Government drops plan for age-verification for adult websites

Written by John Johnston on 17 October 2019 in News

The introduction of a so-called porn block has been shelved, culture secretary confirms

Credit: Pxhere

Ministers have shelved plans for a so-called "porn block" after the policy was beset by a series of delays.

Digital secretary Nicky Morgan said her department would not press ahead with age verification for adult websites but would instead instruct a new online regulator to create a "duty of care" for firms.

The controversial policy, which was initially set to launch in April 2018, was hit by delays amid a backlash from critics concerned about privacy implications.

The policy would have forced all commercial providers of porn to carry out “robust” age-verification checks, or face a UK-wide ban.

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The British Board of Film Classification – which provides age certificates for films – was set to be responsible for regulating the policy, which could have seen payment providers urged to pull services from websites which fail to comply.

But in a written statement released on Wednesday, Morgan appeared to confirm her department was shelving the project.

"The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography," she said. "The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through our proposed online harms regulatory regime. This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care."

Morgan said the government still had an "unwavering" commitment to protect children online but suggested that a new online harms regulator would be responsible for developing a "duty of care" scheme which companies would have to comply with.

She added: "Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm. We want to deliver the most comprehensive approach to keeping children safe online and recognised in the Online Harms White Paper the role that technology can play in keeping all users, particularly children, safe. 

"We are committed to the UK becoming a world-leader in the development of online safety technology and to ensure companies of all sizes have access to, and adopt, innovative solutions to improve the safety of their users.  This includes age verification tools and we expect them to continue to play a key role in protecting children online."

Labour had previously described the policy as an "utter shambles" after former culture secretary Jeremy Wright was forced to apologise for an "administrative error" which saw the scheme delayed indefinitely in June.


About the author

John Johnston is a political reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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