Posted at 19:16 on 13 Mar 2018 by Pandora / Blake
The news broke on Sunday, with as quiet a splash as the Government could manage. Over the weekend the Government issued a press release about their digital strategy, with a focus on the rollout of 5G for mobile. It also sneakily contained the news that implementation of the age verification requirement has been delayed from 27th April until 'the end of the year'. It was buried in an unrelated announcement, presumably, because they didn't want too much of a fanfare about the climbdown.
Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month.
For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.
The news has already been reported by the BBC, Telegraph, The Sun (twice! I particularly like the headline of that second piece), The Guardian, Pink News and Devon Live. If the DCMS were hoping that no-one would notice, it's hilariously backfired. I am no fan of the Murdoch press, but with half of UK adults at risk of being affected and possibly having their private sexual browsing activity published online for all to see, we need the news to be disseminated through as many channels as possible so ordinary people can be informed about the privacy and security risks they face.
I've been saying since the policy was first proposed that age verification as enshrined in the Digital Economy Act is badly thought through. In its current shape, the law is inconsistent and ill-formed, with insufficient protections for user privacy and no reasonable limitations on the scope of the law. It's good to know that the DCMS agree that it still needs work.
We need regulatory protection for user privacy, a workable competition policy, and proportionate enforcement. The delay is welcome - especially with no fixed date given for enforcement to begin, leading to the hope that it might be kicked into longer and longer grass - but it will only serve us if the Government take the opportunity to improve the policy, or better yet, abandon it entirely.
The BBFC will be producing guidance, and opening a public consultation to fine tune age verification. Get your typing fingers ready, because this will be YOUR chance to speak up. Let's work together as a community to protect privacy and freedom of expression.
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