Keeping children safe online
The Law Society of Scotland has warned that proposals aimed at protecting children online could backfire by driving activity to countries less likely to cooperate, resulting in less protection for young people.
The UK Government is consulting on proposals to introduce age verification for accessing pornographic websites to try to tackle the problem of a large number of young people across the UK being able to access adult websites on their computers – up to 20% of those under 18 and 13% of those aged six to 14 - and the damaging effects it can have.
Stuart Munro from the Law Society of Scotland technology law and practice committee, said: “We all want to protect our children from accessing pornographic material online and understand why the UK Government wants to examine additional protections to those which already exist, such as parental control filtering software.However we don’t believe that a ‘tick box’ means of verifying a viewer’s age is sufficiently robust and it could bring unintended consequences.
“We fear that the consultation proposals for age verification could be counterproductive and potentially drive those producing online pornographic content further afield to websites hosted in countries that would not cooperate and result in even less protection for our children.”
The Law Society has also said introducing age verification raises concerns about people’s privacy.
“The government has said it doesn’t want to censure individuals who would be legally entitled to access pornography. However we have concerns about the risks of retaining such data, particularly in the wake of a number of recent, high profile data breaches, and if the information would ultimately be available to the authorities. There would have to be measures in place to ensure that there would be no contravention of the Data Protection Act.”
The Law Society is not convinced that a new criminal law regime would be more effective in protecting the public.
Munro said: “Any prosecution would presumably be against internet service provider companies. That would involve corporate penalties, such as fines or license suspensions. Those penalties are already available under civil law proceedings and the civil regime imposes more stringent duties on the companies. We therefore believe that enforcement should continue to be matters for the civil courts.”
To read the Law Society of Scotland’s full consultation response see: Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography consultation response