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The UK’s porn block might not be cancelled after all

Four age-verification companies have lodged a review with the High Court after the government scrapped its controversial plan in October last year

In October last year, the government finally realised the futility of its controversial porn block, scrapping the plan completely. While the public celebrated, age-verification providers were up in arms – now, four companies have lodged a review with the High Court in protest against the ban’s cancellation.

The controversial porn block was first proposed in 2018, and would have forced adult sites to install age-checking systems for all UK visitors, in an attempt to curb underage viewers. But growing concerns for privacy and “legal reasons” led to the ban being indefinitely delayed in June last year – ahead of its planned launch on July 15 – before being cancelled entirely a few months later.

Four age-verification providers are unsurprisingly unhappy with this decision, and are now claiming around £3 million in damages for the development of unused tech which they designed ahead of the law’s introduction.

“We felt that it was the wrong decision for the government to make for many reasons,” Steve Winyard, CMO at AVSecure told WIRED. “There were contradictory reports and articles (saying) that the solutions weren’t up to the correct privacy standards – this was absolute nonsense.”

Privacy watchdog Open Rights Group previously criticised the proposed system as “a scammer’s paradise”, asserting that the data protection in place was “vague, imprecise, and largely a ‘tick box’ exercise”. Winyard believes these accusations are unfounded, instead suggesting that the government scrapped the block in order to avoid controversy during the general election campaign. “Part of this (legal case) will require the government to release all sorts of internal communication so we will find out the truth,” he explained. 

According to Myles Jackman, a lawyer who specialises in cases related to porn, the age-verification providers’ protest to reintroduce the porn block doesn’t actually stand much of a chance. “The challenge itself, in my opinion, is essentially politically motivated to say, ‘right, well, we’re going to challenge you unless you give up and take age verification back’,” he explained to WIRED. “Which is strategically sound, if a bit obvious.” 

He added that the High Court might not be the best avenue for monetary challenges. “Judicial review isn’t really calibrated for money,” said Jackman. “It’s about decisions.” Though Winyard asserted that AVSecure would withdraw its financial claim if the government agreed to quickly implement the law, which, he said, the adult industry was fully engaged with.

So, it doesn’t look like you have to worry about your porn habits quite yet, but watch this space – and in the meantime, read about how the porn block would hurt more people than it’s meant to help.