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Free porn sites in the UK could be subject to age checks

You could soon be asked to pony up personal information in order to access porn sites in the UK – whether they’re subscription free or not. 

The UK government wants all adult sites to verify the ages of their users, but it’s not clear from a technical perspective how porn operators will be able to successfully do this. 

Now the adult industry appears to have come up with a plan. The idea is that Brits will have to prove that they’re 18 or older by confirming certain data which is already held on government databases – things like NHS numbers, bank details or credit references. 

Previously, on-demand services regulator ATVOD (Authority for Television on Demand), had called for credit card checks to be applied to non-UK based sites, as a way of confirming the age of a user. Sites based in the UK have been required to make more stringent age checks since 2010, using data from the electoral roll, credit cards and credit agencies. 

Related: Porn industry gets behind parental controls and filtersThe DPA (Digital Policy Alliance), an advisory body for online companies, has come up with a so-called ‘C-Plan’, a set of guidelines for confidential, age-based verification systems. 

This includes taking date of birth information available from local and central government, including the Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS as well private companies, like mobile network providers and ISPs. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Rachel O’Connell, an online child safety expert working with the DPA, said: “Nobody in the UK wants a centralised identity database. The way around that is that Royal Mail knows who you are, your mobile operator knows who you are.” 

Users would in theory sign into a service with a username and password which would then checked against this data, which would be anonymised at either end. In practice it’s not clear how such a service would be funded or when it could be rolled out. 

The need to create a up a user-friendly method of confirming a person’s age has gained momentum since the Conservative victory at the election. One of the party’s key pledges going into the polls was that they would enforce age-checks on all online purveyors of porn, and that those who didn’t play ball would be unceremoniously blocked – much like sites which have been regarded as breaching copyright

Critics claim the system, no matter how well anonymised, would be ripe for abuse by hackers and unscrupulous intelligence services alike. 

Myles Jackman, a lawyer who specialises in obscenity law is openly critical of the plan. “This is cutting-edge censorship,” Jackman said. “We are now becoming the world leaders in censorship. And we are being watched very closely from abroad.” 

Online pornography produced in the UK is now subjected to the same levels of censorship as R18 videos bought in licensed sex shops are. The upshot of this is that a number of specific acts cannot be filmed and broadcast online – even if the acts themselves are legal to perform in real life. 

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