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Backlash mounts over UK govt failure to implement age verification for online porn

Backlash mounts over UK govt failure to implement age verification for online porn

The delay by No. 10 Downing St. to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which provides for an age verification system to check access to commercial online pornography, is not going down well with child safety advocates or age verification technology providers. Not so either with the courts.

The UK, recall, first delayed plans to enforce the age verification check for commercial porn websites in May 2019 and eventually dropped the plans in October of the same year.

Online child safety Consultant John Carr, and Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of age verification technology provider Yoti Robin Tombs, in different recent posts, have made a case for the need to quickly regulate online porn access in the country through age verification.

In a blog post, Carr chides Boris Johnson’s administration for its unwillingness to implement the law despite the passage of an Age Appropriate Design Code, and mocked it for being “defeated in Court. Again. (sic)”

Carr writes that last Wednesday, a judge ruled against the government in a second case brought against it on the failure to implement the Part 3, with the judge Lady Justice Whipple picking holes in an alternatively proposed Online Safety Bill, saying it does not expressly mention “pornography.”

The Online Safety Bill was unveiled in May.

Carr holds that the blame for the failure to implement the Part 3, even after the necessary regulations for its implementation had been worked on and presented to Parliament, rests squarely at the door steps of No. 10 and not the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport or the Home Office.

“If we are left to rely solely on the Online Safety Bill, right now we are still looking at maybe three years before any protection from pornography will be in place. This is scandalous. Three years is a very long time in the life of a child. If the Government is sincere about protecting children from porn sites, it must find a way to fast track the pornography protection provisions,” a portion of Carr’s article reads.

In the write-up, Carr also notes the failure of the Information Commissioner to act on the phenomenon of porn sites processing children’s data.

He writes: “It defies commonsense to say the Information Commissioner would act against a web site providing children with access to pictures of butterflies because the site had taken a procedural misstep but they would at the same time refuse to act against porn sites that process children’s data because the real harm is in the content not the processing.”

Carr concludes by calling for more support for the current legal suit against government, saying it shouldn’t fail for lack of money.

Yoti CEO sides with Carr, sees need for age verification

Meanwhile, in what looks like an endorsement of John Carr’s argument, Yoti CEO Robin Tombs writes in a LinkedIn post that according to a survey, about 80 percent of UK voters are of the opinion that there should be age verification as a prerequisite for online porn access.

Tombs goes on to mention that many pornography sites are increasingly using age verification, and choosing Yoti specially, because the technology is very easy for adults to use, and does not result in retention of biometric data or images by the age-restricted sites.

“An increasing number of porn (& non porn) sites use Yoti age verification, particularly privacy preserving age estimation, across different countries including the UK, to prevent children accessing porn. This is because Yoti age estimation is very easy for adults to do & doesn’t require anyone to give their face image to porn sites – Yoti deletes all images instantly after estimating over or under age. It is the same solution approved by the BBFC back in early 2019 that porn sites were ready to use in summer 2019 until Boris intervened,” Tombs writes.

Yoti’s face age estimation solution was recently approved by Germany’s Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media for access to online services.

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