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  • Voltaire Staff

UK aims to gatekeep porn from children with age restriction laws


Image Courtesy: Unsplash


The UK Regulator Ofcom announced on Tuesday that it will be issuing new guidelines to prevent young people from accessing pornographic websites.


Even though the UK's recently passed legislation, the Online Safety Act, lets websites decide how to prevent underage users, the regulator is providing a list of options for compliance. These options involve getting confirmation from a user's bank or mobile network, with the user's permission, to verify they are at least 18.


Another option is asking users to provide valid details for a credit card only accessible to those 18 and older. The regulator is seeking feedback on these guidelines starting today and aims to finalize its official recommendations in about a year.


These measures could stir up controversy and are introduced a bit over four years after the UK government abandoned a previous effort to require age verification for accessing pornography.


The earlier attempt faced criticism due to privacy and technical issues, leading to the plans being put on hold. There was optimism that the Online Safety Act, which was in the works back then as the Online Harms White Paper, would provide a more effective solution.


"Pornography is too readily accessible to children online, and the new online safety laws are clear that must change. Our practical guidance sets out a range of methods for highly effective age checks. We’re clear that weaker methods – such as allowing users to self-declare their age – won’t meet this standard," said Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, in an official statement.


Ofcom's online safety lead, Gill Whitehead, told Verge that their research indicates proof of easy access to pornography for children online, with some as young as eight or nine stumbling upon such content accidentally.


Ofcom's press release highlights research findings indicating that nearly eight out of 10 children have encountered "violent pornography depicting coercive, degrading, or pain-inducing sex acts" before reaching the age of 18.


Ofcom has outlined six age verification methods in its draft guidelines. Besides using banks, mobile networks, and credit cards, other proposed measures include requesting users to upload photo ID such as a driver's licence or passport.


Additionally, the guidelines suggest using "facial age estimation" technology to analyse a person's face and confirm that they are at least 18. Merely relying on a visitor's declaration of being an adult will not be deemed stringent enough.


After the responsibilities take effect, pornographic websites can opt for either Ofcom's suggested approaches or establish their own age verification methods, as long as they meet the "highly effective" standard required by the Online Safety Act.


Ofcom seeks to collaborate directly with larger sites and oversee smaller ones by addressing complaints, monitoring media reports, and cooperating with frontline services. Failure to comply with the Online Safety Act may result in fines of up to £18 million (approximately $22.7 million) or 10 percent of global revenue, whichever is higher.


The previous attempt to mandate age verification for pornography in the UK faced significant criticism, particularly regarding privacy concerns.


The final guidance in the matter is anticipated to be published by early 2025, following which the government will enact these obligations.

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