The Prime Minister is determined to introduce age verification mechanisms to restrict under 18s’ access to pornographic websites and is prepared to legislate to do so if the industry fails to self regulate.
In a consultation to be launched in the autumn, the government will seek views on how best to introduce measures that will further restrict under 18s’ access to pornographic websites.
Industry will be given an opportunity to develop proposals to block content through payment providers and other means. The consultation will also consider the best form of legislation should voluntary agreements not work. A regulatory approach could see primary legislation introduced to make it an offence in the UK to publish pornography online without age verification controls, possibly with a regulator to oversee and enforce controls.
With the growth in online pornography it is currently all too easy for children to access adult content on websites without restriction – whether intentionally or otherwise. That is why we need more effective controls to stop children accessing inappropriate and damaging material, both on websites operated from the UK and overseas.
The aim is to ensure that the rules that apply offline apply online, giving parents the peace of mind of knowing that their children can use the internet safely.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
Our one nation government is working hard to make the internet a safer place for children, the next step in this campaign is to curb access to harmful pornographic content which is currently far too widely available.
I want to see age restrictions put into place or these websites will face being shut down.
Minister for Internet Security and Security Baroness Joanna Shields said:
As a result of our work with industry, more than 90% of UK consumers are offered the choice to easily configure their internet service through family friendly filters – something we take great pride in having achieved. It’s a gold standard that surpasses those of other countries.
Whilst great progress has been made, we remain acutely aware of the risks and dangers that young people face online. This is why we are committed to taking action to protect children from harmful content. Companies delivering adult content in the UK must take steps to make sure these sites are behind age verification controls.
The UK’s top 10 adult sites account for over half (52%) of all site views. All provide free content upfront and none have robust age verification to protect under 18s in place at present, whilst DVDs containing explicit pornographic content are subject to age controls for purchase in licensed sex shops.
Viewing pornography at a young age can cause distress and can have a harmful effect on sexual development, beliefs, and relationships. Latest figures from Comscore show that many children in the UK view online pornography – in May 2015, 1 in 5 under-18s in the UK visited an adult site and 1 in 10 UK visitors to adult sites were children. Pornography tops the list of online risks named by children, with more than 1 in 5 young people expressing concern about such content according to Kids Online research in 2013. While a poll by Childline earlier this year found nearly 1 in ten 12 to 13 year olds were worried they were addicted to adult content and 18% had seen shocking images.