Gov­ern­ment shouldn’t U-turn on age checks for porn sites

Computer Active (UK) - - Let­ters -

It came as no sur­prise when the Gov­ern­ment post­poned the in­tro­duc­tion of age checks for porn web­sites (Is­sue 524, News, page 9). As a cam­paigner for child safety on­line, I fear that this de­lay will ill turn into a com­plete U-turn, with the Gov­ern­ment aban­don­ing the pro­posal to­tally, un­der pres­sure from pri­vacy zealots and the porn in­dus­try it­self.

The ob­jec­tion made to on­line reg­u­la­tions like these al­ways fo­cuses on how hard they will be to im­ple­ment. The magic word ‘un­work­able’ is al­ways used. When ex­perts de­clare some­thing ‘un­work­able’, the Gov­ern­ment usu­ally buck­les. But what these ex­perts re­ally mean (but would never say) is that the reg­u­la­tions will eat into their prof­its too much. By con­trast, when there’s big money to be made, tech com­pa­nies rarely de­cline the op­por­tu­nity on the grounds that it will be ‘too hard’. They al­ways find a way, as the Face­book/ Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal shows. I ac­cept there’s a pri­vacy risk with ask­ing peo­ple to ver­ify their age. But there’s a pri­vacy risk with any trans­ac­tion on­line that re­quires en­ter­ing your per­sonal data. Ama­zon’s mega growth wasn’t halted by fears that its stash of credit-card data would be hacked at any point. Why do pri­vacy cam­paign­ers as­sume that porn sites are in­ca­pable of the same lev­els of se­cu­rity as Ama­zon, on­line banks, Google and oth­ers?

Re­cent fig­ures show that thou­sands of un­der-11s have stum­bled upon porn on­line. As a so­ci­ety we should be ap­palled by that. This will be the first gen­er­a­tion in hu­man his­tory that’s been ex­posed to un­re­stricted sex­ual con­tent on tap. It feels like a time­bomb wait­ing to ex­plode, an ill-judged so­cial ex­per­i­ment des­tined to go wrong. But never mind. Prevent­ing it is ‘un­work­able’, so let’s just shrug our shoul­ders and pre­tend it’s not hap­pen­ing. Linda James

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