Posts Tagged ‘Age Verification’

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open rights group 2016 logo The Open Rights Group, Myles Jackman and Pandora Blake have done a magnificent job in highlighting the dangers of mandating that porn companies verify the age of their customers.Worst case scenario

In the worst case scenario, foreign porn companies will demand official ID from porn viewers and then be able to maintain a database of the complete browsing history of those officially identified viewers.

And surely much to the alarm of the government and the newly appointed internet porn censors at the BBFC, then this worst case scenario seems to be the clear favourite to get implemented. In particular Mindgeek, with a near monopoly on free porn tube sites, is taking the lead with its Age ID scheme.

Now for some bizarre reason, the government saw no need for its age verification to offer any specific protection for porn viewers, beyond that offered by existing and upcoming data protection laws. Given some of the things that Google and Facebook do with personal data then it suggests that these laws are woefully inadequate for the context of porn viewing.  For safety and national security reasons, data identifying porn users should be kept under total lock and key, and not used for any commercial reason whatsoever.

A big flaw

But there in lies the flaw of the law. The government is mandating that all websites, including those based abroad, should verify their users without specifying any data protection requirements beyond the law of the land. The flaw is that foreign websites are simply not obliged to respect British data protection laws.

So as a topical example, there would be nothing to prevent a Russian porn site (maybe not identifying itself as Russian) from requiring ID and then passing the ID and subsequent porn browsing history straight over to its dirty tricks department.

Anyway the government has made a total pigs ear of the concept with its conservative ‘leave it to industry to find a solution’ approach’. The porn industry simply does not have the safety and security of its customers at heart. Perhaps the government should have invested in its own solution first, at least the national security implications may have pushed it into at least considering user safety and security.

Where we are at

As mentioned above campaigners have done a fine job in identifying the dangers of the government plan and these have been picked up by practically all newspapers. These seem to have chimed with readers and the entire idea seems to be accepted as dangerous. In fact I haven’t spotted anyone, not even ‘the think of the children’ charities pushing for ‘let’s just get on with it’. And so now its over to the authorities to try and convince people that they have a safe solution somewhere.

The Digital Policy Alliance

digital policy alliance logoPerhaps as part of a propaganda campaign to win over the people, parliament’s Digital Policy Alliance are just about to publish guidance on age verification policies. The alliance is a cross party group that includes, Merlin Hay, the Earl of Erroll, who made some good points about privacy concerns whilst the bill was being forced through the House of Lords.

He said that a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) numbered 1296 is due to be published on 19 March. This will set out for the age check providers what they should do and what records they keep.

The document is expected to include a discussion on the background to age verification, set out the rules in accordance with the Digital Economy Act, and give a detailed look at the technology, with annexes on anonymity and how the system should work.

However the document will carry no authority and is not set to become an official British standard. He explained:

We can’t put rules about data protection into the PAS… That is in the Data Protection Bill, he said. So we refer to them, but we can’t mandate them inside this PAS — but it’s in there as ‘you must obey the law’…

But of course Hay did not mention that Russian websites don’t have to obey British data protection law.

And next the BBFC will have a crack at reducing people’s fears

Elsewhere in the discussion, Hay suggested the British Board of Film and Internet Censorship could mandate that each site had to offer more than one age-verification provider, which would give consumers more choice.

Next the BBFC will have a crack at minimising people’s fears about age verification. It will publish its own guidance document towards the end of the month, and launch a public consultation about it.

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DCMS logoIn a press release the DCMS describes its digital strategy including a delayed introduction of internet porn censorship. The press release states:

The Strategy also reflects the Government’s ambition to make the internet safer for children by requiring age verification for access to commercial pornographic websites in the UK. In February, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was formally designated as the age verification regulator.

Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.

For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.

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dcmd guidance age verification A few extracts from the documentIntroduction

  1. A person contravenes Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 if they make
    pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis to
    persons in the United Kingdom without ensuring that the material is not
    normally accessible to persons under the age of 18. Contravention could lead
    to a range of measures being taken by the age-verification regulator in
    relation to that person, including blocking by internet service providers (ISPs).
  2. Part 3 also gives the age-verification regulator powers to act where a person
    makes extreme pornographic material (as defined in section 22 of the Digital
    Economy Act 2017) available on the internet to persons in the United


This guidance has been written to provide the framework for the operation of
the age-verification regulatory regime in the following areas:

● Regulator’s approach to the exercise of its powers;
● Age-verification arrangements;
● Appeals;
● Payment-services Providers and Ancillary Service Providers;
● Internet Service Provider blocking; and
● Reporting.

