UK revives plans to force age verification for adult content

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta February 8, 2022
Updated 2022/02/08 at 1:32 PM

The UK is once again trying to introduce mandatory age verification for accessing adult content online. The beleaguered nation, currently recovering from a series of self-inflicted crises, has announced its plans to revive the scheme that has been deemed unfeasible since 2015. Chris Philp MP, Under Secretary of State for Technology and Digital Economy, announced that the plan virtually unchanged will be introduced as part of the upcoming Online Safety Act.

Mandatory age verification has been ongoing since the Conservative Party included it in its 2015 manifesto. It has since been trying to get the scheme up and running, passing the enabling laws in 2017 and setting a series of deadlines to implement the system. In April 2019, regulators said the scheme would finally start operating in July, but the then-culture secretary shut it down in mid-June. At the time, the plan was to replace the plan with a broader set of rules that were being scrutinized under the Online Damage umbrella.

Unfortunately, the bill remains fraught with the same problems that made the system unfeasible when it was introduced earlier. The UK originally intended to hand over operation of the system to the BBFC, a film censorship board run by the film industry, rather than a dedicated operator. It also ignored the cries of privacy activists who said databases containing the names of people who have signed up for age verification are a target for everyone. It doesn’t help that if a company has an adult content portal and age verification platform, which is what Pornhub owner Mindgeek has proposed, there is a concern about monopoly power.

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