Porn age verification: An interview with Myles Jackman, obscenity lawyer

This article was updated at 14:11 on the 15th March 2019. A previous version of this article quoted that MindGeek own 90% of ‘tube’ websites. MindGeek do not own 90% of ‘tube’ websites, however do have multiple high profile sites in their portfolio, including RedTube, Pornhub, YouPorn, and Brazzers. I apologize for this error.

Image of Myles Jackman by
Paul Clarke [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With the planned introduction of compulsory age verification for viewing pornography in the United Kingdom, which will require adults to provide sensitive documentation such as passports, credit cards, and driving licenses in order to view perfectly legal pornography, I interview Myles Jackman, an obscenity lawyer and former UWE student, known for his successful defence in the landmark R v Peacock case, he was also the first acting solicitor allowed to live-tweet from a trial, and was awarded the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer of the Year Excellence Award in 2012 for his work. In the interview, I ask Mr. Jackman for his opinions on the effectiveness of the upcoming age verification methods; their potential impacts on LGBT rights, civil liberties, freedom of expression; how Brexit might have an effect; and how UWE students can seek to replicate his success.

Introduction

Jackman: Theoretically, age verification is going to be applied for adult content consumed in the UK from the 1st of April. In reality, what we’re hearing from the frontline is there may be a few weeks’ delay on that. But, it’s already been delayed for over a year, because we have repeatedly raised privacy and security concerns about the system. In other words, there is significant risk that everyone’s private sexual details could be leaked, hacked, or otherwise breached and put in the public domain. MindGeek have estimated that 25 million adults will sign up from the UK to age verification in the first month alone, so we’re talking about essentially half of the adult population.

What would you say to those who are worried about their children potentially accessing pornography, do you think this verification will help?

Jackman: No, they’re really pretty useless, because they can be gotten around with Tor, proxies, VPNs, etc. very easily. They’re not difficult to circumvent for people who are tech-literate. So, as usual this is a measure intended to improve things, which will only target people for whom it wasn’t a problem in the first place, effectively.

There’s also the next issue: should we be deferring having conversations with our children from our own parental responsibility to that of the state. In other words, this is just seen as an easy victory for government and some kind of magic bullet for parents, but it’s not. Even its proponents say it won’t be more than seventy per cent effective — and that’s the absolute highest amount they expect to be caught by age verification.

Do you think that the introduction of porn filters could lead to clandestine websites appearing that may have access to more extreme, and potentially illegal, material?

Jackman: Yeah, that’s a serious risk. There’s a risk of cyberfraud – people who don’t know which sites they’re going to being asked to give their details, there’ll be cyber blackmail: “oh no, you’ve just put your details in to our weird sex website, give us £500 or we’ll release your details to the public”. That sort of thing. So, there’s going to be an arch swing in that kind of behaviour.

How can we, as individuals, resist these intrusions on our civil liberties?

Jackman: The easiest thing to do is not to comply by using proxies, Tor, and VPNs, and then to protest against the unnecessary introduction of this system.

Do you think that these pornography filters are incompatible with freedom of expression?

Jackman: They are going to have a significant impact on the free speech ecosystem. For those smaller providers who can’t afford age verification, or who think that it’s too much of a practical hassle for them to have to maintain, say a very small text-based erotica website, we therefore will see a massive reduction in the number of active websites on the internet relating to adult sexuality. And unfortunately, alternative sexual communities, such as LGBTQ, BDSM, sex workers, etc. are likely to be hit the most, and disproportionately.

What impact, if any, do you think the upcoming pornography filters will have on LGBT rights and wellbeing?

Jackman: When the actual filter was first introduced, it filtered out loads of LGBTQ advice sites, so for younger adults who want information about safer sexual practices, these were just hidden, and that was a massive mistake. It’s a perfect example of where the protect the children logic goes wrong.

What impact do you think that Brexit will have on the rights and civil liberties of UK citizens?

