Tech firms sue Government for £3MILLION over scrapped  online PORN BAN

Tech firms sue Government for £3MILLION in damages over scrapped online PORN BAN for under 18s claiming they lost money developing software before it was shelved over privacy fears

  • Four firms working on age verification are taking legal action at the High Court
  • The porn ban was axed in October over privacy and data security fears
  • But the companies say the fears were unfounded and want u-turn reversed

AgeChecked founder and CEO Alastair Graham insisted its systems for handling data were secure

The government is being sued for £3 million in damages by firms who developed software for a planned online ‘porn ban’ for children before the idea was scrapped.

Four firms who started work on age verification systems after the Government announced it wanted to block access to adult sites for under 18s are taking legal action at the High Court.

The plan, unveiled to much fanfare in April last year, was scrapped by ministers in October after fears over privacy and data security. 

AgeChecked, VeriMe, AVYourself and AVSecure are seeking a judicial review of the decision taken by Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan.

They say that the fears over data security were unfounded.  

‘The age verification sector developed technology to guarantee privacy and data security for consumers, abiding by a new standard created by the British Standards Institution,’ AgeChecked founder and CEO Alastair Graham told the BBC.

‘AgeChecked provides anonymous age verification, and it does not retain any personal data.’

Four firms who started work on age verification systems after the Government announced it wanted to block access to adult sites for under 18s are taking legal action at the High Court


 Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan (right) announced that a new law forcing people to prove they are 18 or over to access content would not be going ahead. But Labour counterpart Tom Watson (left) said: ‘This whole process has been a shambles’ 

The move, which applied to sites whose content is more than a third pornographic, was designed to cut the number of children who are freely able to access extreme material on the internet.  

How was porn age verification meant to work? 

The new law was designed to force Britons wanting to visit porn websites to prove they were old enough to do so.

It outlined several ways to do this:

  • In person with a ‘porn pass’: You would be able to go into a shop and buy a card which will contain a code for an online age-checking system. This would be anonymous but you would have to show some proof of your age to staff to purchase it.
  • Digital ID apps: These work in a similar way to the code cards but you put your details into them directly, meaning you share proof of age details with them. AgeID, has been set up by MindGeek, which owns several popular adult sites. Another is called 1Account. They work as a plug-in to the sites so you do not have to keep entering your information.
  • Mobile phone settings: The BBFC said people could ‘use their mobile phone if the adult filters have been removed’.

These methods raised concerns about handing sensitive identification information to third parties. In June computer security expert Alan Woodward at the University of Surrey,  called the process ‘ineffective’ and said the BBFC was ‘not equipped’ to deal with regulation. 

He also highlighted the security issues of the policy, as age check firms that users will be required to register with in order to access pornography will hold every users details, making it a ‘juicy target’ for hackers.

A voluntary certification scheme, known as the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), was also due to be available to assess the data security standards of the companies that provide these solutions. 

But it was criticised by freedom campaigners and others who feared that making people give personal details leaves them open to fraud and blackmail. 

Under the new law companies running porn websites would have had to make users prove they are over 18, or face punishments including being blocked in the UK, being barred from receiving electronic payments or being delisted from search engines.

This means that punters will have to use one of several ways of proving their age, including picking up a ‘porn pas’ from the local newsagent.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)  said in April that 18 ‘determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography’.  

The legislation, announced in April, had already been delayed twice before it was finally scrapped in October.

In a written statement to MPs at the time, Ms Morgan said the Government ‘will not be commencing Part Three of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography’.

‘The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through our proposed online harms regulatory regime.’ she wrote.

‘This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care.’

This means it will be left to the BBFC and other non-governmental bodies to police adult content online as they see fit.

The decision by the firms to seek a judicial review has been criticised by online privacy groups.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group said: ‘These companies are asking us to trust them with records of millions of people’s sexual preferences, with huge commercial reasons to use that data for profiling and advertising.

‘The adult industry has a terrible record on data security. We’re being asked to hope they don’t repeat the many, many times they have lost personal data, with the result that blackmail scams and worse proliferates. 

‘The government did the responsible thing when it admitted its plans were not ready to proceed. 

‘Age Verification must not be pushed forward until there is compulsory privacy regulation put in place.’

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