Digital Economy Bill The government has proposed mandatory age verification measures on all British pornographic websites, on pain of a whopping fine in cases of non-compliance.
The 151-page Digital Economy Bill (PDF) was laid before Parliament today.
It states a requirement for age verification checks, although the practical matter of verifying age is not expanded upon in detail.
While large parts of the bill are focused on age verification for video content, its definition of “pornographic material” covers video, still images and even sound-only recordings.
Although the bill covers a range of topics, part 3, which is titled Online Pornography, establishes the regulatory environment which is intended to affect sites and applications, though its phrasing is more general:
15.2 For the purposes of this Part, making pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis includes making it available on the internet free of charge—
(a) on or via an internet site which is operated on a commercial basis, or
(b) via any other means of accessing the internet which is operated or provided on a commercial basis.
A 17-page Consultation Response (PDF), also published today cited "broad support" from the children's charity Barnardo's and many other stakeholders, although it is not clear how domestic legislation may affect foreign pornography producers and hosts.
It is clear from the consultation that ISPs do not expect to be required to implement blocking on their end, but the phrasing of section 15(2)(b) is not clear. A regular point on such content blocks is that without them, there is no effect on pornographic content providers from outside the UK.
Also unclear is the difference between this proposed legislation and the current obligations imposed by a statutory instrument from 2014 which ensures that "specially restricted material" must not be available to under-18s.
Persons caught foul of the new law in supplying smut to under-18s will face retribution from the newly created Age Verification Regulator, who will be able to fine persons enabling such access on a commercial basis up to £250,000 or five per cent of their turnover, whichever is greater. The wording of the law appears to set out the regulator as an independent body that will apply for designation by the government.
The Register has asked the Department of Culture, Media and Sport whether the legislation is intended to affect ISPs and internet cafes, as well as porn sites and apps themselves. We were told that section of the bill "does not concern libraries/internet cafes etc. The measures are targeting the commercial providers of the the pornographic content." ®