BBFC Unveils £10 “Porn Passes” So UK Residents Can Access Online Porn

If you are a UK resident, you may soon be asking a shopkeeper to buy a so-called “porn pass” if you wish to view explicit material online.

UK age verification laws are set to take place “before the end of the year”. This is part of the infamous Digital Economy Act which was passed during a wash-up prior to the last election last year.

Under the rules, anyone who wishes to access websites that deal with explicit material must register through that websites age verification system. If a website does not have an age verification system approved by the government, then ISPs are required to block access to those websites.

The concept has been repeatedly hailed as a privacy disaster waiting to happen simply because it requires third party websites to have databases on UK residents wishing to view that type of material. Recently, the Open Rights Group blasted the British government for behaving “negligently” in its bid to implement age verification laws.

Recently, however, it seems that the UK government is finally heeding some of the warnings about the age verification laws. Rather then scrap the age verification laws altogether (which is what many are hoping for), the regulator in charge of the system has unveiled a so-called “porn pass” system.

Under this system, UK residents can physically go to a shopkeeper and purchase a “porn pass” for £10. The pass itself is supposed to be a 16 digit PIN number that can be used to access websites without divulging personal information such as names and addresses. The shopkeepers themselves require either a credit card, passport, or drivers license to verify that persons information. The only other requirement is to stand in line, then awkwardly ask for the pass while others in line give you a rather disgusted look no doubt.

The specific details have yet to be revealed by the BBFC, no doubt wanting to give the system at least a 24 hour chance before it gets cracked by someone.

If anything, this system has all the hallmarks of a band-aid solution to an unfixable “problem”. None of this was even part of the debates when the Digital Economy Act was being actively debated. It only cropped up after months of criticisms surrounding personal privacy.

If the system itself gets cracked, it wouldn’t even be unprecedented. Back in 2007, Australia was in the midst of a very similar debate where the government was pushing to filter out “inappropriate” material online altogether. Filters were put in place and the government seemingly declared victory. Shortly after, headlines emerged where an Australian teenager cracked Australia’s $84 million porn filter in 30 minutes during his free time. The revelation definitely embarrassed the government of the day. It’s hard to say if history will repeat itself in that specific manner here, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise either if it did.

Another thing too is the fact that, in the past, news websites have tried to erect walled gardens (still are) through subscription only systems. Years ago, websites suddenly popped up to share login credentials. Voting systems were also enabled to help users verify if the credentials worked or not. Depending on how this system is implemented, hackers might start building websites like that to circumvent the system.

Then there is the concept of proxies, the Tor network, and VPN services. Such services do not recognize such content filtering. In fact, they are designed to circumvent such filters in the first place. How authorities will respond remains unclear.

Still, even though it seems that this payment system is being put in place likely to quell concerns about privacy, it’s very difficult to see how such a system would even work in the first place. The privacy implications and the technical logistics makes all of this seem unworkable. If China is unable to fully censor the Internet, how can Britain even hope to accomplish the same thing? At this point in time, we are just waiting to see exactly how this whole system will fall apart.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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