Jackman: Have you got any easy question?! Just kidding. Brexit itself is pretty difficult to call anyway, let alone trying to establish the outcome on civil liberties. Let’s assume that Brexit occurs, it’s really difficult to tell what the impact will be on the adult industry. For example, because GDP is likely to be hit by 9%, will there be less payment for pornography as people are literally tightening their purse strings. Or, will people be in desperate need of recreation, and therefore consumption won’t be hit. There is an issue for production, if money isn’t put in to the system to pay for the porn, then no-one will be manufacturing apart from the very big corporate sites. That has an impact on free speech, because for those people who wish to consume that material, they may be denied their right to receive it because it’s not being manufactured.

What impact do you think there will be on human rights in general, considering that the Conservatives wanted to repeal the Human Rights Act, which we can’t do until we’re out of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)?

Jackman: With adequacy agreements in place for GDPR, that might be sufficient [on privacy and security issues]. But there are so many human rights issues, both digital and real-world that are so difficult to ascertain. I would imagine that privacy and security of data are significantly at risk in event of a no-deal Brexit.

Do you think that the UK is seeing a regression in the breadth of rights and liberties afforded to its citizens?

Jackman: Yes.

What is your opinion on the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), do you think that it should instead be optional to be rated, rather than compulsory, similar to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in the United States?

Jackman: It’s somewhat confusing that what is ultimately formed as a trade body should become the prima facie censor for the internet. The same problem [that arthouse film producers face] exists for porn, for indie producers it’s very expensive to get rated. The BBFC saying ‘oh no, just send us your porn and we’ll tell you if it’s legal or not’, and that may have a cost implication for producers that is unrealistic. We’re still not really in receipt of realistic guidance on the type of material that the BBFC will consider legitimate, although we do have a change in the Obscene Publications Act guidelines under the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] as to what kind of material may now be legal.

What advice do you have for UWE students who want to replicate your success?

Jackman: Identify an area of law that you’re passionate about, create a brand and say something interesting, and believe in yourself.

[End of interview.]

This interview was transcribed from a recording of an interview conducted over the phone. Whilst all efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be some errors in transcription, for which I apologize.

 

Politicians need to stop blowing smoke and legalize cannabis

With the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada, it’s time for politicians in the UK to wake up and smell the kush.

Countries and areas that have legalized cannabis have already seen plenty of success. Since legalization in 2014, cannabis sales in Colorado have brought in over US$900-million in tax revenue [1], even though Colorado’s sales tax rate is a meagre 2.9% — tiny compared to the UK’s standard VAT rate of 20%. Scaled up to the larger population of the UK, and with the generally-higher tax rates found in our country, cannabis would provide an extremely large amount of untapped tax revenue that is currently wasted on the black market.

Currently, cannabis is often easier for young people to obtain than alcohol. As drug dealers do not discriminate on the basis of age, there is no protection against the use of cannabis by younger people whose bodies are still developing, meaning the criminalization of cannabis is making it even easier to obtain for those who are most at risk from its use.

With the current situation of illicit cannabis consumption, adult consumers are also exposed to unnecessary health risks.

Firstly, there is a chance that the cannabis has been in some way tainted from the pure product that would be guaranteed if sold under regulated conditions. Whilst it is unlikely that cannabis is intentionally laced, the possibility for unintentional lacing with the use of improper pesticides is all too real.

Furthermore, with the introduction of legal cannabis comes the advantage of the free market, and the innovation that entails. No longer will consumers feel limited to purely smoking cannabis; cannabis-infused food such as brownies or even gummy bears will become commonplace, reducing the risk to health that smoking entails, such as lung cancer and heart problems. This has already been seen in legal markets.

Legalization of cannabis would only make it safer than it currently is, an impressive feat considering that even now cannabis is safer than alcohol; in 2012, 5.9% of global deaths were attributed to alcohol [2], compared to zero deaths ever caused by overdosing on cannabis [3]; according to David Schmader’s Weed: The User’s Guide, it “would require ingestion of fifteen hundred pounds in fifteen minutes — a physical impossibility for any human, even Snoop Dogg” to overdose on cannabis [3].

