New U.K. regulation will introduce mandatory age checks for porn sites

Why it matters to you

If you want to watch adult content in the U.K. next year, be prepared to prove you’re old enough to do so legally.

Anyone accessing pornographic websites in the U.K. after April 2018 is likely to need to prove they are at least 18 years old. The rule is expected to be announced by the U.K. government this week, under its Digital Economy Act, in an effort to use age verification to stop children viewing unsuitable material. Exact details on how age will be proven aren’t known, but a credit card system is most likely, matching methods used on gambling websites. Any pornographic websites not requiring visitors to prove their age may find access is restricted, after government regulators report them to internet service providers. Additionally, this may have an impact on the site’s ability to process payments, and the new regulations could also see non-complying sites hit with a large fine.

Matt Hancock, digital minister in the U.K., will put the program into place, and will apparently issue a statement to the House of Commons on July 17, including the phrase, “We are taking the next step to put in place the legal requirement for websites with adult content to ensure it is safely behind an age verification control,” according to The Guardian. He adds, “This means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the U.K. will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world.” It’s possible a new regulatory body will be formed to oversee the new rules, while the British Board of Film Classification may handle the task at first. The BBFC certifies films and video games in the U.K. already.

There are numerous concerns over the rule, including questions over how it will be enforced, whether it will be effective, or if it amounts to censorship. It’s not clear whether credit cards will be used for age verification, or if another system such as mobile phone numbers will be offered, but either way, it’s possible databases of visitors could be created, which may be attractive targets to hackers, or present privacy concerns to those supplying age verification. The government hasn’t addressed how it will tackle websites not based or hosted in the U.K., or exactly what sites will fall under its watchful eye. Will sites that show adult content alongside non-adult content, such as Reddit, be affected, for example?

The Digital Economy Bill, or Digital Economy Act, became law in the U.K. in April. It has been debated, in one form or another, since 2010.

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