmakers towards the fact that pornography is already readily available on the internet? There is no need to subscribe to a website or do so anonymously in order to see pornographic material. If anything, the debate over what has hilariously been named a “wanking license” is only likely to attract more young people to these websites. Let alone that a VPN can bypass the verification requirement, as can file-sharing sites, torrents, and small-time porn sites that don’t get caught up in the government’s net.
Here’s the deal: if users want to be anonymous as they register on a porn site, then it is hard to believe that the larger websites will not cater to that demand. If parents want to shield their children from pornography, they can already use easily accessible parental control applications and browser extensions for their phones, tablets and computers. Consumers already have choices in this area, and there is no need for the government to institute an antiquated system of so-called “porn passes”. Instead, we should trust individual adults to make responsible decisions for themselves.
This article was first published by Comment Central.
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