UK Government Drops Controversial Porn Age Checks

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Long standing plan to introduce age checks on porn websites has been dropped by the British government

UK visitors accessing pornographic websites in the UK are not longer threatened with having to verify their age.

The government confirmed the decision in a written statement by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, who also revealed that ‘other measures’ would be deployed to achieve the same objectives.

In June this year the government had confirmed that that it had delayed the implementation yet again the introduction of age checking for another six months.

Age checking

It had been expected that from 15 July, access to online pornographic content in the UK would entail users having to verify their age.

It should be remembered that age checking was supposed to have been implemented in April 2018.

Porn website owners had been preparing for the legal check for some time now. Last year for example the owner of popular porn websites including PornHub revealed its online age verification tool call AgeID, it uses to verify the age of people seeking online smut.

But now the government is dropping the age checks altogether.

“Protecting children is at the heart of our online harms agenda, and is key to wider government priorities..the government is concerned about the prevalence of adult content online, which is easily accessible to children, and believes it is vital that children are protected from accessing inappropriate, harmful content,” said Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan.

“The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography,” Morgan said.

“The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through our proposed online harms regulatory regime,” Morgan added. “This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care.”

“The government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering,” Morgan wrote. “Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm.”

“We are committed to the UK becoming a world-leader in the development of online safety technology and to ensure companies of all sizes have access to, and adopt, innovative solutions to improve the safety of their users,” said Morgan. “This includes age verification tools and we expect them to continue to play a key role in protecting children online.”

Pointless endeavour

The decision to drop the age check has been welcomed in some quarters.

“The age verification plan was a bad idea from the beginning,” said Matt Powell, editor at Broadband Genie. “Not only were there legitimate concerns about the ability of age ID providers to secure a database containing private and potentially damaging information, but it would have been laughably ineffective.”

“Even if web sites agreed to comply, VPNs would have allowed users to avoid the block, and platforms such as Twitter and Reddit were exempt,” Powell added. “It was clear this was always going to be a pointless endeavour. That the plans went this far is yet more proof that the government lacks a basic understanding of technology, and that it is failing to either ask for or listen to expert advice before wasting tax payer’s money.”

The Conservatives under David Cameron had promised age checks back in 2015 in an effort to stop children from accessing online porn.

The move by Cameron was highly controversial, as it assumed that parents could not be trusted to install parental control software.

There are already opt-out internet porn filters introduced by the government in 2013, which were intended to help households control access to adult material, but unintentionally blocked educational resources such as sexual health websites.

All of this came despite the fact that in 2012, a survey by YouGov revealed that just one in four UK adults with children in their household was in favour of having a default porn filter.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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