Internet age checks are an overreaction | Letters

Internet age checks are an overreaction

A laptop accessing the internet
‘The government’s proposals, outlined in the digital economy bill, could lead to the tracking of UK adults across the pornographic websites they visit,’ writes Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Letters

Wednesday 23 November 2016 13.30 EST Last modified on Wednesday 23 November 2016 13.33 EST

John Carr asks why the Open Rights Group is worried about requirements for people to verify their age with pornographic websites (Letters, 22 November). Open Rights Group supports the many organisations calling for compulsory sex education that discusses pornography and relationships. We also welcome efforts by British internet service providers to help parents mediate their children’s internet access and keep them safe online.

However, the government’s proposals, outlined in the digital economy bill, could lead to the tracking of UK adults across the pornographic websites they visit. There are no specific privacy protections in the bill. In fact, the government wants a proliferation of age verification technologies. How will we know which are safe and which are putting us at risk of an Ashley Madison-style data leak? Some sites might ask for your credit card details. Again, how will we know if this is genuine, or in fact a scam to steal your payment details?

Most pornographic sites will ignore the age verification requirement. So the government wants to give the British Board of Film Classification the power to block sites that don’t comply. To make this work, the BBFC would have to censor tens of thousands of legal websites. Censorship of this kind is an extreme step and should be reserved for illegal content. It is clear that the government has not thought any of this through.
Jim Killock
Executive director, Open Rights Group

The debate about how to enforce age verification systems on pornographic websites is hugely important if we are going to keep young people safe online. But the debate has now strayed into questioning the efficacy of self-regulation of child sexual abuse content, which is illegal for anyone, regardless of age. The UK is one of the most hostile territories in the world for hosting child sexual abuse. In 1996, 18% of known content was hosted here, but since 2004 this has been less than 0.5% and in 2015 was 0.2%. If we find content in the UK, it’s typically removed in under two hours, which is a record unmatched anywhere else in the world.

In 2015, the IWF, working with the internet industry, removed a record 68,000 URLs of child sexual abuse webpages. A number of children were safeguarded and thousands of children’s images were removed, stopping their re-victimisation. All this happened because the IWF self-regulatory model works and is held up as a global model of good practice. Internet companies work voluntarily with the IWF to remove this content as quickly as they can. The IWF self-regulatory model needs to be protected and valued for what it is: the most effective way to tackle a hideous crime.
Susie Hargreaves
Internet Watch Foundation

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