opinion

Internet Censorship Has Come to the U.K.

Tim Henning

If you have been paying attention at all over the past several months you will be keenly aware that there is an attack under way against the online adult entertainment industry in the U.K. as well as the greater European Union. These attacks have come from different angles but have one common theme — the protection of children from viewing age-restricted content on the Internet and in the mobile application arena. The opening shots have already been fired in Iceland, the European Union and most recently — and vigorously — the U.K.

On July 22, the Prime Minister of the U.K., David Cameron, used a major speech to announce that U.K. based internet service providers had agreed to implement mandatory family-friendly filters as standard by the end of 2013 to automatically block pornography unless customers chose to opt out. This proposal would cover every new ISP account and is devised to cover all devices in the household. Furthermore, Cameron stated that possession of the most extreme forms of adult pornography will become an offence and that online content will have the same restrictions as DVDs sold in U.K. sex shops.

The online adult entertainment industry must stand up and be proactive given this climate of control. The writing is on the wall folks: kids are a universally convenient excuse for the prohibition of porn.

Although this approach was widely anticipated, it ran into immediate criticism from its opponents, with even Cameron himself admitting there would be “problems down the line” deciding what and what would not be blocked and stating only that “the filters would evolve over time” but while this remains an immense grey area, what is for certain is that the U.K. government is now baring its teeth in the fight against what it sees as the “corrosion of childhood” and the ever increasing “sexualization of children.” It has also decided that the greater population must be protected from viewing, what the government considers, the “most extreme forms of adult pornography.”

Centered on providing greater protections for children from viewing age-restricted content on the Internet and in the mobile application arena these government efforts are chilling to free speech, to say the least. These initiatives broadly target all internet pornography in its entirety and even goes so far as to arbitrarily decide what adult entertainment will be legal and what will be criminal — a practice typically limited to regimes that dictate, control, and monitor its citizens every move, thought and deed. It seems to me that parents are being let of the hook — where is the parental responsibility in all of this?

A functional and robust solution to preventing minors or other unwanted audiences from exposure to adult oriented or otherwise age-restricted materials exists today and can be found in ASACP’s award winning Restricted To Adults (RTA) website label, which is freely available for websites and mobile devices, including via a WordPress plugin. RTA, when used correctly and in conjunction with parental supervision and filtering software, provides an effective solution to the problem of inadvertent access to age-restricted content.

However, the U.K. government points to studies, conducted in the U.K., that claim only a small fraction of parents use parental filtering or even monitor what their children are doing online — despite numerous public education campaigns aimed at parents. Ultimately, David Cameron has apparently decided that if U.K. citizens are not doing their jobs as parents then the government must step in and do it for them. Further, if U.K. citizens are going to look at pornography it had better be the more “respectable” kind of porn — we have our eye on you!

While it may be perplexing for some members of the Industry, especially those in the U.S. and Canada, to understand how any government can effectively monitor what can and cannot be seen on the Internet and by whom, the reality is that the U.K. and potentially Europe is rapidly becoming a minefield for Adult website operators. You can be sure that governments worldwide will be looking at how this pans out in the U.K.

The online adult entertainment industry must stand up and be proactive given this climate of control. The writing is on the wall folks: kids are a universally convenient excuse for the prohibition of porn — so if you want to keep your business alive, keep kids out of and away from it — remember that RTA is the best solution for doing so today. Other steps you can take will include adhering to ASACP’s established Code of Ethics and industry segment-specific Best Practices. I would also encourage you to write your politicians, whether or not you are a citizen of the U.K., and let your voice and opinions be heard.

Vince Charlton, ASACP’s director of European outreach, has been closely following the debate over the last few months and has been working closely with U.K. policy makers and stakeholders to put across the views and concerns of the industry.

When asked for his initial take on the news, Charlton commented as follows:

“Whilst I can understand the reasoning behind wanting a clamp down on the ease in which minors can access free hardcore pornography on the web, the way this mandatory filtering has been structured is fraught with problems. Any family who wants to watch 18+ material will still opt-in to do so which will leave them in the same position as they are in now where they will have the option to install parental controls which have been on the market since the Internet began – all the U.K. government seems to be achieving is shifting the responsibility away from parents so in future when the issue of minors accessing porn still exists they can hold their heads up high and say that it was the parents active choice and that the government of the day had fulfilled its responsibilities.”

In addition to Cameron’s very public statement, of at least equal concern to the Industry should be the stance taken by the U.K. regulator ATVOD who are looking at the possibility of banning the use of U.K. issued debit and credit card payments to those sites that do not adopt age-verification systems to verify that the subscriber is of legal adult age with Charlton adding that:

“The threat is very much there that any online business, wherever they are based, who depend on U.K. and potentially European traffic for income will need to adopt AVS along the lines of the online Gaming sites if they are to survive. Playboy TV and Strictly Broadband are just two of the more visible victims of ATVOD’s stance and they will not be the last and ATVOD’s reach and influence cannot be underestimated. The market is changing and the Industry could well be forced to adapt in order to continue operating in these regions and although ASACP continues to work to influence change and show the Industry is working to protect children from viewing age-restricted content through RTA, there is a critical mass of opinion, certainly in the U.K., that changes must be made to further protect children from accessing this material.”

For more information regarding ASACP, sponsorship opportunities and how your business can help in the fight against European government legislation, please contact tim@asacp.org or vince@asacp.org.

About ASACP

Founded in 1996, ASACP is a non-profit organization dedicated to online child protection. ASACP is comprised of two separate corporate entities, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection and the ASACP Foundation. The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. ASACP manages a membership program that provides resources to companies in order to help them protect children online. The ASACP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

The ASACP Foundation battles child pornography through its CP Reporting Hotline and helps parents prevent children from viewing agerestricted material online with its Restricted To Adults (RTA) website label (www.rtalabel.org). ASACP has invested nearly 17 years in developing progressive programs to protect children, and its relationship in assisting the adult industry’s child protection efforts is unparalleled. For more information, visit www.asacp.org.

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