The big problem with South Africa’s proposed “porn block”

There is a big problem with the proposed “porn block” in South Africa – anyone with a smidgeon of tech knowledge will be able to bypass it with ease.

The block, proposed in a discussion paper on “pornography and children” by the South African Law Reform Commission, will see Internet porn blocked by default by electronic communications service providers and device manufacturers or distributors.

Essentially, this means your ISP and the company which produced your laptop or smartphone must ensure that, by default, pornography will be blocked.

Users will then have to opt-in to access adult material and provide proof of age. The report goes on to state that it will be an offence to not keep a register of when the default blocks have been removed.

The move by the Commission comes weeks before the UK is set to implement its own “porn block”.

As reported by TechRadar, the UK will implement a default block on 15 July 2019, which will see all UK Internet service providers having to confirm if users are over 18 before letting them access porn sites.

The Verge reported that users will be able to verify their age using passports, driver’s licences, or credit cards. Porn passes will also be sold in shops for £4.99.

Bypassing the block

The point of the block in South Africa is to stop children – those under 18 years old – accessing porn online.

While this may prevent young children from accidentally stumbling across adult material when online, it will fail to stop under-age users who are actively seeking pornography from being blocked.

The reason: VPNs.

A VPN service (virtual private network) allows Internet users to hide their online activity from their Internet service provider – including their IP address and their geographic location.

A popular service is NordVPN, which explains that when using a VPN, your Internet traffic is routed through a VPN tunnel they provide.

This is an encrypted connection between your device and a destination on the web. “Not only does a VPN tunnel encrypt your data, it also hides your IP address and location,” it states.

Additionally, the service allows users to select a VPN server through which their data will travel – meaning a South African can make it appear that they are accessing the Internet from the United States, for example.

Many VPNs also promise not to store any logs of your Internet activity, which means there is no trace of what you did online when using the VPN.

Browsers like Opera also offer a VPN-like service for free as part of their software. In the case of Opera, users can select locations like “Europe, Asia, or Americas” to hide there actual location when online.

Whether it is a paid-for VPN, a free VPN, or built-in VPNs in browsers, all these channels are legal and easily accessible in South Africa – regardless of your age.

To bypass a “porn block” a user would simply have to install and use a VPN when accessing adult material, and there is nothing the government or an ISP could do about it.

VPN ban unlikely

A logical step to fight this would be the blocking of VPNs in South Africa, you might say, but this would likely require separate legislation and will undoubtedly be challenged in court by affected parties.

The South African government will also find it difficult to block VPNs outright.

China, which blocks many international online services from being used in its country, actively blocks VPNs – and in October 2018 increased its efforts ahead of a major trade expo, reported Reuters.

The battle between VPNs and Chinese authorities was described as a cat-and-mouse game, as VPN providers modified their service to bypass blocks, the authorities then updated their parameters to stop the VPNs, and the VPN providers adapted once again.

Netflix is another good example of a powerhouse tech company which took on VPNs.

To prevent subscribers from using VPNs to access content libraries from different countries, it started a campaign to block VPN users from accessing the streaming platform in 2016.

As MyBroadband showed in October 2018, however, Opera’s free built-in VPN service was enough to bypass this block and we were able to access international content from South Africa.

Besides VPNs, users will also easily be able to access adult content through platforms like The Pirate Bay (if they know how to use a BitTorrent client) and online platforms such as Discord and Mega.

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: 2 new solar power systems launched in South Africa

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Recommended

Share this article
The big problem with South Africa’s proposed “porn block”