Enforcement principles

This guidance balances two overarching principles in the regulator’s application of its powers under sections 19, 21 and 23 – that it should apply its powers in the way which it thinks will be most effective in ensuring compliance on a case-by-case basis and that it should take a proportionate approach.

As set out in this guidance, it is expected that the regulator, in taking a proportionate approach, will first seek to engage with the non-compliant person to encourage them to comply, before considering issuing a notice under section 19, 21 or 23, unless there are reasons as to why the regulator does not think that is appropriate in a given case

Regulator’s approach to the exercise of its powers

The age-verification consultation Child Safety Online: Age verification for pornography identified that an extremely large number of websites contain pornographic content – circa 5 million sites or parts of sites. All providers of online pornography, who are making available pornographic material to persons in the United Kingdom on a commercial basis, will be required to comply with the age-verification requirement .

In exercising its powers, the regulator should take a proportionate approach. Section 26(1) specifically provides that the regulator may, if it thinks fit, choose to exercise its powers principally in relation to persons who, in the age-verification regulator’s opinion:

  • (a) make pornographic material or extreme pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis to a large number of persons, or a large number of persons under the age of 18, in the United Kingdom; or
  • (b) generate a large amount of turnover by doing so.

In taking a proportionate approach, the regulator should have regard to the following:

a. As set out in section 19, before making a determination that a person is contravening section 14(1), the regulator must allow that person an opportunity to make representations about why the determination should not be made. To ensure clarity and discourage evasion, the regulator should specify a prompt timeframe for compliance and, if it considers it appropriate, set out the steps that it considers that the person needs to take to comply.

b. When considering whether to exercise its powers (whether under section 19, 21 or 23), including considering what type of notice to issue, the regulator should consider, in any given case, which intervention will be most effective in encouraging compliance, while balancing this against the need to act in a proportionate manner.

c. Before issuing a notice to require internet service providers to block access to material, the regulator must always first consider whether issuing civil proceedings or giving notice to ancillary service providers and payment-services providers might have a sufficient effect on the non-complying person’s behaviour.

To help ensure transparency, the regulator should publish on its website details of any notices under sections 19, 21 and 23.

Age-verification arrangements

Section 25(1) provides that the regulator must publish guidance about the types of arrangements for making pornographic material available that the regulator will treat as complying with section 14(1). This guidance is subject to a Parliamentary procedure

A person making pornographic material available on a commercial basis to persons in the United Kingdom must have an effective process in place to verify a user is 18 or over. There are various methods for verifying whether someone is 18 or over (and it is expected that new age-verification technologies will develop over time). As such, the Secretary of State considers that rather than setting out a closed list of age-verification arrangements, the regulator’s guidance should specify the criteria by which it will assess, in any given case, that a person has met with this requirement. The regulator’s guidance should also outline good practice in relation to age verification to encourage consumer choice and the use of mechanisms which confirm age, rather than identity.

The regulator is not required to approve individual age-verification solutions. There are various ways to age verify online and the industry is developing at pace. Providers are innovating and providing choice to consumers.

The process of verifying age for adults should be concerned only with the need to establish that the user is aged 18 or above. The privacy of adult users of pornographic sites should be maintained and the potential for fraud or misuse of personal data should be safeguarded. The key focus of many age-verification providers is on privacy and specifically providing verification, rather than identification of the individual.

Payment-services providers and ancillary service providers

There is no requirement in the Digital Economy Act for payment-services providers or ancillary service providers to take any action on receipt of such a notice. However, Government expects that responsible companies will wish to withdraw services from those who are in breach of UK legislation by making pornographic material accessible online to children or by making extreme pornographic material available.

The regulator should consider on a case-by-case basis the effectiveness of notifying different ancillary service providers (and payment-services providers).

There are a wide-range of providers whose services may be used by pornography providers to enable or facilitate making pornography available online and who may therefore fall under the definition of ancillary service provider in section 21(5)(a) . Such a service is not limited to where a direct financial relationship is in place between the service and the pornography provider. Section 21(5)(b) identifies those who advertise commercially on such sites as ancillary service providers. In addition, others include, but are not limited to:

  • a. Platforms which enable pornographic content or extreme pornographic material to be uploaded;
  • b. Search engines which facilitate access to pornographic content or extreme pornographic material;
  • c. Discussion for a and communities in which users post links;
  • d. Cyberlockers’ and cloud storage services on which pornographic content or extreme pornographic material may be stored;
  • e. Services including websites and App marketplaces that enable users to download Apps;
  • f. Hosting services which enable access to websites, Apps or App marketplaces; that enable users to download apps
  • g. Domain name registrars.
  • h. Set-top boxes, mobile applications and other devices that can connect directly to streaming servers

Internet Service Provider blocking

The regulator should only issue a notice to an internet service provider having had regard to Chapter 2 of this guidance. The regulator should take a proportionate approach and consider all actions (Chapter 2.4) before issuing a notice to internet service providers.

