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Brits' porn habits safe for now as UK finally ditches ill-fated porn block

Prudes, avert your eyes. The porn is here to stay.

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OK, it's not that simple, but porn is easy to find on the internet.

Peter Dazeley/Getty

The UK government announced Wednesday that it 's scrapping the introduction of a nationwide porn block that would have required people to prove their age by submitting identification before viewing adult content online.

The porn block was a key part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act, and was designed to protect minors from being able to access adult content. It stipulated that people would have to submit to their identification to an age verification system or buy a "porn pass" from a local store before accessing porn sites.

Individual porn sites were being left in charge of verification, forcing them to invest in technology that few could have afforded. One exception was MindGeek, which owns Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn and several production studios and already has its own verification system, AgeID.

Critics argued that the system would also potentially allow for the company conducting the age verification to create an online database of UK porn users, and even potentially keep track of their habits and interests, making them vulnerable to blackmail and invading their privacy.

"Age verification for porn as currently legislated would cause huge privacy problems if it went ahead," said Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, in a statement. "We are glad the government has stepped back from creating a privacy disaster, that would lead to blackmail scams and individuals being outed for the sexual preferences."

The implementation of the block was delayed three times while the government tried to find a system that would reliably verify ages before allowing people access to pornography. In the end, the UK was left with little choice but to scrap it entirely -- although it may yet rise again in different guise.

The last we'd heard about the porn block was from former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, who said in July that its introduction was being delayed indefinitely, after his department failed to inform the European Commission of key details. On Wednesday, his successor, Nicky Morgan, confirmed in a written statement to Parliament that the block was being scrapped, noting that the Digital Economy Act didn't include social media platforms.

Instead, the UK will instead try to deliver on the original objectives of the Digital Economy Act by implementing recommendations from the online harms white paper it published in April. The white paper proposed establishing a duty of care for internet companies, requiring them to improve online safety. It would be overseen by an independent regulator with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance.

"The government's commitment to protecting children online is unwavering," said Morgan. "Adult content is too easily accessed online, and more needs to be done to protect children from harm."

Killock said that it's still unclear what the government intends to do next and that Open Rights Group would keep a close eye on the situation."We will remain vigilant to ensure that new proposals are not just as bad, or worse."

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