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UK gov admits porn age checks could be easily bypassed and lead to fraud



THE UK GOVERNMENT has committed to pressing ahead with its proposed age verification system, despite acknowledging the mass of inherent flaws.



The system dates back to July 2013, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans to require adult websites to have mandatory age filters excluding under-18s. Despite the proposal being underdeveloped and unlikely to make any difference, the government has continued to work on it.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has now signed off on an impact assessment for the new system (part of the Digital Economy Act 2017), which has undergone a slight change in the last five years.

The plan now is to force all UK broadband ISPs to block websites containing pornographic content unless they implement age verification.

The UN has warned that the approach lacks ‘data sharing safeguards’ – and that’s ignoring the fact that age verification is incredibly easy to circumvent by, say, lying about your age. Reliable verification is impossible without forcing people to share personal data with potentially dodgy adult websites – and that has huge implications for peoples’ personal lives in the event of a leak.

Despite this, Hancock signed off on an earlier impact assessment for the new Age Verification Regulator in mid-December, which included a list of the potential risks and problems that the system could encounter:



Risks Identified by the Impact Assessment:

  • Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;

  • Development of alternative payment systems and technological workarounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be achieved;

  • The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;

  • Reputational risks including government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression;

  • The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;

  • The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1 per cent);

  • Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.

As well as these risks, the Impact Assessment also puts the cost of establishing a regulator at between £1 million and £7.9 million; and states that large ISPs could face costs of up to £500,000 to update their systems.

Despite the government taking the positive step of identifying these challenges, it remains committed to its plan. µ

Source : Inquirer



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