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Irish government to consider similar legislation to UK 'porn block' law

From July pornography sites will be required to have robust age-verification systems in place for UK users.

Image: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT will consider a similar system to the UK’s so-called ‘porn block’ law as part of new legislation on online safety.

As part of legislation passed in the UK in 2017, pornography sites will be expected, from 15 July, to have a robust age-verification system in place to ensure its UK users are over 18.

Although this will be regulated by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the sites themselves will be allowed to decide exactly how they do it.

Options include requiring adult users to buy a special card over the counter at a newsagents, where they will be asked to show photo ID to verify their age. The card will have a code on it that can be used to access the site.

Some sites will ask users to provide a scan of a passport or driver’s licence which will then be verified by a third party while others may ask for credit card details as proof a person is over 18.

In the most recent episode of The Explainer podcast, TheJournal.ie took a look at this UK legislation and the likelihood that Ireland will follow suit. 


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

This year the Department of Communications launched a public consultation on new law to regulate harmful content online.

This consultation has now closed and the department told TheJournal.ie that the results are being examined in preparation for the development of legislation. 

“Age verification will be considered in the context of the forthcoming legislation,” a spokesperson said. 

How effective is the UK law expected to be?

Critics of the new UK restrictions have pointed out that teenagers could still easily bypass them, or just use porn-hosting platforms that are not covered by the law.

Sites like Twitter, Reddit and Imgur, for example, will not have to administer the scheme as more than one third of a site’s content must be pornographic to bring it under the legislation.

TheJournal.ie did a quick internet search of the phrase ‘porn on Twitter’ to test how accessible this content is on the platform and was served a long list of profiles that contained uncensored explicit images and videos.

Even on sites that are affected, teens would still be able to use virtual private networks (VPNs), which make it seem like your computer is located elsewhere.

Data protection

There are concerns about data leaks because the government is not telling pornography websites how to verify age. That will be up to the individual sites and they will be responsible for the data they collect as part of this.

Experts have said it may lead to people being outed if a site collects their email addresses and also links those in its data collation with their preferences or searches. This is the kind of information that could, in theory, be used to extort money from people.

Caroline West, a doctoral scholar in sexuality at DCU, told The Explainer that many people may not be comfortable with giving their passport details to these kinds of websites. 

Sites like that are really targeted by moral campaigners who are opposed to porn even existing in the first place so if you have this treasure trove of data of people’s personal details just sitting there waiting to be hacked, that’s very attractive to a lot of hackers or to a lot of people who want to shame people for their porn use.

She referenced the 2015 leak by hackers of the names of 30 million people who had used infidelity website Ashley Madison. Serious shortcomings were identified in the site’s security afterwards and it was subsequently fined $1.6 million for the data breach.

Despite the massive breach, thousands of people are still signing up to the site every day. 

“And do we really want people in the government or specific agencies knowing what we as consenting adults are looking at on the internet?” West said. “Adults should be able to keep their fantasies to themselves unless they consent to sharing it so it’s quite a risk for adults.”

Mindgeek, the company which owns PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube, has developed its own system called AgeID which it hopes will be adopted by others. This system involves adults having to upload scans of their passports or drivers licences.

These documents are then verified by a third-party. All of the information will be encrypted and the company has said the system will not keep track of how each user’s accounts are used. AgeID said the way its method of storing login and password information works means it doesn’t have a database of email addresses.

Sex education

The British government said it wants the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online and these new laws will help to achieve this. 

Ministers have cited research by the NSPCC which found children were as likely to stumble across pornography online as they were to search for it.

The UK government has said it hopes the age-restriction scheme will help, in particular, to prevent instances where children have seen inappropriate content in a pop-up window or through a link they were sent.  

However critics have accused the government of taking a shortsighted approach to the issue. 

West said research about children watching porn is often “conflicted”, but there is one conclusion that is always consistent – better sex education is vital.

“Everywhere where there is decent sex education young people watch less porn and they feel less conflicted about it. They also have healthier relationships and have more of a switched-on opinion of consent.”

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