Pornography age verification checks delayed

Age verification measures on pornography websites have been delayed once again, the Government has confirmed.

The tighter controls designed to protect young people from adult content online were due to come into force on July 15, but Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said that the move had been pushed back once again due a failure to notify the European Commission about certain aspects of the plan.

“It has come to my attention in recent days that an important notification process was not undertaken for an element of this policy and I regret to say that this will delay the commencement date,” Mr Wright told MPs.

“I expect that this will result in a delay in the region of six months.”

The plans, which are said to be a world first, have been hit by a number of delays since being introduced as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, amid concerns about how checks would work and fears for user privacy.

Under the watch of the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) as regulator, commercial pornography websites will be required by law to carry out “robust age verification checks on users” or face having payment services withdrawn or being blocked for UK internet users.

The aim is to verify a person’s age in a number of ways, including using traditional forms of ID such as a credit card or passport, or by buying an over-the-counter card from shops where verification would take place face-to-face.

Age verification measures
Age verification measures

However, the BBFC has previously admitted that the changes are “not a silver bullet” and that “some determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography”.

Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online, said: “Every year the NSPCC’s Childline hears from children worried about pornography, and we know that exposure to it is damaging young people’s views about sex, body image and healthy relationships.

“Whenever the new rules are introduced, the most important thing is that they must be effective in protecting children from coming across sexually explicit content.”

An Internet Matters survey of parents from earlier this year also found that almost one in five expect children will be able to circumvent the restrictions, even though the majority believe the new measures will make a difference.

The effectiveness of age verification measures have also been put into doubt by the Government’s decision to only target commercial pornography websites where more than a third of content is pornographic, meaning some areas of the internet will be exempt.

Critics have long argued that plan infringes on people’s privacy and could put their data at risk.

“While it’s very embarrassing to delay age verification for the third time, this is an opportunity for the Government to address the many problems that this ill-thought-through policy poses,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the digital freedoms organisation Open Rights Group.

“Age verification providers have warned that they are not ready; the BBFC’s standard to protect data has been shown to be ineffective.

“The Government needs to use this delay to introduce legislation that will ensure the privacy and security of online users is protected.”