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Think of the children! Proposed U.K. porn law could see Twitter blocked

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Terry Moore/Wikimedia
Social media websites in the U.K. could soon find themselves restricted behind age gates which prevent under-18s from using them, under a new bill currently being debated in the British parliament. The bill, if enacted, would mandate any site which contains pornographic or adult content provide sufficiently effective age checks to prevent children from accessing it.

The Digital Economy Bill is one that was initially designed to guarantee minimum download rates for consumers in the U.K. It still does that, but over the months since it was initially put forward, several amendments have been made which massively increase its scope. It will now allow the government to sanction search engines which do not delist copyright-protected content links, but the clause which has really drawn condemnation from consumers, privacy campaigners, and technologists alike, is the provision that it force age checks on sites which host or display pornography.

While there is still much debate over how that could be achieved — the use of credit card checks to merely access a site have many people concerned about data breaches – the most recent debate of the bill in the House of Lords also suggested it could be extended to sites not traditionally considered pornographic.

Baroness Benjamin was quoted as saying that the bill would cover “ancillary service providers,” which could include social networks like Twitter. This essentially means that should social networks, or any site which accepts user-generated content, not be able to prove it is pornography free, it would be legally obligated to provide an effective age check. If it doesn’t, it risks being blocked at the ISP level under the bill.

In response to concerns that forcing identity checks to verify age could put people’s privacy at risk,  it was suggested that a third party could be used for the age gating system (thanks TechCrunch). However, no details were provided as to how that could be achieved in a safe manner.

As if starting to understand the difficulty in achieving what the bill proposed, the Earl of Erroll acknowledged that it would not be feasible to block the entirety of Twitter, “it would make us look like idiots,” he said. Instead he suggested that payment service providers should be compelled to “help,” perhaps in a manner that restricts their services to sites that serve pornography.

Other concerns brought up by fellow members of the House of Lords also raised concerns about how any form of enforcement action, such as fines, could be levied against websites that were hosted outside of the U.K.

The bill will continue to be debated and amendments considered within the House of Lords.

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