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UK government delays rollout of controversial age-verification porn laws

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Compulsory age checks for adult content will now be enforceable ‘by the end of the year,’ not next month

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The UK government is delaying plans to introduce compulsory age checks for people accessing porn online. The policy was scheduled to go into action this April, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) now says age checks will only be enforceable “by the end of the year.” Sites that do not introduce age checks will be blocked by ISPs and face fines of up to £250,000 ($350,000).

The policy has been controversial since its unveiling in July 2017. Privacy advocates warn that the law essentially creates a database of the UK’s porn habits controlled by the industry. (”If it gets hacked, can British citizens ever trust the government again with their data?” one lawyer told BBC News.) The companies that will have to implement the checks say there are no clear guidelines on how the system must work.

The government has said it will leave it up to the industry to create the age check software, but the only solution made public so far is from porn titan MindGeek, which owns a number of popular sites including Pornhub, Youporn, and RedTube. Rivals will have to pay to use MindGeek’s system, AgeID, but the company has not said how much it will charge others. This has worried independent porn makers, who fear that MindGeek will use its age verification platform to squeeze the competition.

The government says the newly announced delay will give the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the agency responsible for ensuring sites introduce the checks, more time to draft guidelines. So far, the BBFC has published no information on the subject at all.

A spokesperson for DCMS said: “We are making age verification compulsory for commercial porn sites, as part of our work to make the internet a safer place for children. But we need to take the time to make sure we get it right if it’s going to work, and it will come into effect later this year.”

The BBFC is expected to announce guidelines in the coming weeks, which must then be approved by parliament. After this happens, there will be a period of up to three months when sites can implement their solutions, which will be enforceable by the end of the year.