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It’s doubtful that the new law would actually work.
British Internet users would be forced to prove their age before accessing a range of “adult” content including pornography and gun sellers under new legislation being considered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Similar rules are already in place for online gambling, using credit cards to verify gamblers’ ages (they can only be issued to people over 18). Both measures were proposed under the auspices of protecting children. A DCMS spokesperson told the Independent, “We take the issue of child safety very seriously and have set out a series of robust measures, including family friendly filters, to help keep children safe online. We are always looking at ways to build on these measures to make children even safer.”
However, doubts about the efficacy of such a scheme are already surfacing.
For one, the rule would only apply to website that operate out of the United Kingdom—and the Daily Mail reports that less than 0.1% of the adult websites visited by participants in a study in December 2013 were “regulated in this country.” Pornhub, reportedly the single most popular U.K. pornography site, is based in the U.S., meaning it would be totally unaffected by the new legislation.
Any attempt to regulate adult websites not based in the U.K. would necessarily entail large-scale blocking and censorship, and would be sure to cause an uproar.
The new verification requirement, if passed, would likely also damage the British adult industry. Unlike gambling, where registration is almost always required anyway in order to play, the majority of the most popular pornographic websites are free-to-use, make money from advertising, and do not require users to sign up or provide any personal details.
Given the nature of the content, a requirement that Britons provide their bank details to access pornographic material would almost certain lead them away from British sites and toward anonymous, overseas services.
Adult entertainment news site Perv Lens also points out that pornographic material is often found on websites not directly related to the adult industry: For example, there is “an increasing amount of porn” available free on Twitter, but the new rule is unlikely to apply to the social networking site.
The U.K. government also recently introduced legislation to deal with the growing problem of “revenge porn,” including a punishment of 2 years in jail for sharing intimate photos or videos of one’s partners without their consent.
Rob Price is a technology and politics reporter who served as the U.K.-based morning editor for the Daily Dot until 2014. He now works as the news editor for Business Insider, and his work has appeared in Vice, Slate, the Washington Post, and the Independent.