The UK government has delayed the introduction of mandatory age verification for accessing online pornography — blaming an administrative cock-up.
The controversial scheme had been due to launch on July 15, after an earlier implementation date also came and went. Although in this instance it does not appear the policy has been derailed by the technical challenges around online age verification.
Giving a statement in the House of Commons this morning, digital minister Jeremy Wright said the government failed to notify the European Commission of age verification standards it expects companies to meet — in line with EU law.
Not having done so means it can’t legally introduce the policy at this stage.
“It has come to my attention in recent days that an implementation process was not undertaken for an element of this policy and I regret to say this will delay the commencement date,” he told parliament — adding that the error is expected to result in a delay “in region of six months”.
Apologising for the delay, Wright emphasized that government remains committed to the policy.
“This is not a change of policy or a lessening of this government’s determination for these changes to come about,” he said.
“Many [people] have campaigned passionately for age verification to come into force as soon as possible to ensure children are protected from seeing pornography they shouldn’t — I apologise to them all that these measures will not be brought in as soon as they and I will like.”
“In the mean time there is nothing to stop responsible providers of online pornography from implementing age verification mechanisms on a voluntary basis,” he added. “I hope and expect that many will do so.”
In the statement on age verification, Wright also referenced other policy measures the government has in train which he said will help protect children from seeing inappropriate content online — such as the Online Harms white paper, published in April.
He said a draft code of practice on child online safety will be published ahead of the new regulatory framework coming in — “to set clear standards” for online child safety.
He also noted that the technical challenge of accurate online age verification had been raised during the consultation on the white paper — and said he has commissioned new guidance that will be published in the fall “about the use of technology to ensure children are protected from inappropriate content online”.
As we reported in March, tech companies including Snap have been participating under NDA in a government working group on age verification.
Wright said the government would publish a response to the consultation by the end of the year. And that legislation would be introduced as soon as parliament time allowed after that.
“The new regulatory framework for online harms announced in the white paper will be introduced as soon as possible because it will make a significant difference to action taken by companies to keep children safe online,” he said.
“Age verification for online pornography needs to happen, and I believe it is the clear will of the house and those we represent that it should, and in the clear interests of our children that it must.”