Disappointment as Government abandons online adult content age-check plans



Christian advocacy group CARE has said it is “desperately disappointment” with the Government’s decision to ditch plans to introduce age verification checks for online adult content users. 

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said in a written statement on Wednesday that the Government “will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017” which contained the plans to introduce age verification for access to online p0rnography.

The scrapped plans would have required visitors to UK adult websites to upload proof of their age with the intention of protecting people under the age of 18 from the damaging effects of adult content on the web. 

The Government had scheduled the scheme for launch in April this year but it suffered repeated delays and was postponed to July, when the Government admitted it was being setback again after making a bureaucratic blunder by failing to notify the European Commission about aspects of the measures.

Morgan said that the aims of the Digital Economy Act would instead be delivered through the Government’s proposed online harms regulatory regime. 

“The government published the Online Harms White Paper in April this year. It proposed the establishment of a duty of care on companies to improve online safety, overseen by an independent regulator with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance,” she said.

“Since the White Paper’s publication, the government’s proposals have continued to develop at pace. The government announced as part of the Queen’s Speech that we will publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny.

“It is important that our policy aims and our overall policy on protecting children from online harms are developed coherently in view of these developments with the aim of bringing forward the most comprehensive approach possible to protecting children.

“The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals.” 

CARE’s Chief Executive, Nola Leach, said the announcement from the Government was a “betrayal” of young people.

“We are desperately disappointed that the Government has ditched the age-verification proposals,” she said. 

“The Government promised age-verification in its 2017 election manifesto so to suddenly drop it like this is extraordinary and outrageous.

“The simple fact is our children and young people are not as well protected online as they are offline.” 

A recent Times survey into p0rn consumption among Brits found that Gen Z – those aged 22 and under – were more likely than any other age group to say that they enjoyed watching “rough” sexual content – defined in the survey as hair-pulling, biting, slapping, choking and other aggressive behaviour.

Nearly half of Gen Z (42%) said they enjoyed watching this, compared to less than a third (29%) of Millennials, 17% of Gen X and just 6% of Baby Boomers. 

Another recent survey by the British Board of Film Classification found that around half of British 11- to 13-year-olds had seen adult content at some point, with some children as young as seven or eight saying they had seen this on the internet.

A poll conducted by CARE in 2015 found that the proposals to introduce age verification checks were supported by a majority of the public. 

Mrs Leach said that the findings showed there was “no logic” in giving up the scheme.

“Children as young as seven are stumbling across p0rn online and it is absolutely right that we should be doing everything we can to protect them. Today’s announcement is a betrayal of our young people,” she said. 

“There is a growing body of evidence that highlights the harm easy access to p0rnography is doing to children, in terms of shaping their view of sex and healthy relationships.

“This Government could have led the way in the world in driving this forward, other countries were watching to learn from our experience of doing so. Now all the time and effort to make age-verification a reality has been wasted.”