The UK public has spent years being fed a diet of ridiculous, empty promises about the government's capacity to find and block every adult site on the internet, then securely identify who is an adult, and only allow adults to look at adult content.
The fact that this is technologically infeasible and incredibly dangerous did nothing to dampen the ardour of opportunistic, cynical, technologically illiterate Conservative Members of Parliament, who have decreed that wanting it badly is sufficient to make it happen, and who responded to incontrovertible evidence of the plan's unworkability by doubling down on it, proposing to issue Britons unique, porn-browsing ID numbers (even as evidence of the plan's unworkability continues to mount).
The latest wheeze descends to self-parody: the UK government will deputise newsagents (known as "convenience store owners" in much of the English-speaking world outside of the UK) to collect the passports, driving licenses and other sensitive identity papers from people who want to look at porn, copy them, retain them, and issue unique IDs that pornography websites will also collect and retain.
Here is a brief sample of the problems with this plan:
1. No language on earth contains the phrase "as good as the IT at a corner shop." These newsagents will get hacked by identity thieves. They will also hire people who turn out to be untrustworthy and who raid the databases and sell them, post them online, or give them away. Forensics may catch some of these people, because they won't necessarily be very smart, but that won't matter, because the data will already have leaked.
2. The leaked identities will be tie-able to the pornography that is associated with them. That means that eventually, breaches will create comprehensive catalogues of all the porn that each British person has looked at. The UK government may try to head this off by ordering newsagents and/or porn sites not to retain this data, but that won't last long because;
3. It will be really easy for kids and other people to get ahold of illicit porn-viewing numbers. That's because anyone over 18 can get one, and some people will lose them, and some people will have them hacked, and some people will give them away, and some people will sell them. To allow for revocation and forensics, both sides of the transaction (newsagents and porn companies) will have to indefinitely retain records of which number was given to whom, and what porn it was then used to access.
4. Even without a porn-viewing code, it will be incredibly easy to look at porn. British people will just use VPNs. Unless the UK government wants to adopt stricter filtering standards than China, they will not be able to stop people (including kids) from downloading VPN clients, nor from using them.
5. Even without a VPN, kids will still end up looking at porn: you could put every prude in UK history to work in a vast government ministry and task them with doing spending every hour God sends looking at every page on the internet to decide if it is porn or not, and they would still miss millions of pornographic images and pages.
6. The porn filter will overblock more pages of legitimate, non-adult material than is housed in the British Library. That's because a 1% error rate against a web of 1.7 billion sites is 17 million sites that are erroneously blocked. The British censorship regime will never attain 99% accuracy.
David Austin, chief executive with the BBFC, told The Daily Telegraph that such a process would be "simpler than people think" to create.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is responsible for the new legislation, said: "We are in the process of implementing some of the strictest data protection laws in the world.
Newsagents to sell 'porn passes' to visit X-rated websites anonymously under new government plans [Colin Drury/Independent]
(via David Masters)