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How to beat the UK porn ban, protect your privacy and maintain streaming speeds

The popular Tor network proxy is reliable and secure, but it's also slow — making it a poor tool to surf porn on the sly. Here's a more satisfying method for beating the UK's ISP porn block that may be a boon to your privacy, too.
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PC Kris Seward shows the Prime Minister David Cameron the mobile device as he visits community police in Hertfordshire on July 17, 2013 in Cheshunt, England. The Prime Minister observed the new community police crime prevention initiatives including targeted CCTV and a new PC based mobile device. (Paul Rogers/AFP/Getty Images)

UK netizens are preparing for the end of what many consider an online birthright: unfettered access to porn.

While Britons scrambled to catch their first glimpse of newborn Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge this week, the Cameron government set the stage for a country-wide ban on pornography that will be enacted at the end of the year. Internet service providers will then block pornographic material by default for all connections associated with British IP addresses. 

The porn ban has drawn criticism even from left-leaning figures who denounce pornography as abusive to women, but do not support censorship efforts carried out by the Cameron government. 

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“Never confuse your gut with your brain. The old principle that consenting adults are free to watch what they want is worth defending, not least because it is not as permissive of porn as it seems,” wrote Nick Cohen, a columnist for the Guardian’s Sunday edition, the Observer.

But an unintended consequence of the porn ban — and quite a timely one, at that — is that the block may make it harder for online surveillance to be carried out.

Why? The same tools British netizens use to hide from the NSA and GCHQ can also be used to trick their ISP into thinking they’re surfing from countries that don’t require a “pretty please” for porn.

True, those UK adults unashamed of their private-time activities need only to contact their internet service provider and ask that the block be removed for legal, pornographic websites. However, some may feel a bit uncomfortable calling their customer service representative to say, “Hi, yes, this is Mr. Jones. I’d like to have that pesky porn block removed from my account. Thanks very much.”

More discreet consumers will undoubtedly search for a more subtle solution.

And that's where the ban may indirectly protect users from being watched by authorities. Those determined to defy the nanny state and surf their favorite sex sites without asking for permission (or those stealing the neighbors' wireless connection) have a few options for getting around the ban that will also make them harder for authorities to watch.

Tor probably won't cut it for porn

Perhaps the cheapest and easiest method to spoof an IP address is to use the Tor browser, which gained widespread acclaim following revelations of NSA eavesdropping on global netizens (you can learn more about it in my previous post on web privacy).

The Tor network is comprised of a number of proxy nodes through which the user’s connection is routed, creating randomly generated private network pathways that change every ten minutes.

But when it comes to porn, using Tor presents one seemingly insurmountable problem: it’s too damned slow. 

While very easy to use and highly secure, the Tor browser bounces the user’s connection across three different server nodes before arriving at the intended web page destination. Those servers could be anywhere in the world, from Nauru to Estonia. The distance between each node increases latency and decreases speed. 

And of course, while streaming porn, waiting for videos to buffer really kills the mood.

VPN is a good bet, if you're willing to pay

The best option to beat the porn ban and maintain streaming and download speeds, then, is to use a personal VPN client. Not only do they allow the user to choose how many server nodes their connection travels through before reaching the landing page, they also allow them to choose where that server node is located. 

The downside is that most of these VPN services will charge a monthly subscription fee.

Fortunately, there are several VPNs on the market with a monthly cost of around five or six US dollars. Several of them even accept Bitcoin, adding yet another layer of privacy while surfing the web. School of Privacy lists a number of tested and approved VPNs that are both cheap and effective. There are even VPNs for iOS and Android platforms, should the user find themselves in need of porn on the go. 

For those undeterred by revelations of extensive surveillance and data mining conducted by intelligence organizations, perhaps the prospect of losing their porn will be enough to drive them into protecting their online identity. Will we all be safer in the end?

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