The legal ins and outs of the UK Porn Block

Image credit: Shutterstock
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Government has announced that as of 15 July 2019, qualifying websites which host pornography will be required to implement age verification processes before users can access them. 

Porn hosting websites who run commercial activities will be particularly affected by the new changes.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 provides the legislation for the UK porn block

Image credit: The National Archives

What is the law?

The Digital Economy Act (2017) is designed to prevent underage internet users from accessing porn sites whilst not censoring them from legal adults. The aim is to safeguard young and vulnerable people and to prevent abuse. The law is deemed to be the world’s first and the law should “balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content,” according to Margot James, the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

It is legal for adults to view porn hosting websites but limiting access to children has been problematic. It is reported that UK hosted pornographic video services have already implemented verification processes for visitors’ ages which are line with online gambling websites which include registering an account and providing credit card details. In some cases, these websites will ask for additional documentation to prove the account holder's age which is verified by a third party.

Who will regulate compliance?

The regulator will be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) who will have a number of powers which it can enforce. It can instruct internet providers which sites to block for non-compliance; ask search engines and advertisers to reject offending websites; and/ or ask payment service providers to cease taking payments for the websites. Websites who fail to abide by the new law will most likely face the prospect of being blocked by internet service providers and being fined.

The law should be welcomed, and, in principle, viewers of these websites will agree that more needs to be done to prevent inappropriate material falling into the hands of children. There are however some apprehensions in implementing age verification checks, and these are justified when considering the broader effect, the new law can have when it concerns data.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How will it affect privacy?

The main concern will be the way cyber security is implemented and how this will impact data privacy.

The BBFC has said it will look to look at solutions which will adopt “robust” data-protection standards, allowing websites to display a green Age Verification (AV) symbol to allow consumers to make an informed choice.

Data leaks would be disastrous, not only for the business behind the website, but also for the user. Mindgeek, who owns a number of pornographic websites has already developed its own system known as ’AgeID’ which requires adults to upload a scan of their passport or driving licence which will then verified by a third party. The data is protected by encryption and any personal information linked to the users account will not be trackable. Mindgeek has also confirmed that it would not be holding the data themselves.

This raises one question however... Who will be storing the data? It is most likely they will be using third party facilities to store this data though not much is known about this. It is not just personal data that will be stored, but also sensitive personal data which will requires more security to be implemented and processes adopted to prevent any data leaks.

Private data would be a target to hackers and putting to one side the embarrassment this would cause consumers; it is the highly private information which could be sold on and potentially used for illegal purposes.

What are the consequences?

Businesses running these websites would also have to be aware of the consequences they would face if there was a breach. Businesses must follow the data protection laws in the UK and should ensure their data protection policies and privacy notices are up to date. Any compliance failures and breaches of data privacy could see these businesses being fined and prevented from obtaining data by the ICO (UK's data regulator). In addition, any data leaks would be extremely damaging to a business with the prospect of losing customer confidence as well as damage to their reputation.

For the consumer, there is always a threat to their privacy so there will inevitably be a balancing exercise in the way the age verification checks are carried out. These should guarantee minimal risk to the consumer but maximum compliance by the business owner.

Karen Holden, Founder of A City Law Firm