Delay over online porn age verification checks again

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Voices on both sides of the argument for and against incoming age checks for porn sites have expressed mounting frustration, in the wake of news that the measures could be delayed once again.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) dismissed earlier reports the measures would come into force from April 1, saying a commencement date will be announced “shortly”.

Under the rules, adults will have to prove they are of age to view the content, using one of a number of options, such as a card they can buy from a shop or uploading ID documents online.

In 2018, Digital Minister Margot James said the UK could expect the age verification rules to be in force by Easter this year.

“Age verification measures, urgently needed to help prevent children being exposed to harmful and inappropriate content, need to be brought in as soon as possible,” said Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s.

“Accessing the internet in an age-appropriate way is important for children and young people, and can be a positive opportunity to learn, keep in touch with friends and have fun. But the risks of being exposed to age-sensitive and harmful content such as pornography needs to be acknowledged and addressed.”

The complexity of the matter makes it less frustrating but not surprising, a representative for the UK Safer Internet Centre explained.

UK age verification measures for porn websites
(Yui Mok/PA)

“What they are actually proposing to do is quite a bit more difficult and a lot less simple than it has been reported as,” said Carmel Glassbrook, manager of the organisation’s professionals online safety helpline.

“Nobody at the Safer Internet Centre is expecting it be a smooth and fast process at all.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the changes continue to argue their fears for privacy and freedoms online.

“They’ve had over a year to get this right,” said Myles Jackman, a UK lawyer who specialises in obscenity law and sexual freedoms.

“It was supposed to come into effect in April 2018 and we have consistently flagged privacy and data security issues along with free speech concerns.”

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, added: “The delays have been very much to do with the fact that privacy has been considered at the last minute and they’re having to try to find some way to make these services a bit safer.

“We should know all of the details of what they are proposing.”

Chris Price