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UK to implement compulsory age verification on online porn

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The UK government has confirmed that all pornographic websites will require some form of age verification in the future, preventing children from accessing potentially damaging material – something that the mobile network operators have been doing in mobile very effectively since 2003.

A public consultation has been launched today outlining the government’s preferred approach, which puts responsibility squarely on the shoulders of companies who create and profit from online pornography.

Alongside the legal requirement for companies to put in place age verification technology, the government will also establish a new regulatory framework to monitor and enforce compliance, with the ability to impose civil sanctions where breaches are identified.

Internet Safety and Security Minister Baroness Shields explains: “The internet is a tremendous resource for learning and creativity but it is important to make sure that children are able to make the most of all it has to offer in a safe way. Keeping children safe online is one of government’s greatest priorities. Just as we do offline, we want to make sure children are prevented from accessing pornographic content online which should only be viewed by adults. So we are delivering on our manifesto promise by launching this consultation today, which proposes we require companies providing this pornographic content to ensure they have safeguards in place to ensure those accessing their websites are over 18.”

The move has been welcomed by many, with AIME MD Rory Maguire saying that it reflects just how well it has worked in the mobile world that the government is finally bringing it to bear online. “MNOs added filters that meant anyone underage couldn’t access adult content. Those who were old enough and had a contract could. It works well, even now with online access via mobile, the networks still look for AV.”

But the governments proposals in AV for online content not viewed on a mobile is flawed. As one telemedia insider points out, it only targets  charged for adult content and does nothing to combat child access to free porn on sites such as tumblr and others.

That aside, today’s consultation – which will run until April 12  – follows discussions with a range of stakeholders, including internet providers, social media and search companies, charities, academics and others, says the government.

This has allowed the government to formulate its preferred approach, which it is now consulting on and seeking views.

Under the proposals set out in the consultation, the government will:

  • Establish a new requirement in law for commercial providers to have in place robust age verification controls for online pornographic content in the UK.
  • Legislate to establish a new regulatory framework, underpinned by civil sanctions.

And under the proposals, the new regulatory framework and civil regime will:

  • Involve giving a regulator or regulators powers to enforce the new law, supported by a sufficiently flexible enforcement regime.
  • Monitor compliance with the new law by commercial pornography providers.
  • Enable those that support the business model of pornographic content providers (such as payment providers, advertisers and other ancillary services) to withdraw services from commercial providers in breach of the law.
  • Impose sanctions where breaches have been identified and providers remain non-compliant.
  • Give the regulator discretion to set and monitor standards for age verification controls.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “This consultation is an important and welcome step forward in keeping children safe from online pornography. Companies that produce and profit from this material have a responsibility to give children the same protection they would get in the offline world.

“Every day ChildLine receives calls and messages from young people who feel they are being badly affected by the way they and their friends can view unlimited online pornography. As a matter of urgency we must prevent children having ready access to content rated over 18 as it can give them a warped view of sexual relationships.”

The move to make age-verification a legal requirement forms part of a broader commitment by Government to make the internet a safer place for young people. And the government will build on existing measures by tackling these issues further, addressing cyber bullying, sexualised content, self-harm and suicide sites, extremism content, and child sexual abuse online.

Under current legislation, children are already well protected offline – with laws in place to prevent pornographic videos in hard copy being sold to under 18s.

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Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

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