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Tech problems delay age verification for porn

13/03/18

Government quietly puts back requirement for online checks until the end of the year

Compulsory age verification before people can view pornography online has been delayed by the Government because of technological problems.

Adult hand by blank laptop screenThe checks – promised by David Cameron nearly three years ago – were due to come in next month, after pressure on ministers to protect children from explicit material.

Now the deadline has been put back to later in 2018, a move slipped out in a press release about the winners of a 5G competition, rather than formally announced.

In a later statement, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the checks would come in “later in the year”, admitting: "We need to take the time to make sure we get it right.”

However, the regulations have yet to go out for public consultation and will then need to be approved by Parliament – casting doubt on the new target deadline of later in 2018.

One company told the BBC it was unlikely that the regulations would be ready before the Parliament's summer recess, which begins on 20 July.

Need for explanation

The regulator, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), has yet to explain how the process will work, but said it was aiming to share details about the verification process in about a month's time.

In addition, several companies developing the age verification software had previously warned it was unlikely that the deadline would be met.

The idea had been criticised on the basis that it would only be possible to enforce a law against websites based in the UK – leaving the regulation of foreign sites unclear.

Critics also warned that, while internet service providers could filter offending sites hosted abroad, it would not be possible to close them down altogether.

Rejection

The Open Rights Group, which campaigns against internet censorship, had rejected a technological solution – claiming the only way to regulate porn would be to introduce a “national firewall”.

Myles Jackman, Open Rights Group's legal director, told the BBC: “This is a chance for the government to rethink the absence of safeguards for privacy and security, but it is frightening to consider that this policy was two weeks away from launch before it was pulled.

“(The Government) needs to introduce powers to safeguard privacy immediately before this scheme causes real damage.”

The checks are intended to require people to prove that they are over the age of 18 to watch explicit material on porn sites, possibly using a credit card or a passport.

The crackdown is part of the Digital Economy Act, passed last year, and is designed to prevent children “stumbling” upon explicit content.

Image by Andre Kolme, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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