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Age checks for watching online porn to be delayed

March 12, 2018

The UK Government is to delay the introduction of age checks for pornographic websites.

A new digital strategy document issued Monday says that the verification process is to be delayed to the end of 2018.

The move has been welcomed by privacy campaigners who claim such a process would be an infringement of personal data.

Opponents suggested that a mass government database of people’s porn habits would risk personal information being hacked and leaked, such as who watches gay porn and lesbian porn.

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The proposals, detailed in last year’s Conservative manifesto, suggest that “all sites containing pornographic material” must all check that users are 18 years old or older.

The Government urged internet providers, charities and academics to contribute to a major consultation on the suggested new rules.

The likes of PornHub already pledged to abide by the new policy.

Doubt were cast on the plans by security expert – saying the proposals would be difficult to implement on sites where porn is freely accessible.

Myles Jackman, a lawyer who has campaigned against the proposals with the Open Rights Group, said the delay was an admission that ministers had failed to understand the implications of the age capture for online porn usage.

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“Genuinely the privacy risk was so severe that if all that data were hacked they would never be taken seriously again when it came to holding private citizens’ data, whether covertly or otherwise,” Jackman told the Guardian.

The delay is officially to give the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) regulator time to launch a public consultation on its draft guidance this month.

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are making age verification compulsory for commercial pornography sites, as part of our work to make the internet a safer place for children.

“But we need to take the time to make sure we get it right, and it will come into effect later this year.”

The Government’s consultation said: “We are keen to hear from parents, schools, child protection experts, the pornography industry, internet service providers and online platforms that provide access to pornographic content.”

Baroness Shields, then Internet Safety and Security Minister, told the BBC: “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.”

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of NSPCC said the matter was “a matter of urgency”.

He said children who view porn could develop a “warped” view of sexual relationships.

Sajid Javid said the regulator in charge of the changes, would be able to force internet providers to block sites if they do not perform age checks.

In addition, he said there would be fines for those which do not comply.

Ofcom’s guidance for age checks online for video content recommends confirmation of credit card ownership and electoral register cross-checks for age verification.

The move has been compared to age checks for the gambling industry, which is already required to check ages.

Dr Victoria Nash, at the Oxford Internet Institute, said it was likely that porn sites would use similar measures to the gambling sites.

But Dr Gilad Rosner, a member of the Cabinet Office Privacy and Consumer Advocacy Group, said she thought it would have no effect on sources of free porn.

“My initial response to this release is that while the UK government may get some traction with payment processors, and that that could have some effect, it won’t affect the free pornography,” he said.

“I would wager that we won’t see much in the way of tangible results for the next five years,” he continued.

“This is a particularly challenging regulatory goal.”

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