Digital Economy Act 2017

Age Verification in the UK

Pornography is adult entertainment. There are government-imposed licensing restrictions to its access for children in real life in the same was as there are for gambling, buying alcohol, cigarettes or knives. These are based on evidence-based health reasons. Online pornography however is freely available to children. Until now the Government has not had a way of enforcing restriction on children to online pornography.  However, this is about to change with the introduction of a robust system of age verification.

On 17 July 2017 the UK’s Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed the commencement order for the Digital Economy Act 2017 which achieved Royal Assent in April. You can see the part of the act for Online Pornography here.

As a result work has begun on introducing a new age verification process for accessing online pornography. This is expected to be in place by April 2019, a milestone in the Government’s work to make the UK the safest place in the world for children to be online.

The Reward Foundation contributed to the public consultation in 2016 and was active in lobbying parliamentarians to make the legislation fit for purpose.

How will age verification work?

Under the Act the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be made the Regulator and will be given powers to make internet service providers restrict access to pornographic sites which do not put tough age verification measures in place to protect kids.

The requirement to block websites would apply to all sites in the UK and overseas. Where websites originate in the EU the process will be compatible with country of origin rules.

In summary, what the Government has done to protect children from accessing harmful pornographic material is:

  1. The Government has been talking to the pornography suppliers about protecting children. The top 50 sites account for 70% of users. Many, including the largest free site by market share, have agreed with the government to implement age verification.
  2. Free pornography sites are teasers for paid sites. The payment service providers (eg VISA, Mastercard) have agreed, if needed, to withdraw transaction services from non-compliant websites.
  3. Websites need servers to host them, advertisers to support them, and infrastructure to connect them. With the international and unregulated manner in which the Internet operates the UK Government cannot compel supporting services to be denied, but the regulator will seek to gain cooperation from the industry.
  4. For those sites who won’t comply with Age Verification we will allow the regulator to implement ISP blocking and take the sites down.

This is a general guide to the law and does not constitute legal advice.

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