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Compulsory Age Checks to Watch Internet Porn Coming to UK in 2018

The commencement order of the Digital Economy Act of 2017, which gained Royal Assent in April, has started a nine-month countdown to the introduction of compulsory age verification checks that British citizens will have to complete before they are allowed to view online pornography.

Any website that offers pornography “on a commercial basis” will have to apply the checks if they want to continue operating in the UK market. An as-of-yet unnamed regulator will be given the power to fine businesses that refuse to comply with the legislation, and even compel ISPs to block access to rogue sites. One method of age verification proposed by ministers would be requiring credit-card details before allowing people to view any adult content; in the UK, most consumers have to be over 18 to own a credit card.

Child protection charities have welcomed the efforts to restrict the ability of children for viewing inappropriate content. Childnet’s Chief Executive, Will Gardner, said that he fully supported the legislation:

Protecting children from exposure, including accidental exposure, to adult content is incredibly important, given the effect it can have on young people… Steps like this to help restrict access, alongside the provision of free parental controls and education, are key.

A 2016 report from the NSPCC found that pornography was linked to developmental damage in children, and that 48 percent of 11 to 16-year-olds had viewed online pornography; of those, 28 percent stumbled across it accidentally, and 19 percent deliberately searched for it.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock expressed his vocal support for the Act:

The Digital Economy Act is about building a strong, safe and connected economy. It will secure better support for consumers, better protection for children on the internet, and underpin a radical transformation of government services… All this means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the UK will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world.

However, there has been vocal criticism of various points of the legislation. Dr Victoria Nash, the lead author of a report which was commissioned when the law was being drafted, argued that not only was the launch date “premature,” due to the difficulty of getting “a regulatory body up and running in that timeframe,” but that it was not “a solution to stopping minor seeing pornography,” which is the entire point. This was because of the simple fact that pornography is completely pervasive on social media sites such as Twitter and Tumblr; because these sites are not specifically commercial pornography businesses, they would not be subject to the same restrictions. Furthermore, the distribution of images and videos between teenagers would not be halted either. Dr. Nash concluded that “it may make it harder for children to stumble across pornography, especially in the younger age range, but it will do nothing to stop determined teenagers.”

Dr. Joss Wright, a cyber-security expert from the Oxford Internet Institute also had grave concerns regarding the potential lapses in security that would result from the legislation coming into force:

The timeline is unrealistic – but beyond that, this is one of the worst proposals I have seen on digital strategy… There are hundreds of thousands of websites where this material can be accessed and you are not going to catch all of those. There’s privacy issues – you’re requiring people to effectively announce the fact they are looking at this material to the credit card authorities. And there’s serious security issues from requiring people to enter their credit card details into untrusted sites… They may well say there will be other magical ways to do the age check, but I very much doubt they will be non-discriminatory [against adults without credit cards], transparent, privacy-preserving and secure for end-users.

Jack Hadfield is a student at the University of Warwick and a regular contributor to Breitbart Tech. You can like his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ToryBastard_ or on Gab @JH.

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