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Online Safety

MPs raise issue of age verification in debate

8 October 2020

On Wednesday, MPs challenged the Government on age verification during a Westminster Hall debate on online harms.

Responding to several petitions calling for the law to clamp down on online abuse, MPs debated various aspects of online harms — particularly the significant effect they have on children and young people.

Impact on children highlighted

Holly Lynch MP, who arranged the debate, quoted statistics from the NSPCC, which found that in the first three months of 2020, online sex crimes recorded against children surpassed 100 a day— roughly one every 14 minutes.

She called on the Government to 'tighten up' the rules on internet use, in order to more effectively protect children:

We absolutely must re-resource this area to get a grip of it and prevent children from becoming victims, which happens every day that we do not tighten up the rules and regulations surrounding the use of the internet.
Holly Lynch MP

Age-verification consistently raised

Several MPs raised the issue of age-verification, a scheme that would have gone some way in protecting children online from harmful content — introduced by the Digital Economy Act 2017, but dropped by the Government last year.

The Government have proposed that they will adopt a more holistic approach to online safety through their Online Harms Bill, despite the fact they have legislation ready to go to implement age-verification immediately.

Ms Lynch challenged the Government on the significant lack of clarity as to why this was dropped and it would be resolved through the Online Harms Bill.

The Government announced the suspension of the implementation of an age-verification regime for commercial pornography sites on 16 October 2019, despite the fact that it only needed a commencement date. It is not at all clear why that was or when it will be reintroduced. I hope that the Minister can enlighten is about when the regime will come into effect.
Holly Lynch MP

Fiona Bruce MP challenged the Government on their failure to implement this scheme despite it being a Manifesto Commitment. She called on them to implement age-verficiation immediately and to introduce additional online safety protection through their proposed Online Harms Bill.

According to Mrs Bruce, the Government's delay in providing their proposed alternative to age-verification means children will continue to lack protection online until at least 2023 — six years after age-verification was voted for by the Commons.

She mentioned the result of polling, conducted in mid-September, which showed a large proportion of adults want to see age-verification introduced:

In mid-September, 2,100 adults were polled across the UK, 63% of whom said that the Government should implement part 3 of the 2017 Act now and additional protections against other online harms through the online harms Bill, when that legislation has been passed. Only 21% thought the Government should delay introducing statutory AV on pornographic sites until all the other mechanisms for addressing online harms are ready. If we discount the “don’t knows”, 74% said the Government should implement part 3 of 2017 Act now.
Fiona Bruce MP

Several other MPs, including Maria Miller and Carla Lockhart, also criticised the Government for the lack of comprehensive reasoning behind their approach to abandon age-verification.

CARE's View

CARE provided briefings for many of the MPs involved in the debate and we are incredibly grateful for their contributions and for taking a stand on this issue.

Whilst the Government want to take a more holistic approach to tackle this issue, we sincerely hope they will take into account how their delay will impact children's safety online.

As Fiona Bruce argued, there is no clear reason why the Government cannot implement age-verification now, and improve online safety through this legislation.

This latest polling shows it is clearly what the public want, and the Government's continued delay just leaves children vulnerable to harmful content online for longer.

Read more: 5 ways online porn harms your child

Join our campaign: Help Protect Children from Online Porn

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