Picture: 123RF/Iculig
Picture: 123RF/Iculig

London — Britain will become the first country in the world to introduce age-verification to access online pornography.

The new law, which comes into force on July 15, will require commercial providers of internet pornography to check on users’ ages to ensure that they are 18 or over.

“Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online,” minister for digital Margot James said, hailing the mandatory scheme “a world first”.

Websites that fail to implement the verification technology could have payment services withdrawn or be blocked for British users, according to the department for culture, media and sport. It is the latest move by British authorities to crack down on the spread of online abuses and crimes.

The government announced earlier in April proposals to make social media bosses personally liable for harmful content and shut down offending platforms. The latest step to bring in age-verification for pornography follows public consultation and parliamentary debate on the issue in 2018 .

Research conducted as part of that outreach found that 88% of parents with children aged 7-17 years supported new controls, the department said.

The department insists the range of checks to be carried out by providers will be “rigorous” and go beyond users simply entering their date of birth or ticking a box. They could include using traditional identity documents online, such as credit cards and passports, as well as digital IDs or cards bought in stores “where the verification is face to face”.

The government said it had “listened carefully” to privacy concerns and was clear the arrangements should only be concerned with verifying age, not identity.

The British Board of Film Classification will be responsible for ensuring compliance. The board will therefore also create, in cooperation with industry, a voluntary certification scheme to assess the data security standards of the providers.

Internet Matters, a nonprofit organisation concerned with online child safety, welcomed the government tackling the issue but also sounded a cautionary note.

“We must recognise that digital solutions aren’t the only answer,” said its CEO Carolyn Bunting. “There is no substitute to having regular and honest conversations with your child about what they’re getting up to online.”

AFP