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UK government plans to introduce mandatory age-checks on porn sites

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The UK's Conservative party has promised to introduce mandatory age-checks on online pornography websites if re-elected in May this year. Culture secretary Sajid Javid said an independent regulator would work with websites to verify users' ages using as-yet-unspecified methods. Sites that fail to comply would be blocked by the UK's internet service providers (ISPs) while ISPs that did not co-operate could be fined.

Although the plans have been welcomed by child welfare charities, experts have warned that mandatory age-checks could be costly and difficult to implement. Some commentators have suggested that the proposals could also lead to greater censorship of the internet in the UK. The new plans have been unfavorably compared with the 2013 opt-out internet filters, which were introduced to help families control access to adult material but inadvertently blocked educational resources such as sexual health websites.

The conservatives say internet users are always "two clicks away" from online porn

In a post on the party's Facebook page, the Conservatives say that on the internet, "anyone, regardless of their age, is only ever two clicks away" from pornographic material. "Of course adults should be perfectly free to look at these sites," said the post. "But if websites showing adult content don’t have proper age controls in place – ones that will stop children looking at this kind of material — they should and will be blocked altogether."

traditional date of birth age checks are useless

At the moment, it's uncertain how a UK-wide age-check would be implemented. Traditional age checks asking users to enter their date of birth are a byword for ineffectiveness, and although the Conservatives have suggested that credit card checks could be used, even this method might be insecure. To bypass such age checks, children can simply borrow or steal the relevant data from parents or older friends. Electronic IDs could also be used, but these system require a great amount of time and money to set up.

There might also be concerns over the type of data that could be recorded by an independent regulator. Speaking to Buzzfeed UK, Gilad Rosner, a privacy and digital identity researcher, said that "the ideal solution is one that is good at proving age but hides the porn preferences of the user." Rosner added that the plan was "technologically feasible, [but] would cost a lot."

plans introduced after scare survey published

The promises to introduce mandatory age-checks were made this weekend after a press release published last week by Childline claimed that a tenth of 12- to 13-year-olds were worried they were addicted to pornography. However, this research has been criticized, with publications including Vice noting that the survey quoted by numerous outlets including BBC News had been conducted by OnePoll, a "creative market research group" that pays users to fill out online questionnaires before selling the resulting research to PR firms.

However, despite the suspect nature of this research, many UK groups say there's no escaping the fact that thanks to the internet, pornography is more accessible for young people than ever before. "The easy availability to children of online pornography, much of it extreme, violent and profoundly degrading, is of deepening concern," said the head of UK child protection charity NSPCC. "Any action that makes it more difficult for young people to find this material is to be welcomed."