Yesterday, the Government announced that it no longer planned to introduce the age checks detailed in the Digital Economy Act 2017. Designed to stop under-18s from viewing pornography, the Act introduced age restrictions for UK-based internet users wishing to view adult content. The scheme faced criticisms from privacy-rights advocates and those who thought that the checks were too easily bypassed by VPNs. The checks were meant to be launched earlier this year but faced numerous delays. Today, Margot James MP asked the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the future of the scheme.
"We can protect children better"
Matt Warman MP, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told MPs that protecting children online was crucial. He stated that it is too easy for children to access adult content on the internet, but felt that a different and more extensive scheme was a better way to do this. He reminded the House that the Government announced in the Queen's Speech that they will publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny next year.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said:
"It is always, I think, going to be the priority of this Government, and probably of any Government, to protect citizens in general and children in particular. We will do that online just as much as we would seek to do offline. And it is because of that approach that we are changing the approach to age verification on the internet. […] I believe that we can protect children better and more comprehensively through the online harms agenda that she championed so effectively than we can through the measures that were in the Digital Economy Act."
"A very retrograde step"
Responding to the Minister, Margot James MP noted that the Government's decision not to enact the scheme came as a surprise to children's charities, verification companies and the adult-entertainment industry itself. She expressed dismay at indefinite delay of the scheme, and stated that although she understood that it was not faultless, it was integral to child protection.
The MP stated:
"The Secretary of State should not make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to child protection, especially after so many assurances have been given by the Government that once the privacy issues have been dealt with, and they now have been, these regulations would be brought into law. For the Government to renege on its commitments in this important area is a very retrograde step, and I urge my Honourable Friend and the Secretary of State to think again."