The UK government plans to restrict access to pornographic content via age verifications as soon as 2018. New legislation will force owners and administrators of pornographic websites to check the age of their users before allowing them to access adult entertainment content. Users must be 18 years of age or older to view pornographic content. Of course, that may not sound unreasonable at first.
Currently many pornographic websites include checkboxes that require users to acknowledge that they are 18 or older. The obvious problem is that minors can simply lie. There isn't currently a way to police underage users or prevent them from viewing the content without parental control software. The government's new plans will force users to enter credit card information to validate their age. If a website fails to comply with the Digital Economy Act, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could filter it to make it inaccessible. However, anyone would still be able to access porn without a "porn pass".
Pornographic content and advertising is ubiquitous across the internet. So much so that the majority of UK children have been exposed to porn by age 16. That exposure isn't necessarily intentional. A study by Middlesex University and the NSPCC found that many young people ran across pornography accidentally, instead of explicitly searching for it on Google. Young children accessing adult content is clearly a problem. However, there is dissent among adults about whether or not governmental identity checks are the best solution.
Why Age Verifications Corrode Privacy and Liberty
On the surface, restricting access to adult content through a registration/identification process may sound like a good idea. After all, most parents would agree that stopping minors from accessing adult content is a worthy goal. However, some view the matter as a tactic to pull on the heartstrings of citizens and manipulate them into forfeiting their liberties.
What may seem like an innocuous act for the good of our children could easily lead to the forfeiture of additional internet freedoms. Many speculate that the government is using this issue to get people used to the idea of stricter internet legislation. Mandatory verification legislation for other industries could conceivably follow. This could very well be the government's first step in a plan to drastically alter internet freedoms.
Furthermore, many are appalled that they will have to enter credit card numbers into adult content sites. Such sites don't always have stringent security. Not only is there the risk of identity theft when entering your credit card data, there's also a loss of anonymity. Could age verifications end up on monthly credit card statements in the future?
While preventing children from viewing adult content may seem admirable, it's also a slippery slope. If you give the government an inch, it will take a mile. That's why many UK citizens are opposed to the idea of age verification checks.
Gray Area and Judgment Calls
There is also the issue of defining pornography. It isn't as simple as defining it as anyone who is nude in front of a camera. If that were true, many of our favorite modern dramas would constitute pornography. Game of Thrones, for instance. The problem is that defining pornography is extremely nuanced. For instance, what about a model, or a picture of someone in a swimsuit?
Governments have always had trouble defining exactly what is meant by the term “pornography.” They leave many decisions and classifications up to judgment calls and subjective interpretations. For instance, in a 1964 US court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Stewart was famously quoted as saying the following regarding pornography:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it...”
These types of governmental judgment calls are common in Southeast Asian countries, which are often heavily censored. There, laws are intentionally worded to be gray and vague. That leaves plenty of room for authorities to maneuver as they see fit.
In the UK, in November 2016, the government announced plans to censor “non-conventional” pornography. The move caused an uproar from free speech activists and average citizens alike.
Given these nuances, it is worrying to think that the government is going to enforce age-related restrictions, verifications and identity checks via credit cards on content that isn't easily universally defined.
How to Prevent Children from Accessing Adult Content
Invasions of privacy and loss of anonymity are not necessary to prevent children from accessing pornography. Many argue that preventing access to adult content is down to parents and legal guardians, not the government. There are many ways that parents can protect their children from pornography.
Proactive parents can sit down with their kids and talk with them about adult content. More specifically, parents can explain to their children that pornography isn't representative of genuine relationships; rather, it is fiction and fantasy produced for entertainment purposes.
Additionally, parents may want to explain that sexuality isn't anything to be ashamed of - it is simply a part of being human. This approach will help children understand why you don't want them viewing pornography. That knowledge may help to sate their natural curiosity. After all, the easiest way to encourage a child to do something is to explicitly forbid them from doing it.
Parental Control Software
Using parental control software as your sole means of protection is more of a band-aid approach. Even with parental control software, internet connections are now so ubiquitous that a child may be able to access multiple wireless networks from your very home. He/she could also access computers remotely, connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) server or use other methods to circumvent restrictions. Nevertheless, parental control software, as part of your approach, is undoubtedly a useful tool to keep kids safe online.
Not only can it help prevent cyber-stalking, by ensuring that children don't wind up in a dangerous video chat room or forum, parental control software can filter obscene, offensive and pornographic content. It also usually comes loaded with tons of useful features. These help structure the use of a computer or mobile device. The main feature is typically to filter content via preset lists of questionable and adult-only websites.
Some parental control software also includes features that can limit usage to certain times of day. That way, children won't be able to browse the internet on their device outside of predetermined times. Parents can easily use that feature to schedule browsing times that they can supervise. Furthermore, some parental control solutions can also track location and activity data to better allow parents to keep a watchful eye on their little ones.
You may not need to purchase a new piece of software to implement parental controls. More and more antivirus providers are bundling parental control features into their antivirus applications. You can also use free apps like AVG Family Center. These prevent children from using inappropriate apps. For example, many parents would agree that programs like The Chive app contain unsuitable content for young children. AVG can block the app.
Concerned parents can implement parental control software to filter pornographic content. They can also take the time to talk with their children about adult content online. As such, governmental identity checks on websites are wholly unnecessary.
Whether you accept or despise the adult entrainment industry, the UK government's plans to force users to identify themselves by entering credit card information before viewing pornographic content is a loss of privacy and liberty. Though it may seem inconsequential at first glance, the pendulum could easily swing further and further away from a free and open internet.
Title image credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Tomasz Guzowski/Shutterstock.com