The government is proposing to bring back its long touted age verification checks for pornographic websites in the UK.

The government announced on Tuesday that its Online Safety Bill will force pornography websites to utilise age verification technologies in order to prevent underage access by children and those under 18 years old.

The addition is part of a number of revisions to the government’s proposed Online Safety Bill. Earlier this week one update proposed that online platforms would be required to take proactive (not reactive) steps to prevent users from being exposed to harmful materials.

Online safety bill

Companies could be fined up to 10 percent of their global turnover if they fail to adhere to the regulations.

The government has proposed a number of alterations to the bill, which is expected to be introduced to parliament in the next few months, after three separate parliamentary committee reports warned it needed to be strengthened and to offer more clarity for tech firms.

The bill will see new rules being enforced by Ofcom, which would have the power to impose multi-million pound fines or bar companies from operating in the UK.

On Tuesday the government announced the addition of a new measure that “goes further than the bill’s existing protections by bringing all websites offering pornography online into scope.”

Age verification

On Safer Internet Day, Digital Minister Chris Philp announced the Online Safety Bill will be significantly strengthened with a new legal duty requiring all sites that publish pornography to put robust checks in place to ensure their users are 18 years old or over.

The government said this could include adults using secure age verification technology to verify that they possess a credit card and are over 18, or having a third-party service confirm their age against government data.

If sites fail to act, Ofcom will be able fine them up to 10 percent of their annual worldwide turnover or can block them from being accessible in the UK.

Bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable if they fail to co-operate with Ofcom.

The government alleges that a large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so.

It says there are widespread concerns this is impacting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent.

“It is too easy for children to access pornography online,” said Digital Minister Chris Philp. “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,” said Philp.

The government was keen to stress that age verification technologies do not require a full identity check.

Long time coming?

The government has been trying for years to implement age verification on pornographic websites.

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

However there was already opt-out ISP 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.

The government tried again to implement porn age checking, and it was supposed to have been implemented in April 2018.

But again the government delayed it, despite porn website owners preparing for the legal check.

In 2018 for example the owner of porn websites including PornHub revealed its online age verification tool call AgeID, that it would use to verify the age of people seeking online smut.

Age verification for porn was then pushed back to 15 July 2019, but in October 2019 the government announced that its long standing plan to introduce porn age checks had been dropped again.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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