Australian government opts against online age verification mandate
Australia’s Albanese government has opted out of imposing a mandatory age verification regime for online pornography and other adult content, citing the immaturity of current technology options. The government will instead rely on forthcoming online safety codes.
On March 31, 2023, the eSafety Commissioner submitted the Roadmap for Age Verification to the Australian Government. The roadmap explores if and how a mandatory age verification mechanism or similar could practically be achieved in Australia and considers additional measures to prevent and mitigate harm to children from online pornography. This roadmap is the outcome of almost two years of work by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
When developing the roadmap, eSafety commissioned a study on age assurance technologies such as digital identity apps that allow individuals to store personal information on their device, physical age tokens, and facial recognition. The evaluation considered facial analysis, voice age analysis, and electronic tokens, like those used in euCONSENT trials in Europe.
eSafety ultimately found the market of offerings “immature,” with each technology having its own “benefits and trade-offs,” leading it to recommend that age assurance technologies be trialed before being mandated. The roadmap states, “Age assurance technologies should be trialed in the Australian context before being prescribed, building on lessons learned through the euCONSENT pilot.”
eSafety recommends using existing powers available under the Online Safety Act, such as the online safety codes, to prevent children from accessing pornography. However, only codes addressing “class one” content, including terrorism and child sexual exploitation material, currently exist, with eSafety to address “class two” content, which extends to pornography as part of a second development phase.
In response to the roadmap, the government stated, “It is clear from the roadmap that at present, each type of age verification or age assurance technology comes with its own privacy, security, effectiveness and implementation issues,” the response said.
The government supported eSafety’s call to use forthcoming industry codes. Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has already written to the eSafety Commissioner to ask that this work commence as soon as practicable on the class two content codes.
“While the Government awaits the outcome of this process, the digital industry is on notice that we will not hesitate to take further action should it fail to keep children safe,” Ms. Rowland said in a statement.
The eSafety organization has proposed establishing a regulatory framework for accrediting and supervising age assurance providers. They also acknowledged the ongoing efforts to create a similar regulatory framework for the Australian Government’s Digital Identity System.