U.K. Introduces Plan to Enforce Age Checks on All Porn Sites

Feb 16, 2016 12:31 PM PST

LONDON — A landmark consultation paper that sets out the framework for compulsory age checks in the U.K. on all porn sites was made available today.

In the 44-page paper, “Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography,” the U.K. government plans on rolling out a new plan to deal with non-complying porn sites that don’t ensure their users are over 18.

Specifically, the consultative paper outlines a range of age-check options on the table and places a specific target on the vast amount of free, all-you-can view porn websites — adult tube sites.

“Offline, there are clear expectations that children will be protected from seeing pornographic material — sexually explicit magazines are put on the top shelf, and pornographic videos can only be sold to over-18s,” the paper said. “It goes against these accepted values that children are able to see free-to-access tube sites online, displaying very explicit, high-definition videos that are auto-played on landing pages.”

The paper offers a proposal that would see offending porn sites cut off from their payment providers, advertisers and other services, essentially killing their U.K. business.

The paper explains that Ofcom, the regulator of age checks on porn sites, could be given powers to impose sanctions, which could be in the form of a civil sanction with fines or a criminal offense that could lead to incarceration.

Companies that support or provide services to offending online adult sites without proper age checks, which may include confirmation of credit card ownership to cross-checking a user's details with information on the electoral register, would be "directed" to withdraw those services if the sites are found to be noncompliant.

This could involve directing payment firms to cease processing transactions for the offending sites, according to the paper.

Those in British adult entertainment circles were outraged by the proposed laws aimed at the industry and say they would set a dangerous precedent if enacted.

Jerry Barnett, who leads the London-based Sex & Censorship organizatoin, noted that “when attacks on civil liberties are announced by governments, they are usually sold under the guise of “tackling terrorism” or “protecting children.”  Today, he said, “we have an example of the latter.”

Barnett, said that as it turns out, “all of the previous exercises in child protection weren’t enough.”

“The latest proposals are to implement a new law that can be used to attack those naughty foreign porn sites that ignore the U.K.’s age-verification regulations; in other words, all the porn sites in the world.

Barnett said that the planned means of attack will cut off U.K. revenue streams to porn services through services such as payment providers and advertising companies.

“It is not made clear whether [foreign] hosting companies or ISPs will also be targeted,” he said.

“Great Britain welcomes a world-leading censorship regime that would embarrass China,” London attorney Myles Jackman told XBIZ. “It raises significant issues regarding individual privacy, personal data protection and sexual liberty.

The proposals also raise “complex inter-jurisdictional issues in the blocking of so-called ‘foreign’ sites,” said Jackman, who is known as the “obscenity attorney.”

Barnett said that Sex & Censorship, along with other groups and invidivuals, will be submitting a response to the consultation, “and begin a campaign of public education to demonstrate how dishonest – not to mention dangerous – this government’s anti-porn campaigns are.”

“We call on supporters to also submit your own responses,” he said.

Responses over the U.K.’s plan can be sent to avconsultation@culture.gov.uk. The consultation runs until April 12.

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