UK porn block is privacy timebomb, new report warns

New age restrictions on pornography that are set to come into effect in the UK next month are a “privacy timebomb”, a new report has warned.

The identity checks needed to stop under-18s from visiting pornographic websites will force any commercial provider of online pornography to carry out “robust” checks on their users to ensure they are adults.

But research by privacy watchdog Open Rights Group describes the data protection in place to protect consumers is “vague, imprecise and largely a ‘tick box’ exercise”. 

The age verification measures will be introduced on 15 July but a recent YouGov poll showed that 76 per cent of the British public is unaware of the ID checks being introduced.

“With one month until rollout, the UK porn block is a privacy timebomb,” the report stated.

Estimates suggest around 20 million adults in the UK watch porn, meaning the scale of any privacy breaches could be vast.

“Due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation,” said Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock.

“The BBFC’s standard is supposed to deliver this. However, it is a voluntary standard, which offers little information about the level of data protection being offered and provides no means of redress if companies fail to live up to it.”

Mr Killock said the standard was therefore “pointless and misleading”.

The UK government claims the new measures are necessary in order to prevent children and young adults from accessing adult content online.

“This is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online,” a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said earlier this year.

Yet many have noted that the new rules are unlikely to prevent tech-savvy children from reaching restricted websites.

When the date for the identity checks was announced in April there was a surge in interest in technology that would allow people to bypass them.

Online searches for virtual private networks (VPNs) tripled in the hours following the government’s announcement that ID checks would be enforced from July.

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