Digital Economy Bill passed by MPs, forcing people to ask if they want to watch porn

The law has been criticised both by free speech advocates as well as those who want it to cover more websites

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The Independent Tech

The House of Commons has passed a Bill that forces people to ask to be allowed to see porn and bans many sex acts from appearing in adult videos.

The Digital Economy Bill received an unopposed third reading from MPs, meaning that it is on its way to becoming law. As such, it will force pornographic websites to add age verification checks that won't let people watch videos until they sign up to a special verification programme.

It will also put into law new rules that will allow videos depicting unusual practices from adult websites. That clause, which provoked anger this week, bans anything from being made available online in the UK that wouldn't be allowed on a commercially available DVD.

The law has been criticised both by free speech advocates and security experts, who argue that the age verification measures will make people unsafe. But it has also been criticsed by people who argue that pornographic material will still be available through non-adult websites like Twitter.

Culture minister Matt Hancock said the changes will see children protected by "one of the most robust" regimes in the world - but admitted the proposals are "not a utopia" and will not cover Twitter.

He said: "There is a difference between websites that provide commercial pornography and platforms on which others can upload images, and getting this right among that second group is much harder than around the first group.

"And so what we are proposing to do is to put forward this Bill to deal with the large swathe of the problem and to get this working properly and to deal with the mainstay of the problem and then see how it's working.

"I appreciate that for those who really want to access porn online then if they are really intent on doing that then there is a big challenge in stopping that."

He said the Bill is "not a utopia but it is a very important step".

His comments came after former culture secretary John Whittingdale warned that children are increasingly accessing porn through social media sites such as Twitter.

Fellow Tory Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, urged ministers to put more pressure on these platforms to take down porn that can be viewed by children.

She said: "Isn't it fair to say that four years ago providers like Twitter told us it was impossible to take down visual images of children being sexually abused? But now, quite rightly, there is a code of practice in place.

"Surely, where there is a will there is a way, and he has already proved that he can make significant progress. Should he not be putting more pressure on organisations like Twitter?"

The Bill, which will be debated in the Lords, contains measures to improve broadband services and crack down on "IT crooks" who use computer software to buy tickets before selling them for sky-high prices.

It also transfers the responsibility and cost of free TV licences for the over-75s to the BBC.

Mr Brennan said Labour welcomed many of the measures in the Bill including the rules on age verification for porn sites, but said the Conservatives had missed an opportunity to draw up a more ambitious blueprint to boost the digital economy.

He said: "This Bill attempts to cover everything but I'm afraid there are quite a few holes in it, because a Digital Economy Bill would look much better if it properly recognised the importance of the digital economy to the whole country."

He said it should have been "more ambitious" in delivering ultra-fast broadband and mobile networks, boosting digital skills and beefing up cyber security.

But Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said the Bill will "cement the UK's status as a world leading digital economy".

She said: "It will help people connect to high-speed broadband, expanding their personal opportunities and stimulating economic activity.

"It will improve public services thanks to better information management. And it will protect the vulnerable from some of the hazards of the digital world."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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