Ever since the Digital Economy Act was passed in 2017, British erotica fans have been faced with the ever-looming threat of losing access to unrestricted online content. Now lawmakers have confirmed that on July 15th, 2019, the United Kingdom will become the first country in the world to have an age-verification requirement across the board for all adult sites. From here on out, if you are based in the UK.
What is the age-check scheme?
According to the British government, the age-check scheme that was first outlined in the 2017 Digital Economy Act is designed to stop under 18 year olds from viewing pornographic websites. From July 15th, 2019, all of the affected websites will have to verify the age of UK visitors. Failure to comply with these new regulations will lead to these sites being blocked by internet service providers.
Under this new legislation, an online porn site is classified as a platform ‘where more than a third of a site or app’s content’ is pornographic. In this manner, popular tube sites such as PornHub and YouPorn will be inaccessible to UK users unless they upload their driver’s license or other personal documents to prove they are over 18. Twitter, Reddit, Imgur and other social networking sites which contain some pornographic content will not be required to use this age-check scheme.
If they do not want to upload a copy of their driver’s license or passport, British users will also be able to buy special cards with login codes from local high street stores and newsagents. These so-called ‘porn passes’ will retail at £5 (roughly $6.50) and they will be sold to adults after carrying out face-to-face checks. Each ‘porn pass’ would have a unique code that British users could type into the porn site of their choosing in order to gain access.
Unfortunately, all of these age-verification processes raise the problem of anonymity. Many porn users will not want to go into a shop and buy a ‘porn pass’ that advertises their intentions to the shop clerk and anyone nearby! Moreover, there is no obligation for porn sites to accept these ‘porn passes’ as verifiable ID.
Officials have stated that porn companies who refuse to carry out these age-checks could be fined up to £250,000 (roughly $325,000). For now however, ministers have said that these penalties will not be enforced because they believe that the threat to block sites will be sufficient. It is also worth pointing out that trying to pursue payment from internationally-based porn sites would be difficult.
Will this age-check scheme work?
For the past two years, there have been a series of protests and petitions organised by critics who ardently oppose this age-check scheme. These critics argue that the age-check scheme will not solve the problem of under-18s accessing pornographic content online; all it will do is infringe upon the privacy rights of law-abiding British users.
In particular, these critics argue that it will be fairly easy for under-18s to bypass these new restrictions. For example, under this new law it will still be legal to use virtual private networks (VPNs). In this manner, a British-based user could adopt a foreign IP address to make it seem as if they are living abroad in order to evade age-checks. What’s more, the introduction of these age-check schemes for legitimate porn sites could lead to users turning to porn-hosting platforms that are not covered by the law.
In response to these criticisms, officials have stated that this age-check scheme is not a perfect solution but that it is a viable way to reduce the chances of children stumbling across inappropriate material online. As the Minister for Digital, Margot James, stated in ;
“The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content…We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this”.
However, critics of the scheme have been quick to point out that under-18s have been circumventing age restriction laws since the dawn of time. For instance, you must be over 18 to smoke in the UK but on smoking showed that 25% of pupils had used e-cigarettes. Similarly, the legal drinking age in the UK is 18 yet revealed that approximately 33 children are admitted to hospital each day in England with drink-related problems. Who is to say that this age-check scheme will be any different?
How will the age-check scheme be enforced?
The regulation of this age-check scheme will be carried out by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) which is the institution that gives films their UK age ratings. The BBFC will instruct internet providers on the sites and apps that they should block if they do not implement age-verification systems. The BBFC have also been given the power to contact payment service providers and instruct them to pull support. The BBFC will even be able to ask search engines and advertisers to ‘shun’ an offending business.
When it comes to the actual process of age-checks, porn sites will be able to choose their preferred verification method. The BBFC have said that the porn sites which adopt ‘robust’ data protection standards will be given a certificate that will allow them to display a green AV (Age Verification) symbol on their sites – much like a blue tick on Twitter.
Although these AV symbols may sound appealing, Jim Killock, the director of the Open Rights Group, has highlighted the dangers of this practice. As he stated in ;
“Having some age verification that is good and other systems that are bad is unfair and a scammer’s paradise – of the government’s own making. Data leaks could be disastrous. And they will be the government’s own fault”.
In anticipation of this legislation, sites such as Mindgeek have already developed their own age-check systems such as AgeID. Users upload scans of their ID (such as their driving licences or passports) which are then verified by a third-party. All of the information processed through AgeID will be encrypted and will not track the activities of each account. However, this system still does not resolve the concerns of many British users who are hesitant to divulge their personal information online in order to pass this age-verification process.
What’s more, the BBFC have said that they plan to create an online form so that members of the public can flag non-complaint sites from July 15th onward. Given that performers are often who actively seek to have them banned from social media platforms such as Instagram, one can expect that these trolls will take advantage of this new flagging form.
Consequently, many British users are stating that this new age-check scheme will not protect children – all it will do is punish porn users and industry professionals. As highlighted;
“The government claims the new regulations are ‘backed by 88% of UK parents with children aged 7-17’, but given that ‘more than half of Britons watch online pornography’ this could be a case of being careful what you wish for”.
How will these age-checks affect the adult industry?
Many industry professionals are worried that this age-check scheme will deter British users from visiting porn sites. After all, social networking sites such as Twitter seem to be the only bastion left for performers to promote their content without their fans having to adhere to these age-check schemes. However, a spokesman for the stated that these social media platforms could soon be affected too;
“We know that pornography is available on some social media platforms and we expect those platforms to do a lot more to create a safer environment for children. If we do not see action then we do not rule out legislating in the future to force companies to take responsibility for protecting vulnerable users from the potentially harmful content that they host”.
Given that sites such as Instagram and Facebook have already announced plans to restrict ‘borderline’ and ‘sexually suggestive’ material on their platforms, one can’t help but feel as if the adult industry is under attack from all fronts. Although we all agree it is important to protect children from inappropriate and harmful content online, these new regulations seem to be harming the general law-abiding porn viewing population and industry professionals rather than protecting underage users.
But what do you think? Is the UK age-check scheme a good idea or not? Do you think similar laws will be introduced abroad? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!