DCMS Details Online Harms Bill as Age Verification Faces Potential Revival

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The Age Verification law is set to be revived for the UK Government’s online harms bill.

Speaking at the Westminster eForum policy conference around next steps for online regulation in the UK, Sarah Connolly, director, security and online harms at DCMS, said that age verification “has a fairly troubled history” and it is the intention of DCMS “to roll it into the wider online harms agenda, so that will be the vehicle that will make changes.”

The Age Verification proposals were previously met with conflict over practicalities, both in ensuring that it was operated efficiently, and over the data protection of those approved. Under the proposal, pornography websites would be required to verify that users are aged 18 or older. Suggested ways of doing this included running verification checks on credit cards, or by making verification passes available to purchase from newsagents on the presentation of photo ID.

However, the plan was abandoned in October 2019 due to implementation difficulties.

Speaking on the plans for the Online Harms bill, Connolly said “we all know that the internet is used to abuse, to bully, to promote terrorism, to abuse children and to undermine democracy.” As a result, in the four years she has been working on this issue, there has “been a real momentum to get something done in this space,” but the challenge is to do the right thing in an “incredibly complex area.”

Part of the plan is to enshrine a government duty of care among websites and networks where users are able to share user generated content, and this duty will be enforced by an independent regulator whom government is yet to name.

“This is not something we can do alone, and we’re pretty clear that lots of stakeholders will have a role in helping us tackle this public policy concern,” she said.

Connolly said work continues on the policy, and intends to publish a full government response before the end of the year. “I don’t think for a moment that government has a monopoly of good ideas on this, that is why my team and I are keen to talk and listen to you all, including to people who disagree with our approach as we have changed positions previously in response to those conversations, as it is an immensely complex and difficult issue and it is really important that we get it right,” she said.

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