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Porn Site Age Checks Go Limp as UK Government Pulls Out at Last Minute

Dominique Adams

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Porn Age Verification Law

The deadline for the Government’s 18+ age verification scheme for porn sites has been officially delayed,  just as it was about to come into force

As part of its Digital Strategy, the UK government had pledged to introduce an age verification scheme for accessing pornographic websites in the UK. Now, less than two weeks before the verification gateways were to be erected, the UK government has paused the project. If enacted the government would have been legally enabled to have non-compliant sites gagged in the UK.

BBFC Financial Domination

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which was designated the age verification regulator in February would have been empowered to issue enforcement notices; notify Ancillary Service Providers and Payment Service Providers; and instruct ISPs to block access to non-compliant pornographic services. However, the BBFC has yet to come up with a plan to implement the checks, which is the chief cause of the delay.

Privacy campaigners have welcomed the delay as they feel the new measure could pose a real threat to online privacy arguing that the BBFC will not be able to guarantee the process is safe, secure and anonymous. Campaigners cite the Ashley Maddison hack as an example of how things could potentially go wrong, in that instance hackers stole 25 Gigabytes of sensitive data from the extra-marital affair website and published them online to humiliate users.

Matt Hancock Edging

The BBFC has made it clear that they will be working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to ensure that pornographic services and age-verification providers are fully aware of data protection legislation enforced by the ICO. They were keen to stress that age verification was not new to the UK as it is already in place for UK hosted pornographic VOD services and other age-restricted products and services. Furthermore they emphasised that that their solution would be based on establishing proof of age rather than identification of the individual.

Myles Jackman, the Open Rights Group’s Legal Director said of the delay: “This is a chance for the government to rethink the absence of safeguards for privacy and security, but it is frightening to consider that this policy was two weeks away from launch before it was pulled. Matt Hancock needs to introduce powers to safeguard privacy immediately before this scheme causes real damage.”

DCMS Wants Public Action

Despite the delay the act will be enforced, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport asserted that: “Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will, therefore, allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.”

“For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.”

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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