(LONDON) — The United Kingdom said it will introduce a law requiring Age Verification Certificates, or AVCs, to view online pornography beginning in July, making it the first country to do so.
Digital rights campaigners have criticized the decision aimed at ensuring only those 18 and older can view the material, producers of which could face massive fines or be banned from service providers if they don’t comply.
The government hasn’t yet explained exactly how AVCs would work. The new law is set to take effect July 15, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
The government’s stated rationale is that it remains far too easy for children to access adult content online, said Margot James, minister for digital.
“The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first, and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children,” James said. “We want the U.K. to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.”
David Austin, chief executive of the British Board of Film Classification, the company ensuring compliance with the law, described it as “a groundbreaking child protection measure.”
“Age-verification,” he said, “will help prevent children from accessing pornographic content online and means the U.K. is leading the way in internet safety.”
The government based its decision on polling data from YouGov that suggested 88 percent of U.K. parents with children younger than 18 believe age-verification technology should be used to curb access to adult content.
The digital rights organization Open Rights Group, however, decried the move as a “serious failing” for users’ privacy and that it was introduced without proper public consultation.
“It’s understandable why the government wants age verification on porn sites,” Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told ABC News. “However, they have refused to regulate AV for safety and privacy of customers. This is a serious failing and something they could fix immediately. Unfortunately, there was little public debate when the laws were passed.”
There will be a “shock” when the checks come into force, he added, while the law also missed the mark when it comes to making the world safer for children.
“We should be focusing less on technology that won’t work but sounds good,” Killock added, “and more on educating under-18s about the risks of different kinds of content and behavior online.”
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