U.K. Age Checks for Online Porn Sites Are Delayed

By Palko Karasz

ImageAn adult store in Soho, London. Rules requiring users to prove they are over 18 before gaining access to pornographic websites were scheduled to come into force next month.
An adult store in Soho, London. Rules requiring users to prove they are over 18 before gaining access to pornographic websites were scheduled to come into force next month.CreditCreditin Pictures Ltd./Corbis, via Getty Images

LONDON — Britain has been forced to delay enacting compulsory age checks for viewing online pornography because of an administrative error, the government announced on Thursday.

The new rules, intended to protect underage internet users from viewing adult content, were scheduled to come into force next month. Users would be asked to provide official identification to gain access to websites offering pornographic content. In most cases, private companies would provide the verification service.

Jeremy Wright, the secretary of state for the Culture Department in Britain, acknowledged that the government’s failure to tell the European Commission about details of the policy would delay the move by about six months.

“It has come to my attention in recent days that an important notification process was not undertaken for an element of this policy, and I regret to say that this will delay the commencement date,” Mr. Wright told Parliament on Thursday.

He also announced an inquiry into the error.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wright added, there was “nothing to stop responsible providers of online pornography implementing age verification mechanisms on a voluntary basis.”

Complicating the issue, Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of October — well before the notification process is expected to be completed.

Privacy groups and companies that had signed up to provide the age verification service have been critical of the way the measures were to be enacted.

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, a London-based organization that campaigns for the protection of privacy and free speech online, said the rules on age checks also required further protections to shield users from the consequences of any data leaks.

“You get tracked by default in these systems because it’s like a login,” he told the BBC on Thursday. “The website has to know, each time you visit a web page, that it’s still you,” meaning they get a list of all of the pornographic pages that somebody is viewing, he said.

“And that’s very, very sensitive data,” he added.

The British Board of Film Classification, the regulator that would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the new laws, plans to provide certification for age verification companies.

But the process would be voluntary and at least one company has already said that it will not apply for certification. In an open letter published on Medium this week, the company, 18+, said its “digital wallet” was a better protection of privacy but would not qualify for certification because the board’s rules appeared to ban that approach.

When the move was announced, officials said Britain would be the first country to require mandatory age verification for viewing online pornography.

This week, the Irish government said it would study the proposal in Britain after thousands of pornographic images were found on the phone of one of two teenage boys convicted on Tuesday of murdering a 14-year-old girl.

The girl, Ana Kriegel, who was born in Russia, was tricked by the two boys, both 13 at the time, into entering a ruined farmhouse on the outskirts of Dublin, where she was sexually assaulted and beaten to death last year. The boys, who cannot be named because they were underage at the time, were believed to be the youngest people ever found guilty of murder in Ireland.

Evidence released after the trial, but which was not shown to the jury, revealed that one of the boys had thousands of pornographic images on a smartphone, including some depicting sexual violence, as well as web searches for “child porn,” “animal porn” and “Russian teens.”

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, speaking about the case in Parliament on Wednesday, expressed concern that young people had such easy access to pornography and that “so many young people learn about sex through pornography, which is not an accurate representation of what is healthy in life.”

The Irish justice minister, Charles Flanagan, told The Irish Times that he intended to discuss Britain’s new laws on age verification with his British counterpart.

Follow Palko Karasz on Twitter: @karaszpalko.

Ed O’Loughlin contributed reporting from Dublin.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Age Checks For Porn Sites Are Delayed In the U.K.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe