UK Abandons Planned Online Pornography Age Verification System

The British government has dropped plans to introduce a national online pornography age verification system because implementing it would be too difficult.

A nationwide system to ensure X-rated online content cannot be viewed by children was first proposed in 2015 by the then culture secretary Sajid Javid. However, it took the proposal two years to become law.

Under the proposal, pornography websites would be required to verify that users were age 18 or older. Suggested ways of doing this included running verification checks on credit cards and making porn passes available to purchase from newsagents on the presentation of photo ID. 

Websites that refused to go along with the age checks could have been blocked by UK internet service providers or had their access to payment services revoked. 

The system was going to be funded and run by private companies and overseen by the British Board of Film Classification.

The system was initially due to come into force on July 15 this year but was then delayed for six months because the government had neglected to announce the plan to the European Union. 

Today, culture secretary Nicky Morgan told parliament that the age verification system would be dropped altogether. Morgan said that the government would focus instead on implementing broader child protection measures as laid out in the online harms white paper published in April 2019. 

The white paper proposes establishing in law a new duty of care toward internet users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. Companies will be held to account for tackling a more comprehensive set of online harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviors that are harmful but not necessarily illegal.

"The government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering. Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm," said Morgan. 

"This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care."

While privacy campaigners who raised data security concerns over the proposed system may be celebrating its abandonment, British businesses that had invested time and money in developing verification products are sure to be disappointed.

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