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Mandatory age checks for UK porn sites to be unveiled today

Alphr logo Alphr 17/07/2017 Thomas McMullan
Mandatory age checks for UK porn sites to be unveiled today © Alphr.com Mandatory age checks for UK porn sites to be unveiled today

Measures to force pornography sites to check the age of UK viewers will be announced this week, signaling the next step in a government crackdown on adult online content.

The new rules are due to be part of the Digital Economy Act, which encompasses the introduction of age-verification rules for porn sites, as well as the introduction of a regulator to check sites are complying with the new rules.

That regulator is believed to be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which polices age limits on films and video games. It will be the regulator’s responsibility to oblige porn sites to maintain age-restriction barriers, with a likely punishment for incompliance being the threat of blocked access from internet service providers (ISPs).

According to the Mail on Sunday, sites could also face £250,000 fines for failing to comply. The paper also claims that users will need to prove their age by providing details from a credit card – which cannot be legally issued to anyone under the age of 18. The plan is for the measures to be rolled out across all porn sites by April 2018.

The minister of state for digital, Matt Hancock, is expected to start the official process on Monday via a written statement to the House of Commons. Ahead of this, he claimed authorities were “taking the next step” to ensure there is a legal requirement for adult websites to ensure content is “behind an age verification control”.

“All this means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the UK will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world,” he said.

The measures look to have the backing of advocacy groups for child safety. An NSPCC spokesperson told Alphr: “Watching online pornography can have a deeply damaging effect on children and teenagers development, both in how they think and behave.

“This is why having workable and enforceable measures that will protect them from adult content on the internet are a vital part of creating a safer online world for young people.”

Will Gardner, the chief executive of internet safety charity Childnet, said that steps to restrict child access to adult content “are key”.

“It is essential to help parents and carers, as well as young people, be more aware of this risk and what they can do to prevent exposure and also to make sense of exposure if it happens.” 

Before the Digital Economy Act became law, a number of groups criticised the legislation for being draconian and breaching the privacy of their users. Amongst the criticisms was the concern that, by providing personal information to access adult content, vast pools of user data could be misused – either monetised for personal gain by the company’s themselves, or leveraged as blackmail by hackers.

“Age verification is an accident waiting to happen,” said Open Rights Group’s executive director Jim Killock at the time in a statement. “Despite repeated warnings, parliament has failed to listen to concerns about the privacy and security of people who want to watch legal adult content.

“As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about people’s sex lives, has huge repercussions for those involved."

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