UK porn check delayed, as government says they will be “enforceable by the end of the year”

Age verification checks for adult websites have been quietly delayed by the government. Near the bottom of a government press release highlighting the release of £25 million for 5G projects, age verification is briefly mentioned, but it is tacitly acknowledged that it will be missing the April 2018 deadline originally pitched

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,” the press release reads. “It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.”

That gives affected websites an additional eight months to prepare, assuming the government meets its goal. That may be a subtle acknowledgement that bringing in age verification across all adult websites in the UK is a huge undertaking with many potential pitfalls along the way. The article below outlines just a few of the problems the government will have to address if its to meet its new timescale.

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A leading privacy advocacy group has warned that incoming rules about accessing pornography in the UK will make a data breach “inevitable”.

Speaking to the BBC, Myles Jackman, legal director of the Open Rights Group, claims that age verification systems around porn sites raise issues around privacy and security.  

“If the age verification process continues in its current fashion, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime treasure trove of private information,” Jackman told the broadcaster. “If it gets hacked, can British citizens ever trust the government again with their data?”

From April 2018, those in the UK visiting porn sites will need to prove they are aged 18 or over. The regulation is part of the Digital Economy Act, and intended to protect children from accessing explicit material.

Mindgeek, owner of Pornhub, YouPorn and RedTube amongst other adult sites, unveiled over the weekend its own age verification tool, called AgeID. According to its creators, AgeID will be a one-time verification tool, using “regulator approved methodology” to confirm a users age, and no personal information will be stored on the platform itself. 

AgeID spokesman James Clark told the BBC that this will involve “third-party age-verification companies”, and users can verify their age using multiple methods, including credit card, mobile SMS, passport or driving licence. It’s not yet clear which of these will work in conjunction with the legislation being finalised by the government.

“We have created a tool to comply with the impending UK legislation, which both protects children from stumbling across adult content, and enables those of legal age to securely and privately access adult websites through a one-time verification process,” Clark told the broadcaster.

MindGeek will reportedly make AgeID available across its network, as well as for all other porn sites and independent studios in the UK that sign up to use it.

The Open Rights Group, however, is concerned that while MindGeek has said it would not hold or store personal data, it isn’t entirely clear who will be keeping hold of the information. If handled incorrectly, it could mean people’s sexual preferences find themselves in the hands of hackers.

Jackman told the BBC it could also push more people to use virtual private networks (VPNs), or the anonymous Tor browser.

While the regulation is due to come into place in April 2018, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about which age-verification systems will be put into place that coincide with the law. Mindgeek has taken the initiative with its AgeID system, but it arguably puts a lot of regulatory power in the hands of a company that also owns some of the world’s biggest porn sites.

With only a month to go, expect more clarification in the coming weeks.

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