Online Safety Bill: US and UK campaigners warn of dangers of age verification

  • New briefing by Open Rights Group and EFF highlights the dangers posed by age verification proposals in the Online Safety Bill.
  • Tech platforms could be forced to choose between users’ privacy or free speech.
  • Bill could lead to an enormous shift in the availability of information online, and pose a serious threat to the privacy of UK internet users.

Proposals aimed at protecting children could force tech platforms to choose between freedom of speech and the right to privacy, a new briefing by digital rights campaigners, Open Rights Group and EFF has warned.

The Online Safety Bill requires sites that allow user generated content, such as Facebook, Tik Tok, and even Wikipedia, to prevent children from seeing content the government has defined as ‘harmful’. This could present platforms with the choice of sanitising their sites so that all content is considered suitable for children or asking users to verify their ages through government-issued documents or by using biometric data, such as face scans, to estimate ages.

James Baker, campaigns manager for Open Rights Group said:

“The Online Safety Bill could present websites like Wikipedia, Tik Tok and Twitter with the choice of blocking content to ensure their platforms are suitable for children or forcing users to verify their age. The first would lead to a huge restriction in the content we can all see, create and share. The second would pose a threat to our privacy and security.

“Keeping children safe online is a worthy goal but we need to ensure that we do not restrict children’s right to information by banning them from large swathes of the internet, or expose them to intrusive age assurance.

“Australia recently abandoned similar proposals because of concerns over privacy and security. The UK should take note.”


Age verification requirements will result in an enormous shift in the availability of information online, and pose a serious threat to the privacy of UK internet users.

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Impact on user-to-user services

User-to-user services, including social media platforms and websites such as Wikipedia, will have to conduct a risk assessment to determine the risk of young people using their sites, and block their access to any content that the government has described as ‘harmful’. The government’s list of such content includes violent content and content relating to eating disorders, suicide and even animals fighting. Platforms could choose to filter and moderate enormous amounts of content to allow young people on the site without age verification. They may filter and moderate enormous amounts of content for young people only, while allowing age-verified users access to all content. Or, they could exclude UK users entirely, rather than risk liability and the cost of expensive and untried age estimation systems and content moderation.

Impact on adult websites

Pornography websites that have UK users, or target UK users, will be required to use age verification to ensure that children are not able to encounter their content. Age verification is, essentially, identity verification, which makes it effectively impossible to browse pornographic sites anonymously, and creates the risk of data breaches and the potential for data to be collected and potentially shared or sold.

Age verification

Tech platforms may be compelled to introduce age verification, which usually involves confirming a user matches with government issued identification, or age assurance, which typically estimates the age or age range of a user based on their appearance. The briefing notes that “every age verification method has significant flaws”. France’s National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) published a detailed analysis of current age verification and assurance methods. It found that no method has the following three important elements: “sufficiently reliable verification, complete coverage of the population, and respect for the protection of individuals’ data and privacy and their security.”

Last week, the Australian federal government rejected similar proposals over concerns about privacy.

The Online Safety Bill returns to the House of Commons for its third reading on 6 September 2023.

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