We asked the BBFC to warn the Government about the dangers of age verification

On the 23rd April 2018, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) closed their consultation on their age verification guidelines for online pornography. The consultation called for the public’s views on the guidance that the BBFC plan to issue to the providers of age verification tools.

Under the Digital Economy Act, websites will soon have to ensure that all UK users are above the age of 18 before allowing them to view pornographic content. As the age verification regulator, it is the BBFC’s job to dictate how these age verification systems should work.

Open Rights Group submitted a response and highlighted a number of issues with the proposed age verification system. Today we are publishing our full 22-page consultation response, which you can find linked in this blog post. We are also grateful to all the members and supporters who used our online tool to submit their own responses to the BBFC. We counted over 500!

Open Rights Group’s Recommendations to the BBFC

In our consultation response, we raised a number of concerns with age verification systems. Most notably, we suggested that:

  • The aim of age verification is defined as being for the “protection of children”, however, under scrutiny, it is clear that the scheme will be unable to achieve this aim.
  • This consultation indicates that the BBFC intend to consider material which ought to be out-of-scope for an age verification system, such as extreme pornography and child abuse material.
  • The BBFC also indicate that they intend to consider the effectiveness of a response to a non-compliant person before issuing it, but do not indicate an intent to consider the proportionality of that response.
  • The scheme as a whole lacks any specific and higher level of privacy protection, despite the existence of unique problems. In particular, any data breaches cannot be properly compensated for in terms of reputational, career and relationship consequences.
  • The scheme risks infringing free expression rights by granting the BBFC web blocking powers.
  • The ability of the BBFC to give notice to ancillary service providers creates legal uncertainty and incentivises disproportionate actions on non-UK persons.
  • As a whole, the age verification scheme fails to understand the limitations faced by the BBFC in terms of regulating overseas providers in a fair and proportionate manner.

Our full response and next steps

If you wish to read our full consultation response, you can download the full PDF here.

The BBFC will now spend some time in the coming weeks considering submissions to the consultation, and may choose to amend some of their guidance in response. The guidance must then be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it becomes official.

Other responses

Some other responses to the BBFC’s consultation can be found below: