Why the 'Porn Block' is the wrong move


Discussing issues of sex and pornography in the public sphere, particularly in politics, is quite a taboo and one usually avoided. According to one study, 56% of the population regularly watches pornography. Despite this, it is not a conversation that most people feel comfortable openly discussing or even admitting to. As a habit, it is comparable to drinking. Most of the population do it and consume it in moderation in a way which is fun for them. Issues come in when the actors on screen are being exploited and the consumer develops dangerous habits and addictions. None of these problems are solved by the Conservative and Labour-supported Porn Block.

The Porn Block is aimed at stopping under-18s from viewing adult material. A perfectly sensible principle and one which most reasonable people would support. Indeed, I am a supporter of comprehensive sex and relationship education for under-18s, with understanding and safely interacting with pornographic material vital to that.

The main problems with the Porn Block come in two parts – privacy and principle. The Open Rights Group have raised major concerns with fundamental aspects of the Porn Block. The provisions for age verification – how one proves they are over 18 – have raised concerns over privacy implications of user data collection and the ineffectiveness of the process. These systems are already frequently prone to hacking and the use of relatively easy to access software such as anonymous web browsers and virtual private networks will only throw more shade into the industry rather than transparency.

For most people, the idea of giving away key personal information such as your name, age, address and personal habits to a third-party gatekeeper which then sells that information straight to the adult film companies – some perfectly reputable, some sadly not – is unfathomable. We would not allow this sort of invasion of privacy in any other form, but the government feels it can shame us into complying. The alternative of buying what amounts to basically as a Porn Pass from your local shop is again fraught with problems. Studies show that convenience stores are significantly less likely to ask for proof of age, and the scope for third-party buying and selling of these passes opens up a new and petty black market.

The second key issue is the principle that we would allow, yet again, the government further access into our personal lives and control of our personal habits. With essentially the selling of our personal data – combined with the powers of the Snooper’s Charter – we are allowing the government to monitor and record our porn habits. For me, this is a completely intolerable invasion of my privacy.

It is frankly not the government’s business what you get up to, as long as what you're doing is legal and is not harming others (a grey area and one I will come to address). This monitoring is not designed to protect under-18s as, by their own mechanism, the only way you would be able to theoretically access this content is if you were over-18, so why are the government so keen to keep a watch over what we are consuming?

Protecting under-18s from unsafe content and abuse is a key responsibility of government. The Porn Block simply will not do that. I am, as everyone should be, deeply concerned about the links between pornographic addiction and sexual violence, particularly in young males.

Harm reduction should be at the heart of the government’s strategy. Educating young people about the nature of pornographic materials and the dangers of addiction and abuse could be a lot more effective than simply throwing a blanket over the reality of it and demanding abstinence and ignorance.

With ignorance, we lose the tools to make safe and positive choices, which when it comes to sex can be fatal.

The government should also be working with the adult film industry to ensure that adult film stars are properly protected under the law, have access to worker’s rights and the tools to reduce instances of harm and abuse.

Sex, in all its forms, is a public policy area most politicians shy away from. From this void, evangelicals are able to enforce their will and the case for an evidence-based policy with an emphasis on harm reduction often goes silent. We cannot continue in silence otherwise our privacy, civil liberties and right to be human beings will continue to come under attack.

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