Cannabis’ legal status makes it the perfect gateway drug

Cannabis is sometimes called a “gateway drug” – proponents of this term say that cannabis opens the floodgates for users to try harder, more dangerous drugs. Looking at the statistics, it is true that most people who have tried illegal drugs have tried cannabis first.

However, this is manufactured by the status of cannabis being illegal. As drug dealers tend to diversify their operations to make more money, they offer harder drugs to their customers, providing a connection and opening the door to someone who was exclusively a cannabis user to start using harder drugs. Of course, with the safety record cannabis has relative to alcohol and some other drugs, it is no wonder that many may then question their views on the danger of other illegal drugs, even though they can be much less safe. If cannabis were legalized, this link between buyer and seller would be non-existent.

Personal liberty

With little evidence that there is good reason to ban cannabis, it is a deprivation of liberty to arbitrarily restrict what people can or cannot choose to do in their free time. Just as most people would agree that people should be allowed to enjoy a beer on the weekend free of restriction, so too should an adult be allowed to consume cannabis if they so choose.

Keeping it in the family

In 2016, the United Kingdom was the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis, [4, p. 43] but cannabis remains illegal for legal consumption in the United Kingdom. It is of note that Paul Kenward, husband of drugs minister Victoria Atkins, operates Britain’s largest legal cannabis farm [5]. Victoria Atkins has previously declared her opposition to the legalization of cannabis, despite her family directly profiting from its production in the currently tightly regulated market.

Conclusion

The United Kingdom has a tendency with this sort of thing to wait for others to take the lead before dipping its toes in. Others, such as Canada and many US states, have led; the positive evidence is there; the time for politicians to act is now.

References

[1] Colorado Government, “Marijuana Tax Data,” [Online]. Available: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/revenue/colorado-marijuana-tax-data.
[2] World Health Organization, “Alcohol,” [Online]. Available: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/facts/alcohol/en/.
[3] M. Robinson, “The Independent,” 8 November 2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/how-much-marijuana-take-to-kill-you-fatal-weed-a8043856.html. [Accessed 26 February 2019].
[4] United Nations, “Narcotic Drugs — Estimated world requirements for 2018 — Statistics for 2016,” 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.incb.org/documents/Narcotic-Drugs/Technical-Publications/2017/Narcotic_drugs_technical_publication_2017.pdf. [Accessed 26 February 2019].
[5] A. Gilligan, “Drug minister Victoria Atkins’s husband oversees cannabis farm,” 13 May 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/drug-minister-victoria-atkinss-husband-oversees-cannabis-farm-hv5q25pqr. [Accessed 26 February 2019].

Exiling Shamima Begum undermines the British judicial system

Image by Charles D P Miller from Basingstoke, United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently said in an interview with The Times, “If you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.” This approach is counterproductive and dangerous to the UK’s fight against radicalization and terrorism.

If we do not allow those, such as Shamima Begum, who have left their life in the UK to commit terroristic acts to return to face the full consequences of their actions, we are effectively deciding to pawn off our radicalized citizens to other countries that are ill-equipped to cope with those that have been radicalized, meaning that dangerous terrorists are left to roam the streets to commit further atrocities. In doing so, we are losing any opportunity we may have to deradicalize these people; this undermines our legal system.

With the news that Shamima Begum has given birth, revoking her British citizenship would have the knock-on effect of exposing her child to radicalisation, and the potential for physical and mental harm.

Revoking the citizenship of those who commit heinous acts desolidifies the concept of British citizenship. By not guaranteeing the future citizenship of those who have legally obtained it, we are saying that British citizenship is a fluid concept, with the potential for any British citizen to be subject to exile. This sets a dangerous precedent, that could, in the future, be used by any government-of-the-day to kick out those with whom it does not agree.

