"Is It Legal To Watch Porn?" Is One Of The UK's Top Searches, So Here's A Reminder Of The Rules

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The internet provides me with most of my general knowledge, medical diagnoses, and current events news. Another thing that many of us seem to turn to the internet for is legal advice. Well, the guys over at data analytic company SEMrush have conducted some research to see what the most common things people are asking "is it legal to…" do, and one thing seems to be playing on people's minds. "Is it legal to watch porn?" is one of the UK’s top searches, so here is what you need to know.

If you have ever wondered if you are the only one who turns to the internet to justify your questionable behaviour then don’t worry, you’re not alone. SEMrush has carried out research about the top "is it legal to…" searches, and the findings are pretty revealing. "Is it legal to marry my cousin" is the most popular search in the UK. The second most searched phrase is "is it legal to record someone" and in at number three, people are wondering if it's legal to drive without your shoes. Never mind legality, who the hell WANTS to drive barefoot?

People also searched for whether it was legal to stop their child seeing their father, park on the pavement, drink in public, and sleep in their car. While it would seem a lot of people are unsure whether their risky car antics are actually legal, it was a more private search that caught my eye. The research found that the eighth most popular search was "is it legal to watch porn?"

Is it legal to watch porn?

The short answer is yes, watching porn is legal in the UK. However, there are, of course, conditions that must be observed. Content that portrays abuse or rape, as well as any content that involves anyone under the age of 18, is illegal. Content that is filmed or posted without the consent of the person or people involved (commonly known as Revenge Porn) and is also illegal. There are other laws against extreme pornography, which covers beastiality, necrophilia, threats to peoples lives, and more.

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What was the porn block?

It may seem a little nonsensical to search "is it legal to watch porn” as it’s so easily available online in the UK. However, in the past five years, the UK government has made moves to introduce policies that would change how people are able to access adult content online with something that has since been dubbed the “porn block.”

Plans for the porn block date all the way back to the 2015 election when David Cameron pledged to change the way that adult content can be viewed online. First introduced in parliament in April 2017 as part of section 14(1) of the Digital Economy Act, the porn block wouldn’t have made adult content illegal, but it would have introduced more rigorous measures to ensure people under the age of 18 were not able to access it.

According to the BBC, it was suggested that users could have been asked to upload scans of their passports or driver's license. It has also been reported that some newsagents may have sold "porn passes" — cards given to people to access porn sites after they have proven they’re over 18.

Under the proposed new rulings, if adult content sites that ran as a business and made money didn’t introduce “robust” age-verification procedures then they would have been blocked by internet service providers and fined up to £250,000, the BBC reports.

Speaking about the policy, Chief Excutive of Childnet Will Gardner said in a statement he hoped “that the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services.”

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Why didn’t the porn block come into effect?

The proposed porn block came up against a number of legal and logistical difficulties. Almost immediately, a number of campaign groups expressed fears about privacy. Opponents were concerned about where people’s personal data would be stored and how it would be protected. Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group told The Independent, “due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation.” On top of that, activists argued that blanket age verification will have a disproportionally negative impact on online sex workers and sex bloggers.

In Oct. 2019, the government announced it was dropping the porn block. According to the Guardian, the government spent £2.2 million on developing and researching the policy before calling it a day.

Upon dropping the porn block, the Culture Secretary at the time, Nicky Morgan said on the Guardian, “the government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering. Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm.”

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