UK porn crackdown: £250,000 fines for websites if users are not over 18

18 Jul 201738 Shares

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

UK houses of parliament. Image: saranya33/Shutterstock

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Porn websites must install age-verification software or risk being banned from UK. However, the measures also come with privacy risks for UK citizens.

Tough new powers being rolled out in the UK will mean that providers of porn websites must prove that users are over the age of 18, otherwise they will get hit with fines of £250,000.

The websites will also have to install age-verification software. If they fail to do, so they will be banned from the UK and blocked by ISPs.

‘Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison-style hacks’
– JIM KILLOCK

Not only that, but users will have to prove they are over 18 by providing their credit card details.

Failure to do any of this will not only mean fines and blocking by ISPs, but porn-site operators will also risk being cut off from their UK-based payment providers and advertisers.

Silencing smut

This is one of the first commencement orders to emerge from the Digital Economy Act, with the age-checking software to be brought in by April 2018.

A regulatory body – potentially the British Board of Film Classification – will be asked to oversee and enforce the new rules.

It is estimated that at least 1m people under 18 in the UK access porn websites and there is concern that this is giving young people a warped view of sexual relationships.

Matt Hancock, MP and minister of state for digital, told the UK parliament that the Digital Economy Act introduces a raft of measures that include helping consumers access broadband, building digital infrastructure, protecting children from online pornography and enabling better public services using digital technologies.

“A number of important provisions in the act have already come into force. These include powers on broadband USO, switching, automatic compensation and information powers to help consumers accessing electronic communications services.”

The tackling of the issue of underage access to pornography is one of the first commencement orders contained in the new act.

“We have taken steps to implement the new age-verification requirement for online pornography as part of our continuing work to make the internet safer,” Hancock said.

“The new scheme is complex and will not be fully in place until April 2018, but today we are bringing into force powers to designate the regulator and powers to allow guidance to be issued.”

Porn profiling raises privacy risks

While Hancock said the new rules put the UK in the lead for having the most robust internet child-protection measures in the world, critics warn that the plan is flawed and will be difficult to implement.

Not only will punters turn to VPNs to sidestep the measures, but there are concerns that the new laws will build up a picture of British people’s porn habits and introduce privacy risks.

“Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK’s porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison-style hacks,” warned Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age-verification providers to protect the privacy of web users.”

Killock said that there is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification.

“We are concerned that the porn company MindGeek will become the Facebook of age verification, dominating the UK market. They would then decide what privacy risks or profiling take place for the vast majority of UK citizens.

“Age verification risks failure as it attempts to fix a social problem with technology. In their recent manifestos, all three main political parties called for compulsory sex and relationship education in schools.

“Sex education would genuinely protect young people, as it would give them information and context,” Killock said.

UK houses of parliament. Image: saranya33/Shutterstock

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com