Age verification measures designed to prevent children from accessing pornography online have been dropped, the Government has announced.
Under the scrapped plans, people would have to prove their age in a number of ways, including using traditional forms of ID such as a driving licence or passport, or by buying an over-the-counter card from shops where verification would take place face to face.
The long-delayed tighter controls were last due to come into force on July 15, but were pushed back after the Government failed to notify the European Commission about certain aspects of the crackdown.
Websites that failed to put adequate checking tools in place risked being blocked by UK internet service providers or having their access to payment services withdrawn.
The NSPCC called the decision "disappointing" and accused the Government of "dragging its feet” on the issue.
Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said the age verification measures will no longer go ahead under Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, with efforts instead focused on the Government’s wider online harms.
“The Government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography,” she explained.
“The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through our proposed online harms regulatory regime.
“This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care.”
The introduction of age verification on pornographic websites in the UK is a necessary and important child protection measure
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which was chosen to act as regulator for the checks, said it had all systems in place ready to get on with its new role.
“The introduction of age verification on pornographic websites in the UK is a necessary and important child protection measure,” a statement said.
“The BBFC had all systems in place to undertake the role of AV Regulator, to ensure that all commercial pornographic websites accessible from the UK would have age gates in place or face swift enforcement action.
“The BBFC understands the Government’s decision, announced today, to implement age verification as part of the broader online harms strategy.
“We will bring our expertise and work closely with Government to ensure that the child protection goals of the DEA are achieved.”
Tony Stower, the NSPCC’s head of child safety online and innovation, said the Government “cannot drag its feet” on the issue.
“The NSPCC has campaigned for years for laws to protect children from accessing pornography online, because we know that viewing this explicit material can harm their perceptions of sex, body image and healthy relationships,” he said.
“This delay is disappointing, but it is also imperative that the vehicle used to achieve protection for children from pornography is robust and effective.”
The rules had proven to be divisive since being first proposed in 2017, with claims that children will find ways around any blocks and concerns about sharing personal details with a third party.
They would have also only covered websites where more than a third of content is pornographic, with social networks exempt.
Myles Jackman, a UK lawyer who specialises in obscenity law and sexual freedoms who has spoken out against the plans, said there is concern that age verification will return extended into social media.
“Superficially this may seem like a victory for privacy and security, but the lacuna in the Government’s announcement that they would be considering extending age verification to social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit without considering the risks to intimate personal sexual information being leaked onto the internet is frightening,” he explained.