The government of the United Kingdom has been urged by MPs to introduce stricter age verification on pornography sites. The measures will be a great step forward but more needs to be done to prevent the corruption of mainly young male minds.
For those of you who don’t know pornography is printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement. The legal age for viewing such content is eighteen in the UK, but thousands of young people under the legal age have viewed or know someone who has viewed pornography.
Currently the UK has a major issue. The sheer numbers of those viewing adult content has risen and as we know the bulk of teenagers have. Research by the NSPCC and the children’s commissioner for England discovered that the majority of children are exposed to pornography by their early teens, which evidently is illegal. Fifty-three per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds have encountered it online especially, with the ease of access in modern pornography websites astonishing. Shockingly 94% saw it by the age of 14, according to the Middlesex University study. The NSPCC said a generation of children was at risk of being “stripped of their childhoods” through exposure to pornography at a young age.
The policy will be introduced as an amendment to the digital economy bill. So far the bill already gave regulators powers to issue fines of up to £250,000 or 5% of turnover. Websites outside of British jurisdiction would be punished by having credit cards of UK customers cut off.
The new measures that are being put through the House of Commons would mean that such websites that did not introduce age verification controls would be banned in Britain. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport have suggested that the rules will give the BBFC (the age regulator in the UK) the power to give notices to internet service providers, and those that cover mobile network operators, to ban access to websites that have no or inadequate age verification for pornography.
This is a great step forward. Currently anyone could access such websites if their parents decided against having parental controls, which means someone as young as primary school could accidentally stumble across “adult content”. This would scar them for life. As teenagers are concerned many already think that porn is realistic (it isn’t) and this is harming their attitudes towards sex. We have seen a rise in sexual assaults and sexualised behaviour in high schools in particular, with ‘lad culture’ and innuendo a major part in playgrounds around the country.
The government says they comply with EU country of origin rules in regards to the new policy.
The plan is popular amongst child safety campaigners and the general public. An ICM poll, by Durham University’s centre for gender-equal media and published last month, discovered 78% of people backed blocks on adult websites that allowed under-18s to access their content. Age verification had the backing of 86%.
However, there is opposition to having age restriction on pornography. One such group is the Open Rights Group, which opposed the new measures. Their head, Jim Killock, said doing so for online pornography was an “outrageous” measure:
“It’s clearly because they [the government] think they might suffer a defeat, not because they think this is a workable policy,” he said. “What it will lead to is the blocking of a large amount of legal content, and many of those sites will have little or no incentive to use the UK’s bespoke age verification system, with the result that large amounts of material will be blocked to UK adults, despite the material being entirely legal to impart and receive.”
Digital Rights Campaigners have shunned the move, saying no other liberal western nation has such restrictions on access to the internet, and there is an argument amongst free speech campaigners that this would start the beginning of further internet censorship.
Additionally most age verification involves using your credit card. This directly links you with your viewing habits and allows the authorities to have a tighter look at your viewing habits, and also could require a fee meaning the end of free access.
The biggest challenge to the new plans is also the ingenuity of the modern-day youth. Getting round age verification and blocking at the ISP level is relatively easy for most teenagers. Users could also use VPNs, proxies and other ways of getting round the verification.
Due to the fact many, if not most, of the most popular sites are operated outside of the UK and the internet itself is not tied to any nation, it is most likely that those who cannot verify their age but want to still view the sites in question will find it easy.
Obviously, this would prevent those who don’t want to view pornography viewing it- a major concern. It would also seed doubt into those under age who are considering viewing the content, as they might not be as determined to view the content if effort is needed to put into viewing it. From my own experiences I know how easy it is to be linked something you do not actually wish to view, or shown by friends, and hopefully these planned restrictions will prevent this.
What do YOU think? Should there be age verification for pornography? Are the new plans sufficient? Will there be further reform? Let us know in the comments below!
Head Reporter of Central Media Inc.