The UK government is going to force porn sites to introduce age-checks or be banned

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LONDON — Porn sites will be forced to verify the age of their British users or they will be banned in the UK.

The Mail on Sunday and The Times are both reporting that the plans, which have been in the works since last year, will be formally announced on Monday as part of the Digital Economy Act. 

Pornography sites will be forced to verify users' ages via their credit cards to prove they are over 18, or face being banned in Britain.

The aim is to prevent children from being exposed to pornography online, which child protection charities warn can have damaging effects on their development.

In a statement (via The Independent), government minister Matt Hancock said: "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 Times reports that the filter is intended to be in place by April 2018, and will affect both paid-for adult websites and the free "tube" sites that currently do not require users to pay or register to access pornographic content. 

It's difficult to ban everything

There are still significant unanswered questions over how the ban would work in practice. The internet is not neatly divided into pornography and non-pornography. So while it's technically simple to block dedicated adult websites — plenty of sites mix porn with non-pornographic content.

For example: Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and 4chan are all huge communities with hundreds of million users, and have no global rules against sharing legal adult content. (Twitter only bans it in "your profile image or header image.") So it's impossible for these companies to know what they are hosting, unless it is reported or brought to their attention — and it'd similarly be impossible for the BBFC (the British censor) to keep an accurate register of all subsections that play host to offending content.

Currently, Reddit does not carry out any unavoidable age verification checks before accessing adult content; the whole point of 4chan is that it is totally anonymous and users don't have accounts.

It is questionable whether these sites would make significant structural changes at the behest of British authorities — risking their complete censorship in the country. 

Conservative MP and former minister John Whittingdale, who introduced the bill, has since expressed concerns about its efficacy. In November 2016, he told Parliament: "One of the main ways in which young people are now exposed to pornography is through social media such as Twitter, and I do not really see that the bill will do anything to stop that happening."

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