A Leak of This Kind of Data Could Be Devastating

Connected Life, Cyber Politics, Security & Privacy

This is a guest post about the United Kingdom’s Digital Economy Act from Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group.

The Government are about to request that private business track your porn habits. They are doing very little to ensure the data collected will be protected. That’s the reality of age verification under the Digital Economy Act.

On the 10th of March the Government announced they are delaying the implementation of age verification until ‘by the end of the year’.* This is an attempt to allow the British Board of Film Classification, (BBFC) the Government’s chosen regulator, time to carry out public consultations on the way that the age verification systems should work. We at the Open Rights Group are encouraging people to respond to the consultation.

The delay came just two weeks before the systems were planned to go live. The delay is good news, but we remain concerned that it took so long for anyone to act on the reality that age verification is clearly not ready for roll out.

Privacy and data protection around the age verification proposal should be a big concern, for all of us. The BBFC has not been given the power to regulate privacy concerns, meaning that this delay is little more than a stay of execution unless the Government extends the BBFC’s remit, allowing them to impose strict privacy-focused rules on how the age verification tools should actually operate.

The other ethical and practical consideration, is should the Government be allowing companies to create databases of all of the porn you watch? Under the new regulations, that is what may result. It is not hard to imagine a scenario when a data leak for this kind of data could be devastating. In the wake of the Ashley Madison leak several people who had used the site committed suicide. MindGeek, one of the organisations hoping to provide age verification software expect 20 to 25 million adults in the UK to sign up in the first month, the potential for harm is enormous.

We question the effectiveness of age verification in its current state. The Government claim that porngraphy is bad for children, and that age verification will prevent them from stumbling across it. The reality however, is that pornography will continue to be available to children in places they might ‘stumble upon’ it, like Twitter, or in pornographic ads. Pornography will not become inaccessible, just ever so slightly harder to find.

The law as it currently stands gives you lots of options if you don’t want your personal data captured this way – you have every right to use a VPN service or TOR, both of which are perfectly legal, and aren’t that hard to find. However, the only way age verification can possibly be safe is if the Government use this delay to take important steps to ensure that privacy and security are at the heart of any systems that are eventually implemented.

In the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal the world is on high alert to misuse of data and we should all be concerned that the Government intends to do nothing to protect information that is among the most sensitive and private imaginable.

*This press release contains the government’s very quiet announcement of the delay, if you’re finding it difficult to see, you’re not alone – it’s a way down the page

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