Should ID Verification Be Introduced To Online Services in the UK? 

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For almost a decade there have been discussions about introducing age verification for adult websites across multiple EU countries. In fact, it was something that was heavily considered in both 2015 and 2019 in the UK before it was deemed too complicated and shelved again on the grounds of technical difficulties. Now in 2022, the discussion is back again, and this time it looks as if it could go ahead.

Contents

  • The Introduction of ID Verification
  • What Does the UK Online Safety Bill Say?
  • Why Adult Entertainment Companies Might Be Keen
  • What Are Things Like Elsewhere?
  • The Introduction of Age Verification in the UK

The Introduction of ID Verification

Although nothing has been set in stone there are definite discussions around the need to provide photo ID verification if you wish to access adult content websites online. However, the discussion around showing ID online is a varied one, as many people believe that you should be required to show a photo ID if you wish to open a social media account; a discussion that is on-going from both sides.

What Does the UK Online Safety Bill Say?

The new rules are part of the government’s UK Online Safety Bill which intends to completely “reset” how digital platforms are governed. Originally, the bill stated that adult websites that contained user-generated adult content would need to verify IDs, but this has now been expanded to include all pornography websites, similar to the age verification process that you see on gambling websites.

The reason for all of the controversy with this plan is that it takes away a lot of privacy in a country where sex is still considered a taboo topic. All websites collect anonymous data on who you are, how you use the site, and what you are interested in. This data could be your age, gender, location, the device you use to browse, or what pages you visit. Additionally, a tool called a “Facebook Pixel” allows websites to insert a piece of code that gives additional data if you’re browsing the web while logged in on Facebook. While all data has to be anonymous by law if you collect enough data and start to cross-reference the information it’s suddenly a lot easier to uncover someone’s identity.

Why Adult Entertainment Companies Might Be Keen

Now imagine that this logic is applied to the type of content you consume on adult websites. They’ve checked your ID to verify your age, and now this verified age can be combined with your location, gender, and the type of content you consume. That would be incredibly valuable data for companies to either sell or use to create very specific targeted ads. The level of potential privacy invasion is mind-blowing and it would be almost impossible to regulate because companies will always find a loophole – this is why the bill has been dropped every time.

While the UK considers how this new law should be implemented, the countries on either side of the UK have very different strategies.

What Are Things Like Elsewhere?

In Ireland, there aren’t currently any plans to implement the same ruling. It is something that the government have previously discussed, but it didn’t get as far as the UK government. A poll conducted by the Irish Journal found that 51% of people were in favour of the verification system, 42% were against it, and 7% were undecided. While the Irish government haven’t moved on this, in 2004 Vodafone Ireland implemented an automatic block on all adult content being accessed on the network which is still in place today. It is worth noting that it isn’t just the adult industry where age verification could be needed. Showing photo ID and having your account verified is seen as the norm if you want to access online betting services within Ireland. For example, to access these online casinos in Ireland, you would still need to go through the KYC and verification process; so perhaps the introduction of photo ID verification throughout other industries is one that won’t seem so strange after all.

On the other side of the UK, France is way ahead. The French government voted to introduce age verification on adult websites in 2020. Initially, it was a voluntary charter that several service providers signed, but this was later pushed into law which allowed the owners of websites that didn’t comply to face a fine of up to 75,000 euros and three years in prison. In 2021 the French government threatened to ban 5 popular adult websites for not complying with the rules. However, the government voted against tighter regulations and these 5 websites were spared. Currently, under French regulations, the adult entertainment companies are free to choose how they verify a user’s age but it must be deemed satisfactory by the French government.

The Introduction of Age Verification in the UK

So, will we see age verification brought into UK law? It’s unlikely. The UK is already one of the most heavily monitored countries in the world, thanks to the CCTV network. One place that British people particularly value privacy is in their home and personal life. This bill has already been thrown out twice over privacy concerns, and as part of this ministers agreed that it was too complicated to regulate and balance citizens’ right to privacy at the same time. There is a chance that, like in France, the bill could go ahead but it’s very unlikely to happen.

There are many pros and cons for the introduction of age verification and especially for showing photo ID to join social media networks. Many feel that they should be able to browse the internet in private and undertake whatever legal activities they wish without being traced and having to prove who they are – and there is certainly some argument for that. Of course, we should also take into account that not everyone has access to photo ID for varying reasons which means that the mandatory need to show ID like this before accessing any online services risks making them inaccessible to many, perhaps not a concern for adult entertainment but certainly something to be considered for more mainstream platforms such as social media.

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