Online age verification tools for pornography sites to come into force in UK in July

Age verification tools required on porn sites to prevent underage internet users seeing explicit content will be introduced in July.

The measures, the first of their kind anywhere in the world, will require porn sites by law to carry out “robust age-verification checks on users”, the government has said.

Websites that fail to implement the new rules – which will come into force on July 15 – face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK internet users.

The government said users will be able to verify their age in a number of ways, including using traditional forms of ID such as a credit card or passport, or by buying an over-the-counter card from shops where verification would take place face-to-face.

Digital minister Margot James said: “Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online. The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content.

“We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online and these new laws will help us achieve this.”

The government confirmed that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which classifies movies in the UK, will be the age verification regulator.

Its chief executive David Austin said: “The introduction of age-verification to restrict access to commercial pornographic websites to adults is a groundbreaking child protection measure. Age-verification will help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online and means the UK is leading the way in internet safety.

“On entry into force, consumers will be able to identify that an age-verification provider has met rigorous security and data checks if they carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol.”

The announcement follows the publication last week of the government’s white paper on Online Harms, which set out new responsibilities for technology companies to keep UK citizens safe online.

Carolyn Bunting, chief executive of online safety group Internet Matters, welcomed the introduction of the new tools.

“We are delighted to see the government tackling the issue of online pornography – as children seeing content they’re not emotionally ready for can be very damaging, especially if they don’t speak out about it,” she said.

“While our research shows that parents overwhelmingly support age-verification and are confident it will make a difference, we must recognise that digital solutions aren’t the only answer and parents can’t become complacent about their child’s digital world.

“There is no substitute to having regular and honest conversations with your child about what they’re getting up to online, establishing an open dialogue about their digital life from a young age.”

However, campaigners have warned the tools could have consequences for user privacy.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said on Twitter: “#ageverification dangers are obvious, from outing people to ruining careers and even suicides.

“What porn you watch can be very sensitive information. It’s striking that MPs don’t seem concerned, it’s not like public knowledge about watching porn has never impacted an MPs career.”

The government said alongside requirements for age-verification providers to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it had created a voluntary certification scheme, the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), which will assess the data security standards of those services which used to verify age.

What do new age rules over online pornography mean?

Tighter controls on pornography websites are due to come into force from July, in a bid to prevent children from easily accessing adult content.

The long-awaited and controversial measures are said to be a world first, which will be overseen by a regulator, but concerns have been raised about how it will work.

Why is the Government introducing age verification to pornography websites?

The Government wants to make the UK one of the safest places to be online, in particular, protecting young people from stumbling upon pornographic websites.

How will the age verification measures work?

People trying to access pornography websites will have to prove that they are an adult before they are able to go any further.

Several options to verify that a user is 18 and over will be on offer by third party companies, such as using digital ID apps in which people can send copies of their ID showing they are of age.

Another option put forward is buying a card over the counter in a shop, where the shop owner will be required to verify the person’s age in the same way they do when selling alcohol and cigarettes.

A voluntary certification scheme, known as the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), will be available to assess the data security standards of the companies that provide these solutions.

Will this affect all pornography?

The Government is targeting websites and apps that offer pornography on a “commercial basis”, which includes any pornographic material made available free of charge where a person making it available “receives a payment, reward or other benefit in connection with making it available on the internet”.

However, the measures will only cover websites where more than a third of content is pornographic.

Social media and search engines are also unaffected.

Pornography through search engines and social media will not be affected (Yui Mok/PA)

Who will regulate it?

The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), the regulator responsible for classification of movies, has been tasked with overseeing regulation of pornography websites.

What powers will the regulator have?

The BBFC says it will have the power to contact social media and search engines to request that non-compliant websites be removed from their services, as well as asking payment providers to withdraw and even asking internet service providers to block their websites entirely.

However, it stresses that blocking a site is not the main objective, and will allow non-compliant websites “enough time” to comply.

Supporters say the move is needed to better protect children, but critics are concerned about user privacy (Peter Byrne/PA)

When will it come into force?

The measures are due to come into force from July 15 2019.

Will teenagers be able to find a way around the restrictions?

The BBFC admits that the changes are “not a silver bullet” and that “some determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography”.

In a recent survey, almost one in five parents (18%) said they expect children will be able to circumvent the restrictions, though the majority of parents (69%) indicated that they think the new measures will make a difference.

- Press Association

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