A government report calls for users to verify their age before access despite the UK abandoning similar proposalsAustralians could be forced in the next year to use a federal government identity verification service in order to view pornography websites under recommendations by a government-led parliamentary committee. A House of Representatives committee issued a report on Thursday calling for the e-safety commissioner to develop a roadmap for bringing in mandatory age verification for online pornography sites in the next 12 months. Users in Australia could be forced to verify their age before accessing pornography through what could be an exchange hosted by the government to allow identity verification without any of the sites needing to host that user’s personal information like credit card details or other identity documents.
The committee has said that there should be minimal retention of personal information so as to not create a honeypot of sensitive data. If data must be retained, “it must be stored in a secure way”.The committee did not recommend using the proposed facial verification service being developed by Home Affairs, on account of the legislation backing the service being sent back to the drawing board. The recommendation comes despite the United Kingdom abandoning a similar proposal last year. The committee acknowledged that the plethora of pornography available on overseas websites, in Google search results, and on social network sites like Twitter would not be able to be captured, many overseas sites would not comply with age verification requests from Australia, and that young people would likely bypass the verification system, but still said verification was the best way to reduce harm.
“We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” committee chair Andrew Wallace said.
The committee flagged more regulation could be considered to capture social media and others, and did not rule out potentially bringing back mandatory internet filtering, as some people in submissions to the inquiry had suggested.
“A clear message in evidence to the inquiry is that an effective response to the exposure of children and young people to online pornography will be broader than age verification,” the committee said.
“Other technical solutions, education, and a broader focus on e-safety will all contribute to minimising harms from online pornography and bringing about a safer online environment for our children.”
Under the current system, refused classification websites hosted in Australia can be ordered to remove the content, but the e-safety commissioner only passes on a list of overseas hosted sites to internet service providers for opt-in family friendly filters.
Similar recommendations were made for online gambling websites, and for loot boxes sold in video games.
In comments in the report, Labor members of the committee recommended further review and stated the public may not trust a system that could potentially increase risks and have unintended consequences around data security and privacy. Labor’s assistant spokesman on communications and cybersecurity, Tim Watts, pointed to the UK abandoning its version of age verification.
“Labor will look closely at what the e-safety commissioner can come up with to address this difficult but very important issue,” he said.