Doing so also fails to take in to account any responsibility of the United Kingdom for the prevention of radicalization of its citizens. Shamima Begum was radicalized on UK soil, in a UK school. To revoke her citizenship would be to absolve UK authorities of their responsibility to prevent the radicalization of its citizens, as they can simply revoke their citizenship status in the future, dumping the problem somewhere else.

Another option available to the government is to issue a Temporary Exclusion Order to Begum, preventing her return dependent on conditions imposed. By erecting obstacles to Begum’s return, the UK government runs the risk of exposing her, her child, and innocent people who come in to contact with Begum to further radicalization, and potential harm. Instead, Ms. Begum’s return should be encouraged, so that she can face the full consequences of her actions in accordance with UK law, and to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of her child.

From certain reports, Ms. Begum seems unrepentant for her actions. Whilst many may point to this as a reason to keep her out of the UK, I believe that this simply solidifies how important it is for her to return. By keeping someone with this mindset free in other countries, we are risking more lives and imposing danger on others, creating opportunities for Daesh to have a resurgence in popularity from those displaced.

Now or never: The use of torture must be stopped

As liberal democracies, there are many values that countries such as the UK and the USA are expected to uphold. What we consider to be basic rights and freedoms, such as the rule of law, civil rights, and political freedoms, are merely fantasy for many across the globe.

However, in recent history, we have seen that even so-called liberal democracies, such as as the United States, can toss the very same rights they claim to uphold out of the window using loopholes and by abusing their position as world superpowers. This can be seen within the last decade at Guantanamo Bay, where President Bush vetoed legislation banning the CIA from using torture, allowing them to carry out practises such as waterboarding unimpeded.

Torture is often portrayed as something that is necessary for the survival of the nation, or even democracy itself, in some popular media. Whilst watching 24, an action show from Fox, I was surprised to see how often torture was positively portrayed. Often, there would be a time-limited situation where evidence obtained by using ‘enhanced interrogation’, a euphemism for torture favoured even by President Bush’s administration, would be used to save the day from yet another terrorist.

But is there any truth in the effectiveness of torture?

The answer may surprise you.

According to respected academics in the field, such as Shane O’Mara, intelligence gained from torture is so unreliable that it’s often useless. People will often say whatever they think will make the torture stop.

So why is it portrayed as effective in some media? Could it be that the people behind shows such as 24 have a political agenda that they want us to subscribe to? I think it’s possible. It is important to remember that whilst our ‘all-American’ heroes such as 24’s Jack Bauer aren’t real, there are very real people, at multiple levels, making decisions behind the fictional actions he takes. This would appear to make sense, considering the airing of the original season of 24 coincided closely with the beginning of the War on Terror.

Could it be that these forms of entertainment are nothing more than jingoistic propaganda?

With recent news that torture is being carried out in ‘re-education camps’ in China’s Xinjiang province against Muslims, it’s more important than ever for countries to take a hard stance against its use.

With China fast becoming the next global superpower, there needs to be an effective and rigorous way to police the use of torture worldwide, with sanctions applied to those countries that support its use. As we have seen that even so-called liberal democracies will use torture, despite its unreliability and immorality, this needs to be an internationally co-ordinated effort.

If we don’t stamp out the use of this abhorrent practice now, we could see it on the rise sooner than you might think.

Language myths: Bilingualism rots the brain

Introduction

If you’ve got children, you’ll probably have been told that raising them bilingual will be a useful advantage, with the potential of facilitating many opportunities throughout life that monolinguals don’t have access to. However, this has not always been the accepted point of view. Throughout history, bilingualism has been historically seen as a handicap by the west, often akin to a mental handicap; many researchers claimed that being bilingual slowed the minds of children and that they would never be able to achieve the same level of intelligence as their monolingual counterparts (Kaplan, 2016). For the purposes of this report, ‘bilingualism’ and ‘multilingualism’ will both mean ‘a person who speaks several languages’, rather than the more restrictive ‘a person who speaks two languages’. This report seeks to debunk the myth that bilingualism has negative effects on intelligence levels in speakers.

