In what appears to be a brief but welcome reprieve for internet users in the United Kingdom, implementation and enforcement of the age verification requirement passed into law last year has been delayed.
The government announced that it will require more time for the British Board of Film Classification, the U.K.’s formally-designated age verification regulator, to complete discussion of its proposed guidelines for age verification with members of the public, ISPs and content providers.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also stated that “it is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year” and not at the beginning of April, as had been previously planned.
According to the Telegraph, a spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said, “We are making age verification compulsory for commercial porn sites, as part of our work to make the internet a safer place for children. But we need to take the time to make sure we get it right if it’s going to work, and it will come into effect later this year.”
The U.K.’s controversial Digital Economy Act shall require anyone wishing to view pornography online to prove they are at least 18 years old. The new law makes the UK the first democratic country in the world to require users to prove their age to view pornographic content.
The mechanism for age verification, however, is being left to the private sector. Among those developing solutions is MindGeek, which, although best known as the owner of some of the most viewed pornography sites in the world, including Brazzers, PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube, is also recognized as a leader in ‘Web Design, IT, Web Development and SEO [search engine optimization]’.
MindGeek anticipates signing up 25 million users in the U.K. to its age verification system, AgeID.
In a statement Saturday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, along with Member of Parliament Margot James, said the following:
“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 We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.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.”
The risky business of age verification
In January, the British government admitted that enforcing age verification checks for online porn sites could be detrimental to smaller ISPs and significantly increase online fraud.
The government’s official impact assessment for age verification (PDF) , which lays out the risks and costs of the intervention, is a doozy, reeling off a list covering concerns about privacy, online fraud and reputational damage to the government.
The document also set out the costs of the new measures, which includes a cost to the public purse of between £1m and £7.9m for the creation of the regulator.
Meanwhile, emboldened U.K. Ministers are also looking into imposing time limits for children using social media, according to Culture Secretary Matt Hancock.
Secretary Hancock said the negative impact of posting and consuming content online was a “genuine concern”.
He said there would be a new legal requirement for companies to ensure users were over 13 years of age. The details of how such a scheme might work are still being worked out.
“There is a genuine concern about the amount of screen time young people are clocking up and the negative impact it could have on their lives,” he told the Times.
“For an adult I wouldn’t want to restrict the amount of time you are on a platform but for different ages it might be right to have different time cut-offs.”
Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat already specify a minimum age of 13 but children only have to falsify a date of birth to gain access. Critics claim that most sites are already able to identify underage users from their browsing habits.
I never felt more satisfied or optimistic than when I rode the river in my youth.