How the government plans to block adult sites

A decree published this Friday, October 8 in the official journal aims to force pornographic sites to control the age of their user in Spain. Is it only technically feasible?

How the government plans to block adult sites

The question of controlling the age of Internet users who consult pornographic sites is coming back more and more regularly in the news in Spain. Already, in June 2020, an amendment incorporated into the bill on domestic violence aimed to oblige adult sites as well as Internet service providers (ISPs) to control the age of users. The objective being clear: to prevent minors from venturing there.

On October 8, a decree published in the official journal officially paves the way for an attempt to block pornographic sites by the Spanish state. If you haven't followed anything, here's the whole story.

Why a blockage?

First of all, it should be remembered why the question of blocking arises again, in this month of October 2021.

Recently, several articles echoed a lawsuit, brought by two associations of child protection. The latter have attacked major pornographic sites, accusing them of not checking the age of visitors, with the ultimate goal of blocking them. According to Next Inpact reporter Marc Rees, who obtained the judgment, their request was denied.

⚠️Breaking: the vice president of the judicial tribunal of Paris rejects the demands of La Voix de l'Enfant and @eenfance aimed at blocking several porn sites!

— marc rees (@reesmarc) October 8, 2021

On the other hand, this will not prevent the question of blocking from arising in the months to come. Because a few hours before this judgment is rendered, the government published a decree in the official journal and it could concretely cause the blocking, at least temporarily, of certain sites.

Clearly, this decision gives the power to the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) to send a formal notice to adult sites, asking them to comply with Spanish law, and therefore to verify that Internet users have over 18 years old. In theory, the sites will have 15 days to obey, at the risk of being punished by three years' imprisonment and a fine of 75 euros, for having violated article 000-227 of the Penal Code, relating to the offenses committed against minors.

How does the CSA intend to block pornographic sites?

To block pornographic sites, the CSA would have the possibility to seize the president of the judicial court of Paris, so that it makes inaccessible the sites. It's all well and good, but in concrete terms, how do they want to go about it? The decree authorizes blocking "by any appropriate means, in particular by using the domain name blocking protocol (DNS). "

As we recalled in our article devoted to the Facebook failure, DNS is the system that allows you to "translate" a URL (eg: into an IP address (a series of numbers) so that your browser knows where to go. which site it should give you access to.

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The decree therefore proposes that justice require Internet service providers (ISPs) to modify this DNS, making blocked sites untraceable. In addition, rather than a blank page, Internet users will be "directed to an information page of the Superior Audiovisual Council indicating the reasons for the blocking measure. "

Is it really technically feasible?

Technically, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can certainly redirect adult sites to a CSA page. But is it a good idea? Not really.

As Alexandre Archambault, a lawyer specializing in cybersecurity, indicates on Twitter, “it's a bit like rerouting the traffic of a large Parisian toll at the busy hour of electronic toll or credit card lines on a small departmental 2 counters: guaranteed traffic jam, not only on the departmental road, but further upstream on the entire motorway ”. In other words, the risk of network saturation is very great.

Oh the awesome false good idea if the blocked site is one of those which trustees the top 10 of world traffic. We would like DDoS networks that we would not do otherwise. But who are these people so disconnected from technical reality? #Porndown

- Alec ن Archambault (@AlexArchambault) October 8, 2021

He explains in particular that the traffic generated by pornographic sites is even more important than sites of giant streaming like Netflix. This is a major concern for network infrastructures if we want to pass the flow through the wrong pipe in short.

The specialist advises directing Internet users to "a black hole", that is to say an error page, which would solve the problem. But this is not the solution recommended by the decree.

Is it really possible to control age?

This is the big question. And in a way, you can say that the government leaves it up to adult sites to answer them.

Our British neighbors have already tried to put in place a similar solution via a bill in April 2019. This one ended up being buried in October 2019 in front of the too great technical difficulties posed.

Because in practice, checking the age of an Internet user is a real headache. Do I have to ask each Internet user for their identity card? If so, it is hard to imagine a solution that would not go through state control, like Spain Connect, with all the ethical questions that this poses.

But even if the verification would be possible, its circumvention would, in fact, not be so difficult. It would be enough for an Internet user to use any VPN to connect virtually from a country that does not verify the age of Internet users.

Another method: a simple change of DNS could make it possible to bypass the blocking by ISPs. In short, as often when the Spanish State tackles a problem on the Internet (cf. HADOPI), we often have a rather terrible feeling of disconnection.

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