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EnlargeLeon Neal/AFP/Getty Images reader comments 59 Share this story Update, November 24: Late on Wednesday, the government's planned amendment to the Digital Economy Bill—which, if unopposed by parliament, will force ISPs to block porn sites that refuse to provide adequate age verification mechanisms—was published online.

The tabled tweak to the draft legislation states that, where ISPs fail to act, they will be found guilty of an offence and hit with a fine. As part of its mission creep, the government is also pushing for the BBFC regulator to have the power to tell ISPs to block content that isn't pornographic.
It states: The steps that may be specified or arrangements that may be put in place under subsection (2) (c) include steps or arrangements that will or may also have the effect of preventing persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access material other than the offending material using the service provided by the Internet service provider. However, the government's amendment doesn't nail down what it defines as "other material"—making it arguably a sweeping demand for all sorts of content to be censored. Meanwhile, campaigners are increasingly vexed by the government's decision to appoint the BBFC to police online porn blockades where sites fail to bring in age checker systems—even though the regulator is yet to explicitly state what fruity online material would be placed on its banned list. Index on Censorship and other activists are concerned that websites serving up content that shows "non-conventional" sex acts—such as face sitting, menstrual blood, and sex in public—will be barred by the watchdog.
Its current guidelines on how it classifies content offers a flavour of the type of online porn that might raise eyebrows at the BBFC. "It should not be the business of government to regulate what kinds of consensual adult sex can be viewed by adults," Index on Censorship's chief Jodie Ginsberg told the Guardian. The BBFC said in response to concerns from campaigners: "In making this assessment, we will apply the standards that we apply to pornography that is distributed offline.
If a website fails on either of these [age verification or obscene content] tests, then a notification of non-compliance will be sent to the site." Original story Telcos could be forced to block porn sites if a stealth government amendment to the draft Digital Economy Bill is waved through by parliamentarians. The report stage and third reading of the proposed legislation, which seeks to regulate a hunk of areas from Internet infrastructure to intellectual property, will be debated by MPs next Monday (November 28).

Age verification for access to online porn also forms part of the government's shopping list.

Brits wanting to access fruity material via websites or apps will be subjected to checks to confirm that they are aged 18 or over. And the bill already makes it clear that the government wants to go after "infringing sites" by choking their access to payment providers such as Visa and PayPal, and threatening fines of up to £250,000 or five percent of a person's "qualifying turnover (if any)." However, the government—in what lobby group the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) has described as a "significant policy shift"—is now saying that it wants ISPs to act when online smut peddlers fail to use age checking mechanisms on their sites. Culture secretary Karen Bradley said: "Only adults should be allowed to view such content and we have appointed a regulator, BBFC [British Board of Film Classification], to make sure the right age checks are in place to make that happen.
If sites refuse to comply, they should be blocked." The department for culture, media, and sport (DCMS) added that it was also "seeking co-operation from other supporting services like servers to crack down on wrongdoers." Under the proposed measure, the BBFC would have the power to order ISPs and mobile operators to block access to porn sites that refuse to comply with the government's planned age verification system. "The requirement to block websites would apply to all sites in the UK and overseas. Where websites originate in the EU the process will be compatible with country of origin rules," it said. However, ISPA said it was concerned by the policy shift.
It said: Government must clearly assess and quantify the impact of industry in terms of competition, innovation, and investment, put in place a robust regulatory system, and address the potential for unintended consequences, including existing industry self-regulatory efforts to tackle child sexual abuse material, scope creep, and over-blocking. In January, your correspondent warned that the government could try to force ISPs to block porn sites.

Afterall, the Tories have form in this area: during the coalition years, the UK's six biggest telcos were ordered to block a number of BitTorrent tracker websites, after BT, BSkyB, EE, Virgin Media, O2, and TalkTalk failed to challenge the government's demands in the High Court. In the footnote of its statement confirming the planned tweak to the bill, the DCMS admitted that its current proposals are unworkable.
It said: Websites need servers to host them, advertisers to support them, and infrastructure to connect them. With the international and unregulated manner in which the Internet operates we cannot compel supporting services to be denied but the regulator will seek to gain cooperation from the industry. For the government, the jurisdiction of porn sites was always going to be a headache, and it's hard to believe that the amendment calling for ISPs to block online smut peddlers who flout age verification rules wasn't planned all along.

But then, timing is everything. This post originated on Ars Technica UK