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Age Verification for Online Pornography and Privacy

Compulsory age verification poses serious privacy concerns that are not addressed within the Bill. Commercial pornographic websites may collect the exact identity details of their users, creating clear commercial opportunities for themselves.

Data collection creates inherent risks of data breaches and the lack of safeguards within the Bill creates opportunities for 'Ashley Madison' style data leaks revealing personal sexual preferences; since privacy protections are entirely absent from the Bill.

Amateur and smaller commercial websites will be unduly burdened by the Bill. Imposing the cost of age verification on them will make their existence as free and commercial entities untenable. This may also adversely affect sexual minorities by denying them the means to freely express their sexuality.

While the Bill lacks proposals for blocking websites that do not comply for good reasons, it is proposed that payment providers will also be responsible for enforcement: hardly a bullet-proof solution. Meanwhile, online pornography will still be available to those under 18, without age verification, elsewhere on the Internet.

It is concerning that these age verification solutions have arisen from the government’s collaboration with pornographic producers who would themselves be able to raise additional revenue from the data collection itself. The Bill needs to reflect a clear separation of commercial interests and child protection objectives.

The role of the age verification regulator needs to be defined in more detail on the face of the Bill. Such a regulatory body may lack expertise in aspects of age verification. Thus, without clearly defined duties (such as the protection and maintenance of privacy) there is a significant risk that they will adopt superficial solutions to address complex issues.

Child protection should also be addressed from alternative perspectives. Children and young adults should receive effective education and guidance, whilst carers should be encouraged to provide protections suitable to a specific child. Such an approach is more likely to succeed without imposing significant costs, restrictions or risks on a large number of adults.

NOTE – This article is an except from the Open Rights Groups’ DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL: BRIEFING TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON SECOND READING.

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