Thanks to a new British law, adults will soon be required to prove they’re over 18 before being allowed to access pornographic sites.
Under the Digital Economy Act, users will have to verify their age by providing details from a credit card, which can’t be legally issued to anyone under 18. If a site doesn’t comply with the new restrictions, the government can force internet service providers to block the site entirely.
While lawmakers argue that the measure will protect children from accessing overtly sexual material, free speech advocates are calling the law dangerous for how it will inevitably create a log of all UK porn users.
“Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison-style hacks,” Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, told The Guardian.
“The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of web users. There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification.”
Jerry Barnett, author of the book Porn Panic!, further criticized the law for giving the government power to control an entire set of websites.
“For the first time, the government has the power to block websites, en masse, without court orders. This is a first in a democracy,” he explained.
“Although this appears to be just about protecting children from porn, it isn’t. It will block any site that doesn’t comply with strict UK content rules. Any nude image at all risks being categorized as porn, and the entire site being blocked.”
Digital minister Matt Hancock, a main backer of the law, released a statement Monday about the new restrictions: “Now we are taking the next step to put in place the legal requirement for websites with adult content to ensure it is safely behind an age verification control. All this means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the UK will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world.”
If things go as planned, the law could go into effect as early as April 2018.