The next step is taken

Today the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) issued its long-awaited consultation document in which it sets out its thoughts and proposals in relation to those parts of the Digital Economy Act, 2017 that require commercial pornography web sites to introduce age verification.

Readers will note that the final, formal, step whereby the BBFC became the legally designated regulator was not  actually completed until 21st February so I think they have done remarkably well to get this ready and out in such a comparatively short space of time.

I’m guessing the BBFC will be acutely aware that forces who are still opposed to the measure will be looking for even the tiniest procedural slip up to allow them to jump in and disrupt, halt, discredit or delay the process.  They lost the argument but they won’t have abandoned any hope of killing off the idea in some other way. We should not help them achieve that ambition. Better to be safe than sorry.

In fact there are two bits to the consultation. One addresses  the overarching principles and the other looks at the position of ancillary service providers.

Comments on either or both are invited by 23rd April.

I won’t try to summarise the papers here because, having the read the documents, they appear to me to be clearly written and succinctly presented.

I would make just  two obvious points: the BBFC’s main role in this area is  narrow and limited. It is required to determine whether or not a website qualifies under the Act and, if it does, whether or not it has in place a solution that means children cannot ordinarily access its content. If, after notice,  a site remains non-compliant certain things may follow.

However, the privacy dimension of any age verification solution is the primary responsibility of the UK’s data protection authority, otherwise known as the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Having said that, the BBFC does point out that there is a key privacy issue at play here and that is the principle of data minimization. In other words porn sites do not need to know your name, address, credit card number or indeed anything other than whether or not you have been reliably verified as being 18 or above.

If, as seems likely, some porn providers also offer an age verification service that is associated with a company they own or control, unless they also allow and accept alternative solutions they run the risk of attracting legal challenges on the ground of unfair commercial practices and they will also need to be able to show there is an impenetrable curtain separating the affairs of both enterprises.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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