In determining those ISPs that will be subject to notification, the regulator should take into consideration the number and the nature of customers, with a focus on suppliers of home and mobile broadband services. The regulator should consider any ISP that promotes its services on the basis of pornography being accessible without age verification irrespective of other considerations.

The regulator should take into account the child safety impact that will be achieved by notifying a supplier with a small number of subscribers and ensure a proportionate approach. Additionally, it is not anticipated that ISPs will be expected to block services to business customers, unless a specific need is identified.


In order to assist with the ongoing review of the effectiveness of the new regime and the regulator’s functions, the Secretary of State considers that it would be good practice for the regulator to submit to the Secretary of State an annual report on the exercise of its functions and their effectiveness.

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dcms age verification risk assessment The UK government slipped out its impact assessment of the upcoming porn censorship law during the Christmas break. The new law requires porn websites to be blocked in the UK when they don’t implement age verification.The measures are currently due to come into force in May but it seems a tight schedule as even the rules for acceptable age verification systems have not yet been published.

The report contains some interesting costings and assessment of the expected harms to be inflicted on porn viewers and British adult businesses.

The document notes the unpopularity of the age verification requirements with a public consultation finding that 54% of respondents did not support the introduction of a law to require age verification.

However, the government has forged ahead, with the aim of stopping kids accessing porn on the grounds that such content could distress them or harm their development.

The governments censorship rules will be enforced by the BBFC, in its new role as the UK porn censor although it prefers the descriptor: age-verification regulator . The government states that the censorship job will initially be funded by the government, and the government is assuming this will cost £4.5 million based upon a range of estimates from 1 million to 8 million.

The government has bizarrely assumed that the BBFC will ban just 1 to 60 sites in a year. The additional work for ISPs to block these sites is estimated £100,000 to £500,000 for each ISP. Probably to be absorbed by larger companies, but will be an expensive problem for smaller companies who do not currently implement any blocking systems.

Interestingly the government notes that there wont be any impact on UK adult businesses notionally because they should have already implemented age verification under ATVOD and Ofcom censorship rules. In reality it will have little impact on UK businesses because they have already been decimated by the ATVOD and Ofcom rules and have mostly closed down or moved abroad.

Te key section of the document summarising expected harms is as follows.

The policy option set out above also gives rise to the following risks:

  • Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;
  • Development of alternative payment systems and technological work-arounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be achieved;
  • The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;
  • Reputational risks including Government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
  • The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;
  • The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1%).
  • Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.

The list does not seem to include the potential for blackmail from user data sold by porn firms, or else stolen by hackers. And mischievously, politicians could be one of the groups most open to blackmail for money or favours.

Another notable omission, is that the government does not seem overly concerned about mass VPN usage. I would have thought that the secret services wanting to monitor terrorists would not be pleased if a couple of million people stared to use encrypted VPNs. Perhaps it shows that the likes of GCHQ can already see into what goes on behind VPNs.

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putin keenHere’s what worries cybersecurity experts: All age verification options would create a permanent record indicating that a user had visited a porn site. They could possibly even record the porn that the visitor had watched.

Matt Tait, a cybersecurity expert formerly of the GCHQ (the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the National Security Agency) who now teaches at the University of Texas, notes that any registration system could be a monumental national security risk. He adds, It’s beyond insane they’re even considering it.

Tait envisions a time coming soon, when a British government official will have to give the following message to the Prime Minister:

Sorry Prime Minister, Russia now knows what porn every MP, civil servant and clearance holder watches and when, and we don’t know how much of it they’ve given to Wikileaks.

If porn consumers in the United Kingdom are the losers, Tait suggests there is a potential winner: Vladimir Putin.

…Read the full article from

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House of Commons logoA group of MPs have tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would force pornography websites to be blocked by ISPs if they fail to verify the age of their users.This is the second time such amendments have been suggested. The MPs involved are Claire Perry, David Burrowes, Fiona Bruce, Derek Thomas, Jeremy Lefroy, Caroline Ansell, Heidi Allen, Andrew Selous, Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller, Fiona Mactaggart.

