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Porn gets the marquee in Australian opposition’s age verification bill

Gambling, alcohol and social media also covered
Porn gets the marquee in Australian opposition’s age verification bill
 

Amid rising global interest in online age verification, Australia’s politicians are indulging in a bit of gamesmanship, with the coalition Opposition pushing the Albanese government to test age assurance technology, including biometric identification, face verification and digital ID tokens – or daring it to vote against a measure that protects minors.

A report from InnovationAus.com says that the Online Safety Amendment (Protecting Australian Children from Online Harm) Bill 2023 introduced by the Opposition would mean the quick launch of a pilot of biometric age assurance tech recommended by the eSafety Commissioner to prevent minors from accessing digital pornography. However, while the spotlight is on saving the children from X-rated content, the bill would also apply to “online wagering, online alcohol sales and establishing a minimum age for using a social media service.”

If passed, the bill would require a biannual report to Parliament on updates.

“Why on earth would the government not take action to protect kids as recommended by the eSafety Commissioner?,” asked shadow communications minister David Coleman as he introduced the bill, hammering with incredulity on the Opposition’s central talking point. “What the government said instead is, ‘Let’s leave it up to industry. Let’s leave it up to industry codes’ – literally, industry codes to which the pornography industry itself will contribute.” The Opposition backed up its hand-wringing with a promise to funnel an extra AU$6.7 million (approximately US$4.4 million) to the eSafety Commission if given the chance to form government.

The government’s response to the Opposition’s demand for trials has thus far been tepid, with Communications Minister Michelle Rowland saying that the government is considering it. The Albanese government decided against requiring age verification for adult content earlier this year, but plans to establish further rules in online safety codes.

A widespread furor

Age verification for adult content sites is becoming a hot topic in democratic nations globally. U.S. states are facing increasing calls to restrict, tax and hold accountable pornographic media. The UK introduced its Online Safety Bill. Canada is in the process of stiffening its online safety legislation. And in France, the government’s digital ministry declared that “2023 will see the end of access to pornographic sites for our children,” not to mention the end of social media use by people under 15.

What has prompted this crusade? The answer is likely fourfold: the deluge of online porn that has proliferated over the past two decades; ease of access via mobile devices; the availability of new biometric age verification and authentication technologies; and the puritanical turn in western culture that has emerged in tandem with mass use of social media and the prominence of socially conservative governments.

In general, it is now easier to get age-restricted stuff, and some think it has become far too easy.

A research brief from the Ballard Center cites numbers from the data company Statista showing that 20 percent of total mobile searches are for pornography, and a separate study showing that 93 percent of teen boys and 62 percent of teen girls in the U.S. have been exposed to internet pornography.

Meanwhile, in 2022, the U.S. recorded roughly $5.02 billion in income from online wagers, and about 2.5 million Americans were reported to have severe gambling addiction problems. Not to be outdone, Australians incur the highest gambling losses in the world – around AU$1,200 (approximately US$794) per person yearly.

Social media, however, may be the area in which age verification has the largest impact on young people. Data shows that some 90 percent of U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have at least one social media account, and 95 percent of teens visit YouTube daily.

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