The Government has Admitted That Porn Age Checks Could Harm Small ISPs and Increase Fraud

By Tom Pritchard on at

The government has been trying to implement strict age verification on porn websites for a good few years now, and they're finally set to come into effect in May. The move has been criticised quite a lot, for a variety of reasons, and the government has admitted that everything isn't sunshine and rainbows.

As some have warned, the government's admitted that the checks could be harmful to smaller ISPs, and cause a significant increase in online fraud.

In case you've been living under a rock, the age verification issue has been going on for some time because the Conservative-led government has been using children as an excuse. They fear that being able to access online porn could be detrimental to their development and mental wellbeing, because they clearly can't trust parents to actually give a damn about that and install parental control software.

Before the policy is implemented, however, and before the BBFC takes over as the UK's resident online porn regulator, the government does have to do some impact assessments. The one relating to age checks was quietly released over Christmas, and includes a list of all the things that could go wrong thanks to the new verification systems.

It also details the potential monetary cost, with between £1 million and £7.9 million needed to set up the regulator. Not a huge amount of money relative to other government spending, but still a hefty cost from a government that's been doing everything it can to avoid spending money on things people actually care about - like police. About 54 per cent of people are against the age checks, but unlike some more important government decisions that figure is far too small.

The policies would also have ISPs blocking websites that don't comply with the age checks, and its currently estimated that there will be between one and 50 rogues that need blocking every year. The systems for implementing and maintaining those blocks costs money, and while the larger ISPs will already have systems in place the smaller providers might not - something the government acknowledges in its report. There's also the issue of staff needed to block the sites, since automating the process hasn't worked out so well in the past.

Though the bigger issue at hand is that the government and BBFC don't actually know what sort of blocking measure will be necessary, which is going to cause problems come May.

In a moment of technological clarity, the government does also acknowledge that people will find workarounds to get through the blocks and age verification, though it immediately stumbles by claiming these methods (such as using TOR) will increase the chance they accidentally stumble across illegal material they wouldn't normally see.

That point has been criticised, since that's not actually how services like TOR work. It's just a browser with a lot more built in anonymity, not some magic portal to the dark web where people can see illegal content at their leisure. Myles Jackman, obscenity lawyer and legal director of the Open Rights Group, also criticised this point:

"It seems perverse that, in an environment where the government is promulgating anti-extremism and saying terrorists must be stopped from using ToR, it has to openly acknowledge that this policy will increase its use."

Finally the report notes the increased risk of fraud, particularly since the age verification will be linked to credit cards. Needless to say criminals will jump at the chance to develop some dodgy verification gateways to try and steal credit card info. Critics have also noted that asking people to hand over credit card details so easily goes against all the past warnings to keep that information safe, and that there are obvious security concerns in handing all that information over to a third party verification system. Nothing is unhackable, after all. [Gov.uk via The Register]


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