UK to implement age-verification system for porn sites

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The wobbly, squabbling, minority Tory government–propped up by Northern Ireland’s DUP[2]–has laid before MPs its first commencement order for the recently passed Digital Economy Act[3], in which it confirmed that an age checker system for access to porn sites will be brought in next spring.

“We have taken steps to implement the new age verification requirement for online pornography as part of our continuing work to make the Internet safer,” said digital minister Matt Hancock. “The new scheme is complex and will not be fully in place until April 2018, but today we are bringing into force powers to designate the regulator and powers to allow guidance to be issued.” When quizzed by Ars, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) declined to reveal more technical details about the system, opting instead to give us some notes it had already spoon fed to the Mail On Sunday. It also refused to comment on which third party will be developing and operating the government’s age verification system.

Under the yet-to-be-implemented measures, free and fee-based porn operators–many of which are based abroad–will be required to insert age checkers on their sites in the UK, forcing users to dish up their credit card details to prove that they are 18 or over before being granted access to smut. Sites that refuse to cooperate face the wrath of earmarked regulator the British Board of Film Classifications. It will have the power to dish out fines of up to ?250,000[4] for non-compliance, cut loose misbehaving porn operators from their payment providers[5], advertisers, and other ancillary services that they use in the UK, or they could be blocked by ISPs[6]–a method that the government’s DCMS parliamentary under-secretary Lord Ashton previously insisted[7] “would be used sparingly.”

Despite the fact that new powers will be difficult to implement effectively–given that so many sites are overseas which can be accessed by porn fans using, say, VPN workarounds[8]–Hancock is convinced that “the UK will have the most robust Internet child protection measures of any country in the world.”

But privacy campaigners have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they say is the censorship of perfectly legal material that is served up online.

While others are worried about the implications of an age checker mechanism that could build up a picture of Brits’ porn habits across the country. “Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks,” argued Open Rights Group director Jim Killock.

“The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of Web users,” he said, adding: “There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification.” Notably, the regime won’t be extended to free content ad networks such as Twitter[9], even though it struggles to rid the site of naked flesh.

Now read: The Tory government’s war on porn is doomed to fail, and here’s why[10]

This post originated on Ars Technica UK[11]

References

  1. ^ 8 posters participating (arstechnica.com)
  2. ^ propped up by Northern Ireland’s DUP (arstechnica.co.uk)
  3. ^ Digital Economy Act (arstechnica.co.uk)
  4. ^ fines of up to ?250,000 (arstechnica.co.uk)
  5. ^ cut loose misbehaving porn operators from their payment providers (arstechnica.co.uk)
  6. ^ blocked by ISPs (arstechnica.co.uk)
  7. ^ DCMS parliamentary under-secretary Lord Ashton previously insisted (arstechnica.co.uk)
  8. ^ VPN workarounds (arstechnica.co.uk)
  9. ^ won’t be extended to free content ad networks such as Twitter (arstechnica.co.uk)
  10. ^ The Tory government’s war on porn is doomed to fail, and here’s why (arstechnica.co.uk)
  11. ^ Ars Technica UK (arstechnica.co.uk)

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