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Breaking news! Age-verification for porn sites to be implemented in the UK

After months of deliberation, Child Protection advocates are celebrating in the United Kingdom with new changes adopted into legislation. The UK have been taking active steps to protect children from online pornography harms, and at  3.15.p.m. on April 27, the Digital Economy Bill 2016-2017 was approved. The legislation creates civil penalties for online pornographers who do not verify the age of their customers, and ISP level blocking of non-compliant sites.

John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety, states:

...age-verification is now a requirement for all significant commercial publishers of pornography, wherever in the world they are based and whether or not they style themselves as being “free”.  If they are about making money and they want to have access to the UK market they must have age-verification.  If they don’t they can be fined and ultimately ISPs will be required to block access to them in roughly the same way that they block access to child abuse images.

Other benefits for young people include a code of practice that will be developed for social media platform providers to deal with a range of concerns.

This is a huge win for children. Porn Harms Kids advocates for a range of Digital Child Protection Buffers, and one such measure is the implementation of age-verification. We applaud the UK and those working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this a reality. You are a leader in showing the rest of the world what is possible.

Meanwhile in Australia, the media reports that the Government has no plans to block internet pornography. As the UK have shown, there is a great deal that can be  done to protect children from online pornography harms. Doing nothing is not an option, and the Government is currently navigating responses that will help address the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet.

Ensure your Federal MP knows how important it is that we do whatever it takes to improve the online space for the health and wellbeing of children. We can all speak up, and call on our Government and technology companies to prevent the harms of pornography from occurring in the first place.

How is the UK planning on implementing age-verification?

According to Ernie Allen, former lead of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), this move is not about censorship. This is about child protection, not sorting particular content; and it protects the privacy of the adult porn user.

Allen states that "British experts are now confident that the technology exists to do this accurately and effectively.  It is based on third-party trusted verification through using existing robust data sources; i.e., credit card, mobile ID, data analysis companies, etc. Thus, the operator of the site will never know who is accessing the site, only that this is someone who is at least 18.  The British call it “pseudonymous” identification.   It is more complicated than that but the UK has developed the technology for a credible, effective, inexpensive solution, and it is being examined and monitored by other countries with whom I have spoken."

Allen assures us that age-verification is "certainly not a panacea. It doesn’t obviate the needs for more research or a public health-based approach.  Neither does he argue that the model of default filtering, in place in the UK at Sky Broadband, the so-called “Sky Broadband Shield,” should not be adopted and implemented by leading companies as well."  Yet it should be reassuring to us all that Ernie Allen believes that "age-verification is a compelling and achievable way to begin to address the adult-content inundation of the developing brains of younger and younger children."

This paper on age-verification and the consultation process in the UK was published last year and explains more.

THEY” said it couldn’t be done (whoever ‘they’ are), yet it has been. Porn harms kids, so there should be no excuses.

Liz Walker, Chair

[This article was updated April 29, 2017, to include the 'how' of age-verification.]

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  • A world where children can grow up without being psychologically harmed by accessing graphic, violent pornography online
  • Prevention of children’s access, given that porn is linked to increased risks of STIs and other harmful physical and relational outcomes
  • Higher standards for ISPs, tech and porn companies to implement technology-related child protection buffers to block harmful pornographic content
  • Adults, including the Australian Government, to exercise due diligence to protect children

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