Age Verification for Pornography Consultation

February 16, 2016

The Conservative Party’s manifesto addressed the issue of age verification for access to pornographic web sites. The DCMS has now launched a consultation which describes the specific proposals and which focuses on what it describes as ‘an important strand of protection, the delivery of the Government’s manifesto commitment to require age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material’. The consultation runs until midday on 12 April. The full consultation can be accessed here.

In her foreword to the consultation document, Baroness Shields states:

‘Offline, there are clear expectations that children will be protected from seeing pornographic material – sexually explicit magazines are put on the top shelf, and pornographic videos can only be sold to over-18s. It goes against these accepted values that children are able to see free-to-access ‘tube’ sites online, displaying very explicit, High Definition videos that are auto-played on landing pages. … The focus of this proposed approach is on commercial pornography providers – we expect those profiting from the growth of online pornography to see the protection of children as a core responsibility of doing business. We look to these businesses, for whom the UK is an important and lucrative market, to work with us and to ensure children are not exposed to harmful content online, or content that is not suitable for their age group.’

The proposals include establishing a new requirement in law for commercial providers to have in place ‘robust age verification controls for online pornographic content in the UK’ and legislating to establish a new regulatory framework, underpinned by civil sanctions. Under the proposals, the new regulatory framework and civil regime would:

·        Involve giving a regulator or regulators powers to enforce the new law, supported by a sufficiently flexible enforcement regime

·        Monitor compliance with the new law by commercial pornography providers

·        Identify sites which are in breach and notify them of this, giving them a period of time within which to become compliant

·        Enable those that support the business model of pornographic content providers (such as payments, advertisers and other ancillary services) to withdraw services from commercial providers in breach of the law

·        Notify providers of payment/ancillary services of sites in breach, enabling them to withdraw services from such sites

·        Impose requisite sanctions where breaches have been identified and providers remain non-compliant

·        Ensure a proportionate and prioritised regulatory approach to monitoring and enforcement

·        Give the regulator discretion to set and monitor standards for age verification controls.