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Want to watch online porn? You'd better have some ID

Michael Passingham
7 Apr 2015
Blocked porn website
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Conservatives' plans to create new adult content age gates are largely unworkable, says privacy organisation

Visitors to adult websites may be forced to provide proof of age if the Conservatives form the next UK government. In a post on Facebook over the weekend, UK culture secretary Sajid Javid stated that if elected, the Conservatives would "legislate to put online hardcore pornography behind effective age verification controls" in order to protect children from adult images.

In practice, this would be using using a third-party such as a credit ratings firm, or even going as far as creating an entirely new digital ID system for UK citizens. In an interview with the BBC, Javid said that the electronic ID system in use in countries such as Finland was a relevant example.

Such a system would require cooperation from the websites themselves, with UK ISPs asked to block access to websites that fail to comply to the regulations. Any service providers that failed to enforce this could be fined under these plans.

Exactly how this would work is unclear, especially given the relative ease with which internet users worldwide can access blocked websites with copyright-infringing content through the use of proxies, VPNs or alternative URLs.

Emma Carr, director of civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch, told Expert Reviews that trying to regulate websites hosted outside of the UK would be an uphill struggle: “With the vast majority of sites that that would need age verification being hosted outside of the UK, it wouldn’t be possible to enforce this measure across the board," she said. "It is therefore unclear why politicians think this, rather than parent controlled filters, is the solution.”

Furthermore, the privacy implications of requiring a third-party authentication of identity in order to access websites most users would rather keep private, are very much in question.

"We do not want to prevent adults from accessing legal content but we do want to protect our children from harmful material, so they are free to develop a healthy attitude to sex and relationships," Javid said.

Porn blocking has been near the top of the technology side of the political agenda for a couple of years, with the government successfully mandating the use of opt-out adult content filters for all UK internet customers.

Last year, online rights organisation the Open Rights Group found that online filters were massively overblocking websites, with up 20% of the websites included in its study blocked by ISPs.

 

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