Age verification for online pornography dropped

October 16, 2019

 The UK government has dropped plans to introduce an age verification system for online pornography under the Digital Economy Act 2017.  The decision was revealed in a written statement by the Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan.  

The written statement states that protecting children is at the heart of the government’s online harms agenda, and is key to wider government priorities. Going online can be beneficial for children. However, the government is concerned about the prevalence of adult content online, which is easily accessible to children, and believes it is vital that children are protected from accessing inappropriate, harmful content.

The government published the Online Harms White Paper in April 2019. It proposed the establishment of a duty of care on companies to improve online safety, overseen by an independent regulator with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance. Since the White Paper’s publication, the government’s proposals have continued to develop. The government announced as part of the Queen’s Speech that it will publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny. It says that it is important that its policy aims and its overall policy on protecting children from online harms are developed coherently in view of these developments with the aim of bringing forward a comprehensive approach to protecting children.

The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through the 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. The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through the proposed online harms regulatory regime. This course of action aims to give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care. As currently drafted, the Digital Economy Act does not cover social media platforms.

The government will engage with members of Parliament on the provisions of the online harms regime to ensure comprehensive online harms proposals which deliver on the objectives of the Digital Economy Act.