Pornographic content could soon be hidden behind age-verification checks as the government takes its first concrete step towards cracking down on online adult content.
Under an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill (DEB), porn sites will be required to introduce age checks or risk being blocked by internet social providers (IPS) if they fail to comply.
The restrictions come as part of a government effort to protect children from exposure to pornographic material amid claims it may be damaging to their development.
Media watchdog Ofcom has proposed measures such as requesting credit card details, which are only issued to over 18s, as well as checking user details against the electoral register.
The government aims to force all porn sites to have age-verification checks by April 2018, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
It is understood the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which already regulates age limits on films and video games, will ensure porn sites comply with the new policies.
The digital minister, Matt Hancock, who will introduce the bill in the House of Commons on Monday, said: “Now we are taking the next step to put in place the legal requirement for websites with adult content to ensure it is safely behind an age verification control.
“All this means that while we can enjoy the freedom of the web, the UK will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world.”
The NSPCC, the nation’s leading charity against child abuse, found that 65 percent of 15 to 16-year-olds had watched porn, as well as 48 percent of 11 to 16-year-olds.
The 2016 report also found that 19 percent of children accessed the content intentionally, compared to 28 percent who discovered it accidentally.
Will Gardner, the chief executive of internet safety charity Childnet, said: “Protecting children from exposure, including accidental exposure, to adult content is incredibly important, given the effect it can have on young people.
“Steps like this to help restrict access, alongside the provision of free parental controls and education, are key,” he said, the Guardian reports.
“It is essential to help parents and carers, as well as young people, be more aware of this risk and what they can do to prevent exposure and also to make sense of exposure if it happens.”
The amendment has met widespread opposition. Critics say the legislation is draconian and breaches the right to privacy.
Bulk data could be exploited for financial gain by private companies or by hackers who managed to get hold of it, they warn.
Executive director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, said in a statement: “Age verification is an accident waiting to happen.
“Despite repeated warnings, Parliament has failed to listen to concerns about the privacy and security of people who want to watch legal adult content.
“As we saw with the Ashley Madison leaks, the hacking of private information about people’s sex lives has huge repercussions for those involved.”