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In April this year, the way Britain watches porn is about to change forever – with compulsory age checks on all pornographic sites.

The online ID checks will mean people will have to prove they are 18 before viewing any porn online, and are part of the Digital Economy Act 2018. Privacy groups have warned that the law could lead to a huge number of sites being blocked altogether – and to users having to sign up to ‘membership’ of porn sites. The new system will be policed by the British Board of Film Censorship, but porn publishers will implement their own age checks. One system – AgeID, used by Pornhub and other sites owned by porn giant MindGeek – will prompt users to create an account, using a passport or mobile phone to confirm their age.

The data is passed to a government-approved service to confirm that the user is aged 18+ – then users can then use their AgeID account to bypass checks. Sites which fail to ID users can be fined up to £250,000, and the government can ask payment services to withdraw their support. But critics have suggested that the rules have been rushed – and that systems such as AgeID could be open to Ashley Madison-style leaks of user data. Jim Killock Executive Director of the privacy group Open Rights Group said, ‘The BBFC will struggle to ensure that Age Verification is safe, secure and anonymous. They are powerless to ensure people’s privacy. ‘The major publisher, MindGeek, looks like it will dominate the AV market. We are very worried about their product, AgeID, which could track people’s porn use. The way this product develops is completely out of BBFC’s hands.

‘Users will not be able to choose how to access websites. They’ll be at the mercy of porn companies. And the blame lies squarely with Theresa May’s government for pushing incomplete legislation.’ Killock also warned that censorship of porn sites could quickly spiral into hundreds or thousands of sites. ‘While BBFC say they will only block a few large sites that don’t use AV, there are tens of thousands of porn sites. Once MPs work out that AV is failing to make porn inaccessible, some will demand that more and more sites are blocked. BBFC will be pushed to block ever larger numbers of websites.’

Article By Rob Waugh

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