#SaferInternetDay: Porn Sites Face Legal Duty to Verify Age of UK Users

Security

Pornographic websites will be legally obliged to introduce robust checks to verify the age of users under new plans published by the UK government. The measure is designed to protect children from accessing pornography from commercial providers.

Announced on Safer Internet Day, the standalone provision has been added to the UK’s Online Safety Bill. The obligation will apply to commercial providers of pornography as well as the sites that allow user-generated content.

Currently, there are little or no protections to prevent those under 18 from accessing large quantities of pornography online. This has led to concerns over the way young people understand relationships, sex and consent.

The companies can choose how to comply with their new legal duty, but the UK regulator, Ofcom, is likely to recommend using age verification technologies that minimize the handling of users’ data. Options include checking a user’s age against details that their mobile provider holds, verifying via a credit card check and other database checks such as government-held data like passport information. However, no specific solutions have been mandated to enable more effective technology to be adopted in the future.

The government added that measures these firms put in place should not process or store data that is irrelevant to checking age, while any verification technologies used must be secure, effective and adhere to privacy legislation.

Companies that fail to comply could be hit by a fine of up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover or have their website blocked in the UK. Additionally, the website owners may be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.

Digital Minister Chris Philp commented: “It is too easy for children to access pornography online. Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.

“We are now strengthening the Online Safety Bill so it applies to all porn sites to ensure we achieve our aim of making the internet a safer place for children.”

Previous proposals by the UK government to introduce a national online pornography age verification system were dropped because implementing it would be too difficult.

Yesterday, the government announced new measures to strengthen the Online Safety Bill, including the creation of three new offenses relating to abusive and offensive online communications. It is now working with Ofcom to ensure the provisions can come into force shortly after the bill’s passage.

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