BBFC to Manage Age Verification Checks for Websites in Britain

The British government has recently announced that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for online age verification.

If you are a British citizen, accessing content deemed pornographic is going to get a lot more difficult. This is because the government is mandating websites to put in place stringent age verification checks. Those websites that don’t put this in place can be subject to blocking.

All this came about through the highly controversial Digital Economy Act. Earlier this year, the bill was subject to intense criticism on multiple fronts. The bill was passed by May in spite of the snap election. One of these criticisms involves the issue of age verification.

Some websites that openly offer explicit material do offer age verification checks, however, it is an openly known issue that some under-aged people simply lie about their age before accessing the site. So, the government is trying get websites to put in place databases of users who want to access pornography on their sites. The move to mandate these databases has been blasted as a privacy disaster because of potential security concerns. Still, the government is moving ahead with this plan and is seemingly in the process of implementing this law anyway.

Sky news is reporting that the government is saying that the BBFC will take manage age verification checks. From the report:

In a proposal announced by the Government on Thursday, the BBFC’s experience in classifying age-rated content will help it regulate whether websites are verifying their users’ ages.

Under the new law, it will be insufficient for websites to simply ask visitors if they are over 18. Instead pornography consumers will need to verify their age, most probably by confirming their financial details.

The minister for digital, Matt Hancock, said: “One of the missions of age verification is to harness the freedom of the internet while mitigating its harms.

“Offline, as a society we protect children from viewing inappropriate adult material by ensuring pornography is sold responsibly using appropriate age checks.

“It is now time that the online world follows suit. The BBFC are the best placed in the world to do this important and delicate task.”

Meanwhile, the Open Rights Group is pushing back against the announcement. In a press release, Jim Killock continued with criticisms of the plan as a whole:

“The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous. They are powerless to ensure people’s privacy.

“The major publisher, MindGeek, looks like it will dominate the AV market. We are very worried about their product, AgeID, which could track people’s porn use. The way this product develops is completely out of BBFC’s hands.

“Users will not be able to choose how to access websites. They’ll be at the mercy of porn companies. And the blame lies squarely with Theresa May’s government for pushing incomplete legislation.”

Killock also warned that censorship of porn sites could quickly spiral into hundreds or thousands of sites.

“While BBFC say they will only block a few large sites that don’t use AV, there are tens of thousands of porn sites. Once MPs work out that AV is failing to make porn inaccessible, some will demand that more and more sites are blocked. BBFC will be pushed to block ever larger numbers of websites.”

From what we’ve seen of the debate thus far is that no one who criticizes these laws are saying that underage people should be free to view explicit material. It’s the implementation of something like this is what is under fire. There is never going to be a system that is foolproof to begin with. It’s the censorship creep and privacy concerns that have sparked a lot of concerns. After all, would you feel comfortable with a private organization having this kind of sensitive information about you as mandated by the government?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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