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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Nailing jelly to a tree (again)

1 March 2018

It seems that politicians still don't quite understand the internet.

Oh yes, they get it that there's this big network which carries tiny electrical impulses that represent the 0's and 1's of digital data and that this data represents the emails, web-pages, video files and other stuff that we access through the Net -- but they still don't "get it" when it comes to other aspects.

Take the situation in the UK for example.

Across in "old blighty", the politicians have decided that they don't want people under 18 years of age accessing porn sites. Fair enough you might think.

However, in their naivety and ignorance, these politicians have simply passed an Act which requires all porn sites to verify their users' ages as being 18 or over.

Sounds simple doesn't it?

I suspect most of Aardvark's more tech-literate readers are smiling right now.

Yes, what seems simple to an ignorant politician is actually an almost impossible task to achieve in practice.

Firstly, given that many of the sites concerned are probably wildly popular, any age-verification system will have to be very efficient and automated. I can't see these sites having a human on call to verify each and every application, there's probably not enough profit involved to make that viable.

Secondly, I assume that most folk using porn sites value their anonymity and won't be all that keen to hand over their address and a verifiable form of ID such as a passport or driver's license.

Perhaps a credit card in the visitor's name would suffice?

Seriously... who is going to hand their credit card details over to a site that deals in pornography and simply hope that the information doesn't end up somewhere else or that they're not signed up to some type of subscription service by default?

Of course being the clever (and basically lazy) sods that they are, the politicians haven't prescribed the mechanisms by which a porn-site visitor's age must be confirmed, they've left that task up to the sites themselves -- perhaps because they know it's just about as impossible as nailing the proverbial jelly to a tree.

So how would the average spotty-faced 16-year-old lad sidestep attempts to verify his age?

Well he could use details from a stolen credit card couldn't he?

That would only work if the porn sites didn't make a transaction for a tiny amount which would then become a number to be entered as a verification code. Obviously anyone using stolen card details would not be able to access the details of that transaction and thus would not know the verification number.

However, that would then mean that the spotty-faced teen's dad would be far less likely to use these sites because he doesn't want a UKP1.32 transaction appearing on the bank statement in the name of PornHub or whatever -- mum might not be impressed :-)

No, the simplest way around this hurdle will be for little Johnny Spotface to simply use a VPN so that he no longer appears to be calling from the UK.

But even then, will the porn sites involved even bother doing anything?

I doubt that many of the major porn sites have a UK presence so they don't need to give a damn about UK law. The UK has no jurisdiction over sites operating from the USA, Eastern Europe or whatever so why would they care at all.

Yes, it's another epic fail from the cloth-heads who claim to be smart enough to run an entire country from the halls of parliament.

Meanwhile, they'll be slapping each other loudly on the back and saying "we fixed that underage porn problem on the Internet alright"... whilst sipping another G&T in blissful ignorance.

"Would you like jelly and a hammer with that sir?"

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