Australia's Idiotic War On Porn Returns, This Time Using Facial Recognition

For years now, governments around the world have attempted to block, filter, or otherwise restrict the public’s access to porn. And for just as long those efforts have routinely and repeatedly fallen flat on their face. Whether it’s the UK’s bungled and incoherent plan to employ age-checks to restrict porn access, or Utah’s seemingly endless efforts to fiter porn entirely, history is filled with examples of how trying to thwart porn simply doesn’t work. Filters are easy to bypass and tend to cause more problems than they solve. Waging war on porn at scale always ends in wasted money and headaches.

Apparently learning nothing from that time a teenage kid bypassed Australia’s $89 million porn filters in a matter of minutes, Australia’s back with a new idea to combat porn: restricting access to it via the use of facial recognition technology:

“Under the proposal from the Department of Home Affairs, a computer user’s face would be matched to images from official identity documents. It does not say how the user would submit a facial image at the beginning of each online session.”

Obviously the government retaining a massive database of not only citizen facial scans — but who is or isn’t watching porn — isn’t being received well by privacy advocates. A parliamentary committee of the Australian House of Representatives began an inquiry last month fielding feedback on the effectiveness of age verification systems for adult websites and internet gambling. A filing from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs championed the idea, suggesting an expansion of the government’s existing facial recognition database to restrict access to online porn.

Beyond that, it’s pretty clear that nobody can really explain how it will work, which is always a good sign for these types of efforts. And nobody in the Australian government wants to actually own or even talk about the dumb plan:

“The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to questions about the proposal, and the attorney general’s office, when asked to comment on the legal ramifications of the system, directed all questions to Home Affairs.”

It’s not clear how many times we need to go through this before governments realize that restricting access to internet porn on any meaningful scale is not only impossible given technical countermeasures like proxies or VPNs, it usually results in more problems than it causes — be that legitimate websites being caught in the filter trap, or collected data being compromised by hackers or used by governments in ways not originally advertised.

In about two years after millions are wasted, Australia will shelve the project and lives will go on, with people worried about illegal underage access to porn doing what they should have done from the start: a little thing called responsible parenting.
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