UK Bill Would Require Age Verification

February 25, 2022

It might seem like a no-brainer—require age verification to protect children from adult content wherever it may appear online. But The Register insists it is not so simple in, “ Threatens to Make Adults Give Credit Card Details for Access to Facebook or TikTok.” The UK’s upcoming Online Safety Bill will compel certain websites to ensure users are 18 or older, a process often done using credit card or other sensitive data. Though at first the government vowed this requirement would only apply to dedicated porn sites, a more recent statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport indicates social media companies will be included. The statement notes research suggests such sites are common places for minors to access adult material.

Writer Gareth Corfield insists the bill will not even work because teenagers are perfectly capable of using a VPN to get around age verification measures. Meanwhile, adults following the rules will have to share sensitive data with third-party gatekeepers just to keep up with friends and family on social media. Then there is the threat to encryption, which would have to be discontinued to enable the bills provision for scanning social media posts. Civil liberties groups have expressed concern, just as they did the last time around. Corfield observes:

“Prior efforts for mandatory age verification controls were originally supposed to be inserted into Digital Economy Act but were abandoned in 2019 after more than one delay. At that time, the government had designated the British Board of Film Classification, rather than Ofcom, as the age verification regulator. In 2018, it estimated that legal challenges to implementing the age check rules could cost it up to £10m in the first year alone. As we pointed out at the time, despite what lawmakers would like to believe – it’s not a simple case of taking offline laws and applying them online. There are no end of technical and societal issues thrown up by asking people to submit personal details to third parties on the internet. … The newer effort, via the Online Safety Bill, will possibly fuel Britons’ use of VPNs and workarounds, which is arguably equally as risky: free VPNs come with a lot of risks and even paid products may not always work as advertised.”

So if this measure is not viable, what could be the solution to keeping kids away from harmful content? If only each child could be assigned one or more adults responsible for what their youngsters access online. We could call them “caregivers,” “guardians,” or “parents,” perhaps.

Cynthia Murrell, February 25, 2022


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