UK Age Verification Law Delayed, Spells Relief For Now

The age verification provisions in the Digital Economy Act have been delayed. The delay represents a temporary digital rights reprieve.

We’ve been following the hugely controversial Digital Economy bill in the UK for some time now. Last year, it was blasted as a privacy disaster thanks to the age verification mandate.

The mandate would compel private companies to maintain databases of users should the site deal with explicit content. If websites don’t comply with specific technology to monitor and record user activity, those sites risk getting blocked by British ISPs. The concern, of course, is that websites would be susceptible to attack because they store potentially damaging personal information on their servers as a result of the mandate.

As we see time and time again, data breaches happen on a frighteningly regular basis. Last week, Orbitz suffered a data breach that saw 880,000 credit cards compromised. That is not the only data breach or leak that happened this month either. We also saw a New York hospital have the personal information of 135,000 patients compromised. That happened a mere two days after the MBM Company data leak which saw 1.3 million customers exposed. So, even today, it seems like a very backwards idea to compel private companies to store more personal information. Unfortunately, the British government seems intent on doing just that.

For digital rights activists, there is finally a bit of good news. The mandate has been delayed to before the end of the year. From the announcement by the British government:

The Strategy also reflects the Government’s ambition to make the internet safer for children by requiring age verification for access to commercial pornographic websites in the UK. In February, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was formally designated as the age verification regulator.

Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.

For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.

The Open Rights Group called on the British government to do a better job at safeguarding personal information:

The deadline for the implementation of the Government’s potentially disastrous Age Verification scheme has officially been pushed back to ‘before the end of the year’.

Whilst we welcome the delay, Age Verification remains a huge threat to privacy for millions across the UK.

Myles Jackman, ORG’s legal director said:

“This is a chance for the government to rethink the absence of safeguards for privacy and security, but it is frightening to consider that this policy was two weeks away from launch before it was pulled.

“Matt Hancock needs to introduce powers to safeguard privacy immediately before this scheme causes real damage.”

So, the further clamping down on privacy rights is being put off. While it is definitely welcome news, the announcement merely represents a delay of what many have long called a privacy disaster waiting to happen. Whether or not implementation will be permanently delayed or a workable compromise can be found remains to be seen.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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