UK government to consult on porn website age checks

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UK government to consult on porn website age checks

The UK government has launched a consultation over plans to require websites containing porn to add age verification technology, or face the threat of sanctions. The new laws will apply to commercial websites, "wherever they are hosted".

The UK government has launched a consultation over plans to require websites containing porn to add age verification technology, or face the threat of sanctions. The new laws will apply to commercial websites, "wherever they are hosted".

The initial consultation report cites some statistics from comScore MMX, May 2015 showing the scale of the problem:

  • 1.4 million under 18-year-olds accessed adult websites
  • Approximately 13 percent of children aged 6-14 visiting an adult website in May 2015.
  • 70 percent of 18-year olds surveyed said that pornographic images they had seen shocked them
  • 70 percent of 18-year olds surveyed felt that pornography can have a damaging impact
  • 78 percent of women asked said that it encourages men to see women as sex objects.
  • 45 percent of 18-19 year-olds felt in hindsight that they were too young when first exposed to it
  • One study found that viewing violent pornography made you six times more likely to engage in sexually aggressive behavior.

Internet Safety and Security Minister Baroness Shields said:

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.

The Proposals

The new proposals will seek to stop under-18s from accessing pornography by making it a legal requirement for commercial providers to have in place robust age verification controls for people viewing it from the UK.

The proposals will apply to all pornography viewed in the UK, no matter where it is hosted, and as such will have implications for foreign companies.

It is unclear what the definition of "commercial pornography" will include, but in the conclusion of the introduction to the consultation document the Government made its goals clear:

This consultation focuses on an important strand of protection, the delivery of the Government’s manifesto commitment to require age verification for access to all websites containing pornographic material.

It is possible that social network websites such as Reddit, or Twitter will be forced to improve significantly their adult filters and verification processes. How easy this will be to do, when many social websites take pride in their anonymity and privacy (i.e. do not want to force users to hand over private data), remains to be seen.

Enforcement

Whatever is decided, the proposals will have teeth. Any requirements will be backed by a regulatory framework with the following powers:

  • Provide regulators with sufficient powers, supported by a sufficiently flexible enforcement regime.
  • Monitor commercial pornography providers’ compliance.
  • Identify websites in breach of the new laws, and allow time for remediation after being notified of such breach.
  • Enable companies that provide services to commercial pornography providers, such as payment processors, advertisers, and other ancillary services, to withdraw services when said company is in breach of the law.
  • Notify providers of payment/ancillary services of websites in breach, enabling them to withdraw services from such websites
  • Impose requisite sanctions where violations have been identified and providers remain noncompliant
  • Ensure a proportionate and prioritized regulatory approach to monitoring and enforcement
  • Provide discretion for the regulator to set and monitor standards for age verification controls.

The enforcement proposals are quite intelligent. Rather than having to go after the company directly, which may be difficult if they are located in other countries, the Government will have the ability to cut off their source of income by stopping their ability to collect moneys from customers, or advertisers.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, supports the initiative, saying that those companies that profit from pornography owe a duty to protect children from that content. He 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.

Wanless said further:

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.

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