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Open rights campaigners attack porn age checks

17/06/19

Parliamentary Correspondent

Measures aimed at stopping under-18s visiting pornographic websites will be a “privacy time bomb” when they come into force next month, the Government has been warned.

Privacy button on keyboard

Identity checks must be carried out by all commercial providers of online pornography - but the data protection in place is “vague, imprecise and largely a 'tick box' exercise”, according to privacy campaigners at the Open Rights Group.

It raises the alarm over the standard operated by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which “allows commercial age verification providers to write their own privacy and security frameworks”.

The BBFC’s role is reduced to “checking whether commercial entities follow their own rules, rather than requiring them to work to a mandated set of common standards”, the Open Rights Group states in a report. “The result is uncertainty for internet users, who are inconsistently protected and have no way to tell which companies they can trust.”

“Even within its voluntary approach, the BBFC gives providers little guidance to providers as to what their privacy and security frameworks should contain. Guidance on security, encryption, pseudonymisation, and data retention is vague and imprecise.”

The age verification measures will be introduced on 15 July, but a YouGov poll shows that 76% of the British public is unaware they are coming in.

“With one month until rollout, the UK porn block is a privacy time bomb,” the Open Rights Group said.

Estimates suggest around 20 million adults in the UK watch online porn, meaning the scale of any privacy breaches could be vast.

The government argues the new measures are necessary in order to prevent children accessing adult content online.

“This is a world leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online,” a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said earlier this year.

Yet many experts have argued that the new rules are unlikely to prevent tech savvy children from reaching restricted websites.There has already been a surge in interest in technology that would allow people to bypass them, with a tripling of online searches for virtual private networks within hours of the announcement.

The Open Rights Group called for the implementation of age verification to be delayed until a statutory standard of data privacy and security is in place, which has been implemented by providers.

Register: Library & Alerts

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