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New ID Check Plan to Block Children From Porn Sites


Tim Shipman

November 29, 2021.


Ministers are preparing to introduce laws to prevent children accessing online pornography.


Plans to bring in age verification for adult sites, which were shelved in 2017, are now being looked on with approval by Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary.


Their support follows work by Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, who has sent a report to ministers recommending that age verification becomes compulsory on all porn sites.


Today she reveals that in meetings with porn providers she found them willing to introduce age verification measures as long as they were imposed industry-wide.


Studies show that half of 11 to 13-year-olds have seen pornography at some point. This rises to two-thirds of 14 to 15-year-olds and four in five 16 to 17-year-olds, according to De Souza. She is also pushing for the big tech firms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to do much more to prevent children from seeing porn and other damaging material on their sites by accident, although ministers are not expected to back full age verification for these platforms.


The eight big tech companies have been summoned to a meeting on Wednesday hosted by the two ministers and De Souza to thrash out how they stop children stumbling across porn or harmful material on suicide and eating disorders.


De Souza, a former head teacher, said she had seen the hugely damaging effects of pornography on children, including a young girl who took her own life. “Kids are seeing things that warp what they think real sexual relationships are like,” she said. “I’ve had girls say to me that during their first kiss with their boyfriend he’s tried to strangle her because he’s seen it on a porn video. Girls are filming themselves in their bedroom and sending it to boys who are sharing it. These girls are being pestered ten or more times a night to send naked images of themselves. I’ve had boys traumatised because they are in big WhatsApp groups, seeing things they don’t want to see.”


The tougher rules are expected to be written into the forthcoming online harms bill, which had been due before Christmas but has been put on hold until the new year after Boris Johnson told the House of Commons liaison committee that he wanted to see it strengthened. Dorries has also told MPs that she wants it to go further.


Theresa May’s government passed the Digital Economy Act in 2017, requiring commercial providers of pornography “to have robust age verification controls in place to prevent children and young people under 18 from accessing pornographic material”. However, it was never enacted after privacy campaigners claimed that it would force users to hand over their identities to porn sites.


De Souza said that technology now existed that will allow users to prove their age online using a passport or other identification in a way that they secure an access code. “Technology is so much better now and the privacy issues are no longer a concern,” she said. “Third parties can do age verification and get rid of that information straight away.


“I met with some of the biggest porn companies and challenged them on age verification. As long as all adult sites have to have age verification put on them, they would be comfortable to go forward with that. They basically said, ‘Make us do it’. I was pleased with that.”


Ministers are examining how to introduce age verification using biometric data and “age assurance” measures, whereby sites can use artificial intelligence to identify children by the way they behave online or interact with a device, including the language they use.


Senior government sources said officials were considering whether to write changes into the published draft of the bill or whether to amend the legislation when it goes before parliament in the spring. The bill is expected to become law by the end of next year.


© Tim Shipman / The Sunday Times 2021

Image - Jonathan Kirn / Getty Images via The Sunday Times





There is little doubt that online pornography has become an insidious and distasteful intrusion into many people's lives. That said, one must also acknowledge that there is a demand for it. If there was not, it would not be present.


And it is also very easy to find. 'Free' sites abound across the internet and it is these, rather than subscription sites - those that require credit card payments to access - that can be a cause for concern.


It is entirely right that children need to be protected but one also has to look at government intervention from a wider context. We have already seen, and indeed are seeing, just how intrusive governments can be using health as a reason. From this point of view, provided a website (no matter what the content) is legal in every way, one must question where government action will stop.


We at KJM Today do not approve of pornography. We don't like it and we don't wish to view it. Our solution is thus a simple one - log off. However, we also acknowledge the addictive nature of porn and the potential for harm on impressionable young minds. So we further acknowledge that some form of action may well be a good thing.


Our concern however, is that of 'mission creep'. How many times have we seen a good thing become extended to cover aspects to life never thought of in the first instance? There are countless examples.


Governments must be very aware of the long-term implications of their desire to be seen to be doing something, and especially actions which have a short-term popularity bounce.