Open Rights Group Executive Director Jim Killock said:

Perhaps these MPs have realised that plans to make all adult websites apply age verification are unworkable as foreign porn sites may simply not comply. They are now suggesting that websites who don’t comply should be blocked — even though their content is perfectly legal.

While child protection is important, this proposal is disproportionate. Censorship of this kind should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.

We are talking about potentially thousands of websites with legal material being censored, something that is unprecedented in the developed world.

The Digital Economy Bill has proposed that all pornography websites should be forced to verify the age of their users. This has sparked concerns that the privacy of adults could be violated. It is not yet clear how age verification will be implemented but it could lead to the collection of data on everyone who visits a porn website. This kind of information could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style data breaches.

The Open Rights Group further commented:

open rights group 2016 logoThe amendment has been tabled because MPs understand that age verification cannot be imposed upon the entire mostly US-based pornographic industry by the UK alone. In the USA, age verification has been seen by the courts as an infringement on the right of individuals to receive and impart information. This is unlikely to change, so use of age verification technologies will be limited at best.

However, the attempt to punish websites by blocking them is also a punishment inflicted on the visitors to these websites. Blocking them is a form of censorship, it is an attempt to restrict access to them for everyone. When material is restricted in this way, it needs to be done for reasons that are both necessary for the goal, and proportionate to the aim. It has to be effective in order to be proportionate.

The goal is to protect children, although the level of harm has not been established. According to OfCom: More than nine in ten parents in 2015 said they mediated their child’s use of the internet in some way, with 96% of parents of 3-4s and 94% of parents of 5-15s using a combination of: regularly talking to their children about managing online risks, using technical tools, supervising their child, and using rules or restrictions. (1)

70% of households have no children. These factors make the necessity and proportionality of both age verification and censorship quite difficult to establish. This issue affects 30% of households who can choose to apply filters and use other strategies to keep their children safe online.

It is worth remembering also that the NSPCC and others tend to accept that teenagers are likely to continue to access pornography despite these measures. They focus their concerns on 9-12 years olds coming across inappropriate material, despite a lack of evidence that there is any volume of these incidents, or that harm has resulted. While it is very important to ensure that 9-12 year olds are safe online, it seems more practical to focus attention directly on their online environment, for instance through filters and parental intervention, than attempting to make the entire UK Internet conform to standards that are acceptable for this age group.

That MPs are resorting to proposals for website blocking tells us that the age verification proposals themselves are flawed. MPs should be asking about the costs and privacy impacts, and why such a lack of thought has gone into this. Finally, they should be asking what they can do to help children through practical education and discussion of the issues surrounding pornography, which will not go away, with or without attempts to restrict access.

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canute consultation The Government has put porn viewers on notice that perhaps it might be wise to download a few 64 Gb memory sticks worth of free porn so that they have enough to last a lifetime. The government has launched a consultation suggesting that foreign porn websites should be blocked, censored and suffocated of funds if they don’t comply with don’t comply with an 18 age verification process and compliance to the discriminatory government censorship rules that ban anything slightly kinky especially if favoured for women’s porn.The tome and ideas in the consultation are very much along primitive and unviable age verification methods that has so successfully suffocated the UK porn business. In fact the consultation notes that the UK impact on the multi billion pound porn industry is insignificant and amounts to just 17 websites.

There seems little in the consultation that considers how the porn industry will evolve if it is made troublesome for adults to get verified. I suspect that there is already enough porn in existence on people’s hard drives to circulate around and last several life times for everybody. Perhaps this should be known as the Canute Consultation.

Anyway, the government writes in its introduction to the consultation:

The UK is a world leader in the work it does to improve child safety online, but we cannot be complacent. Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from harm, especially the young and most vulnerable.

That is why we committed in our manifesto to requiring age verification for access to pornographic material online, and are now seeking views on how we deliver on our commitment. The Consultation Survey

Our preferred method of capturing your responses to our consultation questions is via the dedicated online survey. Please click on the link to share your views with us. Other documents

In order to base policy development on evidence, DCMS commissioned experts from across the UK to conduct a review of evidence into the routes via which children access online pornography. The report of the expert panel was formally submitted in November 2015 and provides helpful context to the issue. Please see document above.

Also published above is our regulatory triage assessment which considers the potential costs to UK businesses.

Respond online

or write to:

FAO Child Online Safety Team
4th Floor
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ

Responses are required by 12pm on 12th April 2016.