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Online Safety

New Bill aims to make sure age checks for pornography are implemented

22 January 2020

Yesterday in the House of Lords, Baroness Howe’s Digital Economy Act 2017 (Commencement of Part 3) Bill received its First Reading.

The legislation would require the Government to set an implementation date for Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, which would mean age checks on online porn being introduced.

Age verification was supposed to come into force before Christmas, but was dropped suddenly in October. At the time, the Minister said the plan was to come up with an alternative as part of the wider agenda of dealing with online harms.

CARE was one of a number of signatories to a letter, published in The Times which said this was a mistake, pointing out how children as young as seven had viewed porn:

“Last month a survey for the British Board of Film Classification found that children as young as seven had viewed hardcore pornography. Half (51 per cent) of those aged 11-13 said they had seen porn, rising to 66 per cent among 14-15-year-olds. The researchers concluded viewing porn is harming children's understanding of healthy relationships, sex, body image and consent. The research mirrored a Middlesex University report for the NSPCC in 2016. It found viewing porn gave children an entirely unrealistic image of sex.

This is why we are extremely disappointed that the Government has ditched its plans to introduce age verification for pornography.”

Part 3 of the DEA includes provisions for age verification and was approved by MPs and Peers. That legislation is still on the statute books and has not been repealed.

In a recent article for Politics Home, CARE’s chief executive, Nola Leach said:

“It would be easy for the Government to implement age-checks because the necessary legislative framework is there on the statute book. The relevant technology is in place. The relevant regulator is in place. Everything is ready. All the government needs to do is lay the BBFC age-verification guidance before Parliament and set an implementation date. Baroness Howe, a tireless campaigner for online safety, will introduce a new Bill in the Lords on 21 January (the Digital Economy Act 2017 (Commencement of Part 3) Bill) which has the sole purpose of implementing the relevant age-verification sections of the Digital Economy Act. The Government should take full advantage!”

Last week, it also emerged that four age verification companies were taking the Government to court over the failure to implement the age checks scheme.

They are claiming the decision is an abuse of power because MPs and Peers had already voted for the age verification scheme to be implemented. They are also claiming losses due to the millions invested in developing the required technology.

CARE is backing the Howe Bill and our position remains unchanged, that age verification is desperately needed at a time where children are accessing porn accidently online because there is a lack of proper protection.

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For children and young people, access to harmful online content is only a click away. CARE is working towards a society where they are as well-protected online as they are offline.

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