Porn websites will soon be subject to age verification checks in a bid to prevent children from easily accessing adult content.
The long-awaited and controversial measures are said to be a world first, which will be overseen by a regulator, but concerns have been raised about how it will work.
- So, how will the age verification checks work?
People trying to access pornography websites will have to prove that they are an adult before they are able to go any further.
The changes will go further than simply entering a name and date of birth.
Several options to verify that a user is 18 and over will be on offer by third party companies, such as using digital ID apps in which people can send copies of their ID showing they are of age.
Another option put forward is buying a card over the counter in a shop, where the shop owner will be required to verify the person’s age in the same way they do when selling alcohol and cigarettes.
A voluntary certification scheme, known as the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), will be available to assess the data security standards of the companies that provide these solutions.
Credit cards or mobile phones could also be used to prove someone is over the age of 18.
- What will happen to sites that do not check ages?
Sites that fail to comply will face being blocked by internet service providers.
- Why is this all being done?
The Government wants to make the UK one of the safest places to be online, in particular, protecting young people from stumbling upon pornographic websites.
Digital Minister Margot James said: “Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online.
"The introduction of mandatory age-verification is a world-first and we’ve taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content."
- Will the changes affect all pornography?
The Government is targeting websites and apps that offer pornography on a “commercial basis”, which includes any pornographic material made available free of charge where a person making it available “receives a payment, reward or other benefit in connection with making it available on the internet”.
However, the measures will only cover websites where more than a third of content is pornographic.
Twitter, Reddit and image-sharing community Imgur, for example, will not be required to administer the scheme because they fall under this rule.
Likewise, any platform that hosts pornography but does not do so on a commercial basis - this means it does not charge a fee or make money from adverts or other activity - will not be affected.
Social media and search engines are also unaffected.
- Who will regulate it?
The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), the regulator responsible for the classification of movies, has been tasked with overseeing regulation of pornography websites.
Its Chief Executive David Austin called the changes a "groundbreaking child protection measure".
He continued: “On entry into force, consumers will be able to identify that an age-verification provider has met rigorous security and data checks if they carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol.”
- What powers will the regulator have?
The BBFC says it will have the power to contact social media and search engines to request that non-compliant websites be removed from their services, as well as asking payment providers to withdraw and even asking internet service providers to block their websites entirely.
However, it stresses that blocking a site is not the main objective, and will allow non-compliant websites “enough time” to comply.
- Will children still be able to find a way around the restrictions?
The BBFC admits that the changes are “not a silver bullet” and that “some determined teenagers will find ways to access pornography”.
Teenagers could simply turn to porn-hosting platforms not covered by the law.
In a recent survey, almost one in five parents (18%) said they expect children will be able to circumvent the restrictions, though the majority of parents (69%) indicated that they think the new measures will make a difference.
- What do supporters of the move say?
Child protection charity the NSPCC and organisation Childnet are in favour of the changes and say that children will be better protected from viewing harmful online content.
Childnet's Chief Executive, Will Gardner, said he hoped that "the introduction of this age-verification will help in protecting children, making it harder for young people to accidentally come across online pornography, as well as bringing in the same protections that we use offline to protect children from age-restricted goods or services."
- What do critics say?
Some campaigners have expressed concern about internet freedoms and the impact it could have on privacy, arguing that the law change will effectively "shame" adults who consume online porn.
Others also point out teenagers could turn to porn-hosting platforms not covered by the law to bypass the rules.
Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said on Twitter: “#ageverification dangers are obvious, from outing people to ruining careers and even suicides.
“What porn you watch can be very sensitive information.
"It’s striking that MPs don’t seem concerned, it’s not like public knowledge about watching porn has never impacted an MPs career.”
Myles Jackman, a UK lawyer who specialises in obscenity law and sexual freedoms, added: “We have three months to impress the importance of data privacy and security upon the Government, or it risks having blood on its hands and an electorate who will never trust it with their data again.”