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UK porn block “a privacy timebomb”, warns new report

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New pornography age restrictions due to come into effect in the UK on 15 July that will require sites and publishers to log user details to verify age are a “privacy timebomb”, a new report warns.

The ID checks are designed to stop under-18s from visiting pornographic websites and will mean all commercial providers of online pornography – or any other adult content – will have to carry out “robust” checks on their users to ensure they are adults.

This data will need to be collected and stored – which is a potentially huge problem, according to privacy watchdog Open Rights Group. With some 20 million adults in the UK thought to be user of online pornography, any data breach would be enormous and highly damaging.

Its research concludes that the data protection in place to protect consumers data being stored is “vague, imprecise and largely a ‘tick box’ exercise”.

Ahead of the age-verification measures being introduced on 15 July, a YouGov poll showed that 76% of the British public is unaware of the ID checks being introduced.

“With one month until rollout, the UK porn block is a privacy timebomb,” the report says.

“Due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation,” claims Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock. “The BBFC’s standard is supposed to deliver this. However, it is a voluntary standard, which offers little information about the level of data protection being offered and provides no means of redress if companies fail to live up to it.”

Killock said the standard was therefore “pointless and misleading”.

The UK government claims the new measures are necessary in order to prevent children and young adults from accessing adult content online.

“This is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online,” a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said earlier this year.

Yet many have noted that the new rules are unlikely to prevent tech-savvy children from reaching restricted websites. When the date for the identity checks was announced in April there was a surge in interest in technology that would allow people to bypass them.

Online searches for virtual private networks (VPNs) tripled in the hours following the government’s announcement that ID checks would be enforced from July.

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