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Conservatives Pledge Strict Age Verification for Adult Porn Websites

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 (11:19 pm) - Score 2,124

The Conservative Party has revived a proposal to introduce strict age verification checks on adult Internet content, particularly pornographic websites, if they win the coming General Election. But making a workable solution won’t be easy.

So far, leaving aside the Budget 2015 announcements, we haven’t heard much in the way of broadband or Internet related election promises from the major political parties. In that sense it’s refreshing to finally have a pledge to look at, even if it is one that has cropped up in prior Government reports and which in the past has also enjoyed a fair degree of support from a good number of opposition politicians’.

Broadly speaking the current Government’s Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, has pledged to force all providers of Internet smut (both in the UK and abroad) to introduce strict Age Verification Checks on their websites. Sites that fail to comply would risk facing financial penalties from a new regulatory body.

Apparently the verification process would then involve either using a more traditional Credit Card Verification check or requiring the user to share details of their Passport or Driving Licence through special pre-approved software. At this stage though the details, as with any pre-election pledge, become sparse and it’s not yet clear whether such an approach would even remain limited to porn.

Sajid Javid MP said:

This is about giving children the best start in life; we do not want to prevent adults from accessing legal content but we do want to protect our children from harmful material, so they are free to develop a healthy attitude to sex and relationships.”

Obviously such an approach would face a number of difficulties and to keep life simple we’ve summarised a few of those below.

The Difficulties of Internet Age Verification

* Any system that requires its own regulatory body is likely to be expensive.

* Nearly all children in the United Kingdom are already protected by optional network-level filtering at ISP level, which blocks adult websites. But this can easily be circumvented.

* It is not clear how rules applied in the UK could realistically be enforced on sites abroad without global cooperation, and since most porn appears to come from overseas..

* Hands up who would trust sensitive personal data to any providers of pornographic content, not least with the risk that this could create another avenue for fraudsters to exploit.

* Children are nothing if not resourceful and casual “borrowing” of a parent’s credit card, passport or driving licence details suggest this is unlikely to be a completely effective deterrent, although good parenting can help to minimise such risks.

* Pre-paid credit cards are often available to those under the age of 18 and such systems would need to be clever enough to detect this. Equally such cards can also be used by adults who may be unable to access a credit card.

One interesting question that arises from all this is, if such a proposal were actually to become successful, then might it not also give rise to the question of whether the big broadband providers should still be forced to offer network-level filtering (the Age Verification approach is likely to be harder to circumvent).

Otherwise the biggest barriers are likely to be one of cost and jurisdiction for sites that exist outside of the UK, which in reality will mean that most sites will almost certainly slip through the proverbial net and thus remain accessible.

At this point we have the ISP filtering as a fall back (an assumption suggests that porn blocks by ISPs may thus become mandatory for non-compliant sites), but then we already know how easy those are to circumvent and children are usually more clued up about such things than adults.

As usual the best age verification system remains good parenting and education.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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