Privacy fears as United Kingdom plans age verification for porn sites

To step up the age verification process for pornography websites, the United Kingdom government may ask website owners to verify a user's age through a credit card verification as such cards are only provided to people who are 18 and above.

It is estimated one million children access pornography websites each month.

The Mail on Sunday and The Times are both reporting that the plans, which have been in the works since a year ago, will be formally announced on Monday as part of the Digital Economy Act. Any site that fails to comply with the new highly-secured age verification system may face being banned. It's not yet know who the watchdog is, but it "is believed to be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)" - an organisation that provides age restrictions for TV shows, films and video games in the UK.

The Act is yet to be finalised but outlines the requirement to prevent access to persons under the age of 18 if the material is not normally accessible by persons of that age, meaning websites will legally be required to install age verification systems.

It was under the Digital Economy Act that digital minister Matt Hancock revealed the April 2018 deadline for pornography websites to introduce these checks.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock will present the proposals to the House of Commons later today, pledging the United Kingdom will have the "most robust" child protection measures in the world.

The Government will also announce plans to appoint a regulator that will police the adult websites.

The executive said protecting children from exposure - including accidental exposure - to adult content is incredibly important given the effect it can have on young people.

"Steps like this to help restrict access, alongside the provision of free parental controls and education, are key", he said, the Guardian reports.

According to research by Middlesex University, about 53% of 11- to 16-year-olds have seen explicit material online, almost all of whom (94%) had seen it by 14.

Executive Director for the Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, wrote in a blog post that creating a database of the UK's porn habits might lead to what he called "Ashley Madison style hacks".

"There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification. They would then decide what privacy risks or profiling take place for the vast majority of United Kingdom citizens".

The NSPCC's study found that 48 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds had viewed online pornography, which experts say is highly damaging to children's development and can cause lasting harm.

Vanessa Coleman