The UK is, once again, attempting to introduce mandatory age verification in order to access adult content online. The beleaguered nation, currently reeling from a series of self-inflicted crises, has announced its plans to revive the scheme that has been deemed unworkable since 2015. Chris Philp MP, under-secretary of state for Tech and the Digital Economy, has announced that the mostly-unchanged plan will be introduced as part of the forthcoming Online Safety Bill.
Mandatory age verification has been in the works ever since the Conservative party included it in its 2015 manifesto. Since then, it has attempted to get the scheme running, passing the enabling laws in 2017 and setting a series of deadlines to implement the system. In April 2019, regulators said that the scheme would finally begin operating that July but the then culture secretary pulled the plug in mid-June. At the time, the plan was to replace the plan with a broader set of rules then being examined under the umbrella of Online Harms.
Unfortunately, the bill remains full of the same problems that rendered the system unworkable when it was previously introduced. The UK originally intended to hand off operation of the system to the BBFC, a film censorship board run by the film industry, rather than a dedicated operator. It had also ignored the screams of privacy campaigners who said that databases holding the names of people who have signed up for age verification is a target for everyone. It doesn’t help that if a company owns an adult content portal and an age verification platform, which is what Pornhub owner Mindgeek proposed, there’s a concern about monopoly power.