UK’s porn age-verification system faces indefinite delay | Technology | The Guardian

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The UK’s age-verification system for online pornography is expected to be delayed indefinitely, just weeks before it is due to be launched.

The policy, which will require all adult internet users wanting to watch legal pornography to prove they are over 18 by providing some form of identification, was due to come into force on 15 July.

However, it is set to be delayed for legal reasons after government officials failed to notify the European commission of key details, according to Sky News. A government spokesperson did not deny that the age verification had been indefinitely delayed and confirmed that the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, would deliver a statement on the issue in the House of Commons on Thursday morning.

A delay could see the issue of age verification fall under the responsibility of whoever wins the contest to be prime minister, such as the frontrunner Boris Johnson.

The age block was due to be one of the first of its kind anywhere in the democratic world. Websites that refused to implement the checks face being blocked by UK internet service providers or having their access to payment services withdrawn.

However, the proposed system has come under repeated attack from privacy campaigners who have raised fears that – despite the reassurances of age-verification sites – it would be possible to connect an individual’s browsing habits to their identity, which could then be exposed in a data leak.

Jim Killock of Open Rights Group, which has campaigned against the law, warned last week that the data protection standards under the proposed system were “pointless, misleading and potentially dangerous as advice to consumers seeking safe products”.

Responsibility for checking ages under the system was given to private companies, who would be overseen by the British Board of Film Classification – an organisation which has limited experience of technical internet regulation.

There are also concerns about the effectiveness of some of the age-verification systems itself. Earlier this year the Guardian showed how it was possible to bypass the age checks on one of the flagship age-verification products in less than two minutes.

The government was also forced to exempt large social media sites from the ban owing to fears that a strict implementation would result in the likes of Twitter, Reddit, and Imgur being blocked for adult content.

The law’s supporters say it is designed to stop young children accidentally stumbling across pornographic content while browsing the internet and accept it will not be an effective ban on older, more persistent teenagers.

The delay to one of the government’s flagship internet safety policies shows the enormous challenges associated with attempting to regulate the internet. It also raises questions as to how a similar age-verification system for all mainstream websites – as proposed by the information commissioner’s office – could be implemented.

The delay is also damaging to many British age-verification businesses who had invested substantial sums of money in developing systems to provide the tools required to check internet user’s identities. They were relying on the launch going well in order to sell their product around the world and make the UK a hub for global age-verification systems, with many backed by small investors who could lose out in the event of a lengthy delay.

Age verification was first proposed in the run-up to the 2015 general election by Sajid Javid, when he was culture secretary in the coalition government. However, despite coming close to completion the government has struggled with the details of implementing the policy.