Porn viewers will have to prove age as online law passes

January 11, 2019

Websites which are more than one-third pornographic will be obliged to verify the age of UK visitors under a law which has now been passed.

Although the porn regulations had been delayed as the government sought to work out some kinks, it is now expected to implement age verification checks for anyone wishing to access porn in the UK from around April.

One of the suggested methods to verify viewers' ages would require users to input bank card details to all pornographic websites they visit.

Its purpose is to protect children online, but academic researchers and technology experts have warned the measures will not necessarily protect minors from online pornography

The law has also prompted fears over surveillance, cyber security, and blackmail.

Neil Brown, the MD of law firm decoded.legal told Sky News: "It is not clear how this age verification will be done, and whether it can be done without also have to prove identity, and there are concerns about the lack of specific privacy and security safeguards.

"There are various proposals for obtaining your 'porn licence'," Mr Brown added.

"Some involve handing over details online, some may entail installing software on your phone or computer, and others require you to go into store and prove your age (like buying alcohol). A credit card alone is unlikely to be sufficient."

Experts have suggested that the law could put government ministers and other high-profile figures at risk of blackmail if their embarrassing habits were observed by hackers.

Figures released in 2018 revealed that there were roughly 160 attempts a day to access blocked pornographic websites within Parliament the year before.

Mr Brown told Sky News: "Even though this legislation has received quite a lot of attention, I doubt most internet users will be aware of what looks like an imminent requirement to obtain a 'porn licence' before watching pornography online.

"The government's own impact assessment recognises that it is not guaranteed to succeed, and I suspect we will see an increase in advertising from VPN providers in the near future."

VPNs or virtual private networks are a privacy technology which allows users to tunnel their internet communications through a third party. This would enable users in the UK to avoid any censorship requirements imposed by sites on users connecting from in the country.

"The legislation can be used to compel ISPs to block access to non-compliant websites," added Mr Brown.

"Worryingly, this does not involve a court, and it expressly permits 'overblocking' - the blocking of 'material other than the offending material'."

Mr Brown added: "It is highly unlikely that this is consistent with human rights law."

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for ensuring online pornography websites are verifying the ages of visitors.

The biggest internet pornography company in the world, MindGeek, has told Sky News it will not snoop on the sexual preferences of 25 million people in the UK under new age verification laws.

MindGeek also runs some of the most viewed pornography sites in the world, including PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube - the so-called 'tube' sites - as well as production studios including Brazzers.

It anticipates signing up 25 million users in the UK to its age verification system, AgeID.

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