LONDON — The U.K. Digital Economy Bill, which would introduce mandatory age checks for online porn and ban a range of "non-conventional" sex acts, goes back to the House of Commons for a report and third reading on Monday.
Despite mounting criticism that enforcing existing obscenity laws online will drag the U.K. back into a pre-internet world of prurient morality, the bill, which provides for a host of other changes to the country’s electronic communications infrastructure, is sailing along in Parliament.
"The government is committed to keeping children safe from harmful pornographic content online and that is exactly what we are doing," said Karen Bradley, U.K. Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. "Only adults should be allowed to view such content."
Under the Digital Economy Bill proposal, any website that contains adult content must verify users’ ages using methods like credit card checks.
The proposed law will also apply to websites hosted outside the U.K., and those that refuse to introduce age checks will be banned.
Authorities, under the proposal, would ask ISPs and mobile operators to block access to violating sites, which could extend past adult sites and include portals like Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit — all of which contain sexually explicit material.
The same legislation also could censor certain content altogether.
Sex acts that are deemed by the British Board of Film Classification to be “non-conventional” — including fisting, female ejaculation and public sex, as well as caning, whipping or spanking that leaves a mark — would be banned outright.
This would bring online content under the same restrictions that have been enforced for locally sold DVDs and through video on-demand sites.
It also would mean that catalogs of “extreme” adult content from foreign porn sites would become unavailable in the U.K.
The London-based Open Rights Group, an 11-year-old nonprofit that fights to protect rights to privacy and free speech online, said the proposal, which was introduced in July, amounts to “censorship.”
“The government wants to add measures to the bill that would force ISPs to block erotica and pornography websites that don’t verify the age of their users,” Open Rights Group said in a statement. “This equates to censorship of legal content — potentially affecting tens of thousands of websites and millions of people.”
Open Rights Group also warned that the bill could create undesirable secondary effects. Any database of viewing habits being held by companies or by the government could be breached, the group said.
“Censorship combined with age-verification systems could also lead to widespread credit card frauds, as sites encourage people to share their card details just to access random websites,” Open Rights Group said.
“Blocking websites is a disproportionate, technical response to a complex, social issue. The U.K.’s children need education, not censorship, to keep them safe.”
On Monday, the House of Commons will hear a report and third reading. Report stage is when any amendments that may have been tabled are discussed by members of Parliament. Third Reading is a general discussion of the bill and no amendments can be made at this stage.