The British Porn Bill, part of the Digital Economy Bill, means that porn websites in the UK will be banned from showing a huge range of sex acts under proposed new law.

The British Porn Bill proposal would force internet service providers to block sites hosting content that would not be certified for commercial DVD sale by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

“It’s mad that we regulate such material that aren’t even criminal acts,” Durham University professor Clare McGlynn told The Guardian.

But the government plans to go further than this, and ban “non-conventional” porn completely, The Guardian reports — a classification that may include everything from female ejaculation to spanking (that leaves marks) and adult material involving urination or menstruation.

The Digital Economy Bill now has powers to force Internet Service Providers to block erotica and pornography websites that don’t verify the age of their users. It can also tell those sites what kind of material is acceptable—it says it will censor “non-conventional pornography”, reports Open Rights Group. This equates to censorship of legal content – potentially affecting tens of thousands of websites and millions of people.

The policy is meant to enforce the use of “age verification” technology. Most websites won’t add these checks, or will choose to use simple but bad methods. Criticism of the bill has mainly focused on sections that would require adult websites to check its users are 18 or over, which could involve compiling a database of people’s viewing habits.

Currently, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is responsible for vetting adult content and certifying adult content sold via DVD, and it has strict rules about what’s allowed. If it decides the material is unsuitable, it’s illegal to sell — even if the acts depicted are totally legal. Such restrictions include the “four-finger rule”, for instance, which limits the number of digits that can be placed into any orifice while on video, reports The Independent.

As part of the new porn rules, the BBFC will also be responsible for monitoring content online. If it wouldn’t be certified for DVD, it won’t be certified online, according to The Guardian — and accordingly will be blocked entirely.

These are acts that are perfectly legal for consenting adults to engage in, or for other adults to watch. “If we are regulating things like menstrual blood or urination, that’s detracting from a focus on what I think is really the harmful material, and that would be material around child sexual abuse, but also around sexual violence,” Durham University professor Clare McGlynn said.

British Porn Bill, British Board of Film Classification
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The proposal would force internet service providers to block sites hosting content that would not be certified for commercial DVD sale by the British Board of Film Classification. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The UK is banning ‘non-conventional’ porn and it could censor huge swathes of the web

As UK Business Insider reports, it’s unclear how this could ever be effectively enforced. The internet is not neatly divided into porn sites and non-porn sites. It’s technically simple to block dedicated fetish websites. But plenty of sites mix porn with non-pornographic content — raising serious questions as to how a ban on “non-conventional” adult content could ever be enforced in practice. For example:

  • Reddit lets anyone create new sections (called “subreddits”) and is happy to play host to and link out to adult content of all (legal) kinds. (And even popular, nominally non-adult subreddits sometimes play host to adult content.)
  • Tumblr, the blogging service owned by Yahoo, has a large adult community.
  • Notorious imageboard 4chan has dedicated porn forums, “work-safe” ones where it is prohibited, and anything-goes sections like its /b/ imageboard, where varied adult and non-adult content can mingle freely.
  • Even Twitter is much more laissez-faire about adult content than family-friendly Facebook.

These are not small, niche sites. The likes of Reddit and Tumblr have hundreds of millions of users, and anyone can create new sections and communities.

As digital rights organisation Open Rights Group also points out, there are significant risks to create registries of Brits who want to look at porn: Recently, “there have been reports of one of the biggest adult websites Adult Friend Finder. Up to 400 million customer logins have been leaked,” it wrote. Such info could be highly compromising, putting Brits forced to sign up to porn registries at risk.

There is no definitive list of sexual acts proscribed by the BBFC, but many adult film producers who have worked with the regulator have been forced to cut scenes, said Jerry Barnett, a free speech campaigner and author of Porn Panic!, which details the rise of a new pro-censorship movement in the UK.

“Although it is nominally designed to enforce the [Obscene Publications Act] guidelines of the Crown Prosecution Service, in practice it draws far tighter lines, many of them inexplicable. The ban on female ejaculation is a particularly strange example,” he said.

The censorship regime has led to bizarre understandings between the producers and regulators, Barnett said. One is the “four-finger rule”, which limits the number of digits that can be inserted into an orifice for sexual stimulation, reports The Guardian.

So, what can we do to fight the Digital Economy Bill?

Sign the Petition – Repeal the new Surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)

A bill allowing UK intelligence agencies and police unprecedented levels of power regarding the surveillance of UK citizens has recently passed and is awaiting royal assent, making it law. This means it’s not too late! This is an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom and needs to stop!

The Petitions Committee has decided not to schedule a debate on this petition. When it decides which petitions should be debated, the Committee looks at whether the subject has recently been debated by the House of Commons.The Investigatory Powers Bill was debated on many occasions in Parliament before it became law. You can read all the debates here.

Before it was introduced into Parliament, the Bill was investigated by a Committee of MPs and Members of the House of Lords, who heard evidence and produced a report with recommendations about the Bill.