digital economy bill

The UK House of Commons passed a Digital Economy Bill that will force pornographic websites to add age verification checks that won’t let people watch videos until they sign up to a special verification programme.

Pornographic websites will be asked to add age verification checks to make the websites inaccessible to any person who does not sign up for the verification programme, as per the Digital Economy Bill. Not only will the porn websites be forced to age-restrict their videos but they will also be forbidden from posting any content that will not be allowed on a commercial DVD.

Along with these restrictions, the Digital Economy Bill limits the kind of adult content that can be posted, imposing a ban on the display of female ejaculation, public sexual acts and spanking or whipping, among other sexual acts. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for regulating the pornographic material.

This bill has suffered heavy criticism from the advocates of free speech. The age verification programme has been deemed unsafe by critics, as users will be required to give explicit personal details in order to access the porn websites. Critics also argue that pornographic material will still be available through social networking websites like Twitter. This highlights a major loophole of the Digital Economy Bill.

In defence of the bill, Matthew Hancock, the Minister of State for Digital and Culture Policy said that while the bill does have its limitations and loopholes, it will protect children from “one of the most robust regimes in the world”.

This bill invites a deeper and broader question about the culture surrounding porn.

When and where should porn be banned?

This is a highly subjective question but a consensus can be reached by thoughtful deliberation. There are certain times and certain places where watching porn should not be acceptable. For example in public, in social events or in the workplace.

3 Indian MPs were caught watching pornographic material on their phones during a Parliament session. In such a case, it is not subjectivity but professionalism that should be taken into consideration. A line has to be drawn between professional and personal life. Watching porn in the legislature is not only highly unacceptable but it may not be good for the political health of the politicians. Issuing a ban on watching porn in the workplace can thus be justifiable.

However, when it comes to the Digital Economy Bill and its aim to prevent children from watching porn, issuing a porn ban is overly simplistic and the consequences may not turn out to be as anticipated.

Exposure to porn at a young age can be harmful to child’s mental health and porn that shows the infliction of pain on women or non-consensual porn can certainly leave a lasting impression on the child’s mind. But the solution is for parents to openly discuss these issues with children when sex education is given. Curiosity often gets the best of our scruples during adolescent years, so it is very normal for children to search for answers to a lot of questions and become aware of new topics.

The best way to make sure a child is fully educated about a certain topic is to ensure an environment that encourages the child to openly communicate with his/her parents. Along with this, parents should also talk about porn to their children very normally and not as if it were a taboo. The best solution to sensitive and controversial topics like porn is awareness and education, not prohibition.

Ateeya Sandhu

Ateeya Sandhu is studying International Relations at the University of Toronto. She is an avid reader who is extremely passionate about feminism, equality rights and social problems in India. An altruist...