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Digital Minister Apologises over Latest Porn Block Flop

Ross Kelly

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The UK Government’s porn age verification scheme has been delayed twice and has sparked concerns among rights groups over data privacy.

Digital minister Margot James has issued an apology following the latest delay on the UK Government’s controversial ‘porn block’.

Had the new rules come into effect on Monday as scheduled, web users across Britain would have been required to verify their age to view pornographic content online. The most recent delay to the porn block was announced last month because the Government failed to adequately inform European regulators over the project.

Speaking to the BBC, James said: “I’m extremely sorry that there has been a delay. I know it sounds incompetent.”

“Mistakes do happen, and I’m terribly sorry that it happened in such an important area,” she added.

The Government claims the verification scheme aims to prevent children and young people from accessing x-rated content online. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was intended to oversee the age checks.

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Any website that hosts more than one-third of content deemed pornographic (excluding social media sites) would be required to verify a user’s age. Those who fail to comply would be blocked by internet service providers under the new rules.

However, the proposals have been fraught with delays and controversy – with privacy rights groups dubbing the project a ‘ticking timebomb’ in regards to data privacy. Concerns have also been voiced over one of the verification software providers, Mindgeek.

Mindgeek owns a host of the world’s most popular pornography websites, including Pornhub and YouPorn. This has raised questions over whether there is a potential conflict of interest – claims that the company denies.

Sarah Wollaston MP told the BBC the company’s involvement equated to “putting a fox in charge of the hen house”.

‘Ticking Timebomb’

Last month, a report from the Open Rights Group claimed that the BBFC’s age-verification scheme provides “little safety assurance” to the 20 million adults believed to watch porn in the UK.

Research published by the watchdog suggested that data protection standards for consumers was “vague, imprecise and largely a ‘tick box’ exercise”.

Jim Killock, executive director at ORG, said that due to the type of data being processed, higher standards of protection must be implemented.

He said: “Millions of internet users in the Uk will have to make a decision about which age verification providers they trust with data about their personal pornography habits and preferences.

“Due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation.”

Killock slammed the BBFC’s standard, adding that as a voluntary standard, it offers “little information about the level of data protection being offered”.

It also provides no means of redress, he insisted, if companies fail to live up to it. Due to these basic failures, the standard is rendered “pointless, misleading and potentially dangerous as advice to consumers seeking safe products”.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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