A paradigm shift

So, why the shift in attitudes? How could bilingualism go from universal ridicule, with warnings of childhood retardation and split personalities, to something regarded as so important that UNESCO has said that bilingualism should be encouraged “at all levels of education” (UNESCO, 02 November 2001). The answer may lie in the definition of intellectualism. What may be considered an example of intelligence in one context, may be considered quite the opposite in a different context; as earlier studies on bilingualism’s effects on intelligence failed to take this in to account, they may have falsely attributed a lack of intelligence to bilingualism that may have been caused due to bias or a failing of the study itself (Hakuta and Suben, 1985).

It was not until the mid-twentieth century that this shift in attitudes towards the intelligence of bilinguals started to take place; a study by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert compared French-English bilinguals in Canada with monolinguals with a multitude of tests, and showed that the bilinguals scored higher on IQ tests than their monolingual counterparts (Grosjean, 2012). So, why the change? You’d be hard-pressed to find many reasonable academics or teachers that would claim that bilingualism is anything but an advantage. The change is due to the way the studies were realised, with failings to control for variables such as socioeconomic factors, including class (Kaplan, 2016). These variables were controlled in Peal and Lambert’s study (Kaplan, 2016).

Size of the lexicon

One interpretation of the definition of ‘intelligence’ within bilingual children is the rate of language acquisition; an assumption could be made that a more limited vocabulary is a symptom of low intelligence. A common thought is that bilinguals acquire language at a lower rate than monolinguals (Grosjean, 2012). However, as bilingual children begin the important language-acquisition-events, such as the ‘babbling’ process and first word process, amongst others, at the same time as their monolingual counterparts (Grosjean, 2012), this is clearly a misconception. This would seem in stark contrast to the notion of a lowered intelligence level.

This is not to say, however, that this is considered a universal truth amongst the academic community. Some studies have concluded that bilinguals control a smaller vocabulary in each respective language than monolinguals have in one language (Bialystok, 2009), but, whether it is appropriate to consider a more limited vocabulary as lower intelligence could be considered a matter of opinion. Despite this, most recent academic research would support the claim that bilingualism does not impede intelligence (Kaplan, 2016).

Bilingualism and its positive cognitive effects

It is undeniable that language and intelligence are closely linked. As language-speakers grow older, they may find that their cognitive functions begin to slow, word recollection starts to falter, and faster speech becomes increasingly unintelligible (Grosjean, 2012). However, according to recent studies, elderly bilingual speakers show a later onset of cognitive slowing associated with ageing, with multilingual speakers having the highest cognitive ability measured when compared against a group of monolingual speakers (Kavé et al., 2008). This would provide further evidence to put into doubt the findings of studies of the early twentieth century that stated that bilinguals have lower cognitive ability when compared with their monolingual counterparts.

Conclusion

In conclusion, from combining the failures by academics to implement proper control methods within their studies to control for socioeconomic and other external factors (Kaplan, 2016), with the fact that many American studies were influenced by heavy nationalistic and racial biases within researchers (Hakuta and Suben, 1985), and the fact that modern research shows evidence contrary to earlier studies – that bilinguals actually have a higher cognitive ability than monolinguals (Kavé et al., 2008), I find the notion that bilingualism can impede cognitive development to be largely fallacious, based mostly on failings and biases of researchers at the time.

References:

Bialystok, E. (2009) Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 12 (1), pp.3.

Grosjean, F. (2012) Bilingual: Life and Reality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Hakuta, K. and Suben, J. (1985) Bilingualism and Cognitive Development. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 6 (March 1985), pp.35.

Kaplan, A. (2016) Women talk more than men: And Other Myths about Language Explained. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kavé, G., Eyal, N., Shorek, A. and Cohen-Mansfield, J. (2008) Multilingualism and cognitive state in the oldest old. Psychology and Aging. 23 (1), pp.70.

UNESCO (02 November 2001) UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Available from: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13179&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html [Accessed 04 November 2017].

Also published here: https://uwelingo.wordpress.com/2018/02/23/language-myths-bilingualism-rots-the-brain/