Porn censorship laws and age checks breach human rights and threaten privacy, says UN official

David Kaye says the Digital Economy Bill should be scrapped because it will become another tool of state surveillance

Caroline Mortimer
Friday 13 January 2017 17:44 GMT
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Under the new law it will become illegal to watch 'non-conventional sex acts' online
Under the new law it will become illegal to watch 'non-conventional sex acts' online

Age verification checks to prevent children from accessing pornography are a breach of human rights, a UN official has warned.

David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that amendments to the UK’s Digital Economy Bill could violate international law on freedom of speech.

Conservative ministers have said internet providers could be punished if they fail to act on requests from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to enforce age verification checks on websites which host explicit content.

If websites do not comply they could be blocked altogether.

But Mr Kaye said the bill goes too far and should be scrapped altogether because of the lack of judicial oversight which he says will make it another tool of state surveillance.

In a letter to the UK’s ambassador to the UN, he wrote: “I am concerned that the age verification provisions give the government access to information of viewing habits and citizen data.

“Identity disclosure requirements in law allow authorities to more easily identify persons, eradicating anonymous expression”.

He said the bill’s “lack of privacy obligations” was a cause for concern and said the age restriction data could be exploited by hackers for blackmail and other potential credit card fraud.

The bill, which was spearheaded by Tory backbencher Claire Perry, will introduce new measures to increase data-sharing between government departments and protect intellectual property.

But it will also outlaw the depiction online of a range of previously legal-to perform “non-conventional” sex acts such as spanking, whipping which leaves marks or sex acts involving urination which has lead to campaigners branding it as an attempt to return to the censorship regime of the pre-internet era.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, told the Guardian it was an invasion into people’s sex lives.

She said: “It should not be the business of government to regulate what kinds of consensual adult sex can be viewed by adults”.

Although the BBFC does not say what is considers to be “non-conventional” sex, many porn producers said they have been forced to cut scenes.

But Ms Perry, a former minister, hit back at Mr Kaye accusing him of using “emotive language”.

She told The Sun: “What is needed is a robust system in place to ensure that under 18s are not permitted to see material online that they would not have access to in the offline world”.

The measures will reinforce an update to the Audiovisual Media Services regulation which was passed in 2014 despite a face-sitting protest on College Green opposite the Houses of Parliament.

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