France is the latest to wade into age-verification quicksand
Age verification schemes are proving as controversial and difficult to implement as any other corner of biometrics. No one knows what the winning technology formula, including if it will involve biometrics like facial recognition.
The focus right now is on preventing children and adolescents from accessing pornography, an event that can cause lasting emotional damage for minors, according to numerous studies.
Even unabashedly libertine France appears to be moving toward nationwide age verification requirements for pornography sites. The nation’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has promised to prevent this happening, and the parliament unanimously said it would vote in favor of techniques that achieve the same result.
In fact, the Senate is expected soon to sign a National Assembly bill carrying a provision making it mandatory for relevant companies to find methods that protect minors from even accidentally viewing pornographic material.
The anticipated law, according to an article in Politico, would require France’s audiovisual regulator, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, or CSA, find and punish organizations. However, it leaves it to companies to buy or create the systems required.
Industry players saw this coming. In an unsuccessful bid in January to avoid new legislation, representatives of the nation’s porn film industry, ISPs and various technology companies wrote a toothless charter saying they would try to better verify ages.
Which means that the only elbow room that they would have involves the most problematic aspect of the goal. No one in the world has yet come up with a commercial technology product that both reliably protects the innocence of children and the privacy of adults.
Last October in Australia, the government said it is going to deploy its Face Verification and Document Verification services to verify ages. It would be a simple face-matching process.
The idea is having a tough go as some national politicians feel that information about the proposed process that they have been given is light on details about privacy protection. Face scanning initiatives throughout the developed world have become public punching bags for people who feel their face is private to them, and not freely available to government and private sector poaching.
Going old school is not looking any more promising.
Conventional methods, such as requiring a government ID card or credit card for access, can be foiled by children who get to an adult’s wallet.
The UK tried for years to get a similar proposal running, but in the end, the best that backers could promise about their systems was that “it could stop younger children from stumbling across images they found deeply disturbing,” according to an article in The Guardian. A similar effort in Italy faced the same fate.
And at the same time, adults wanting to view pornography — a protected right in the United States and other countries — would have to tell the government or a financial company they intend to do so. And even if that data could be safeguarded from government and industry, it would only be as safe from a breach as is data stored anywhere.