Age verification to protect children from online porn ‘could backfire’

Attempts to restrict childrens' access to online pornography by asking for age verification could backfire, it has been warned. Picture: PA
Attempts to restrict childrens' access to online pornography by asking for age verification could backfire, it has been warned. Picture: PA
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Moves to protect children from online pornography by introducing age verification could backfire, it has been warned.

The Law Society of Scotland said the plans being considered by the UK Government could see websites moved to countries less likely to cooperate with the measures.

A public consultation was launched on the idea earlier this year following a pledge by the Conservative party in its 2015 manifesto that “all sites containing pornographic material” must check users are over 18.

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The proposal is for checks which would apply to content that would receive an 18 or R18 rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

But responding to the consultation, the Law Society said the measures could actually lead to less protection for young people.

Stuart Munro, from the Law Society’s technology law and practice committee, said: “We all want to protect our children from accessing pornographic material online and understand why the UK Government wants to examine additional protections to those which already exist, such as parental control filtering software.

“However, we don’t believe that a ‘tick box’ means of verifying a viewer’s age is sufficiently robust and it could bring unintended consequences. We fear that the consultation proposals for age verification could be counterproductive and potentially drive those producing online pornographic content further afield to websites hosted in countries that would not cooperate and result in even less protection for children.”

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Around 20 per cent of those under 18 and 13 per cent of those aged six to 14 claim to have accessed adult websites.

Children’s charities have warned the issue needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency to prevent young people developing a “warped” view of sexual relationships.

However, online security experts say age verification is unlikely to work for free pornography websites which do not take payments from users.

The Law Society said it also had concerns that introducing age verification could be a risk to privacy.

Mr Munro said measures would be needed to ensure there was no contravention of the Data Protection Act.

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