Government to Press on With Porn Age Verification Despite Admitting Flaws in Policy

The government has renewed its commitment to implementing an age verification system for porn sites, with the aim of safeguarding children on the internet.

At the same time, it has acknowledged that its plans to do so are flawed and numerous parties, including the UN, have raised concerns over the system.

Digital minister Matt Hancock signed off an impact assessment study of the plans, which form the new Digital Economy Act and would see ISPs forced to block sites that do not comply. The impact assessment brought up several major issues including but by no means limited to: concerns that adults would be deterred from consuming certain kinds of content; worries about privacy, should affected sites be hacked or spoof sites request users’ personal details; reputational risks that the government would face over accusations of censorship.

In addition to identifying these risks, the impact assessment has identified several costs associated with the plan. Establishing a new regulator to ensure that ISPs comply with the new legislation is expected to cost somewhere between £1-7.9 million. The cost to ISPs to block websites which do not have age verification systems in place is estimated to fall somewhere between £100,000 and £500,000. Concerns were raised over the ability of smaller ISPs to bear the brunt of such costs.

Commenting on the UK’s plan, the UN has warned that the proposed system lacks ‘data sharing safeguards’. Age verification systems can be fooled incredibly easily by simply lying about your age, and therefore reliable age verification is only possible if people provide personal data. You only need to look as far as the hugely damaging high profile hack of the adult dating website Ashley Madison to see how problematic it could potentially be to force people to share their personal data with adult websites in the event of a leak.

Some people are welcoming the approach that the government is taking regardless, as it will no doubt safeguard children on the internet and make it less likely they will be exposed to adult material. However, others say that the move is an unnecessary step, as it will place undue inconvenience on many adults who enjoy watching porn, and may have concerns over the privacy of their data and porn viewing habits being exposed.

Furthermore, many see the parental control features offered by various ISPs at being adequate at shielding children from adult material, and with the government’s approach being heavy handed and unnecessary in addition to these measures.