Porn websites must prevent children from accessing content under new Govt proposals

Pornographic websites could face huge fines and risk being blocked if they do not have age-verification systems in place to prevent children from accessing content.

The Government has announced it intends to make proposed restrictions tougher, after its previous safeguards drew criticism for exempting some commercial pornography websites.

Digital Minister Chris Philp has now said this will be rectified by changing the Online Safety Bill to cover all websites which host pornographic content.

Criminally liable

Under the proposals, people will only be able to access pornography if they “verify that they possess a credit card and are over 18” or a third-party service confirms their age against Government data.

If sites fail to incorporate an age verification system, they can be fined up to ten per cent of their annual worldwide turnover or be blocked in the UK by Ofcom. Website bosses could also be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with the regulator.

A statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. There are widespread concerns this is impacting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent.”

‘Strict enforcement’

It continued: “The new standalone provision ministers are adding to the proposed legislation will require providers who publish or place pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing that content. This will capture commercial providers of pornography as well as the sites that allow user-generated content.

“Any companies which run such a pornography site which is accessible to people in the UK will be subject to the same strict enforcement measures as other in-scope services.”

Digital Minister Chris Philp acknowledged: “It is too easy for children to access pornography online. Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see.

“We are now strengthening the Online Safety Bill so it applies to all porn sites to ensure we achieve our aim of making the internet a safer place for children.”

Delays

The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly called the announcement “a significant, but long overdue step in the right direction”, adding that the Institute would be monitoring the Bill to ensure “that what the Government delivers on age-verification matches its rhetoric”.

John Carr of the UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety also welcomed the news, but warned it could be several years before any protections are actually in place.

He said: “This has been a long time coming. Far too long. It was in the Tory manifesto in 2015, but even with the fairest of winds it may yet be 2025 before anything is actually done to keep this stuff away from the eyes of children”.

Robust protections were originally contained in the Digital Economy Act 2017, but plans to implement them were abandoned in October 2019 when the Government claimed they would be covered by the Online Harms Bill.

Also see:

EXCLUSIVE: Dad’s delight at securing judicial review on porn age verification

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Chief Constable: no age-verification for porn ‘completely bizarre’

New tech could help safeguard kids from explicit content

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