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UK government calls for tougher age-checks on adult sites

The UK government is launching a public consultation over its plans to require pornographic websites to verify that visitors are aged 18 or over. The Conservative party wants to deliver on its manifesto pledge to introduce age verification to all porn sites, but the latest proposals go further.

The government wants all companies that profit from pornography online to implement systems to have a legal requirement to ensure that visitors are over 18. The consultation runs until 12 April and has the aim of using British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) issued 18 / 18R ratings for sites, but it's unclear how effective the system would be for free porn sites.

The government says that its preferred approach for protecting children from pornography would put "responsibility squarely on the shoulders of companies who create and profit from online pornography". This is something that has been talked about for some time, and ISPs have already been tasked with blocking access to porn sites by default, although customers can ask for access to be granted to them.

Inviting feedback on the latest proposals, the government says:

The UK is a world leader in the work it does to improve child safety online, but we cannot be complacent. Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from harm, especially the young and most vulnerable.

The government wants to not only implement age check, but also to set up a framework with legal process overseen by regulators. The regulators would:

  • Monitor compliance with the new law by commercial pornography providers.
  • Enable those that support the business model of pornographic content providers (such as payment providers, advertisers and other ancillary services) to withdraw services from commercial providers in breach of the law.
  • Impose sanctions where breaches have been identified and providers remain non-compliant.
  • Give the regulator discretion to set and monitor standards for age verification controls.

The proposals are likely to prove divisive. Any form of age checking is likely to raise privacy concerns among consumers of pornographic material, and porn providers are unlikely to be keen on additional red tape. Children's charity NSPCC, however, welcomes the government's action. Chief executive Peter Wanless said:

This consultation is an important and welcome step forward in keeping children safe from online pornography. Companies that produce and profit from this material have a responsibility to give children the same protection they would get in the offline world.

To give your feedback head over to the Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography consultation page.

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