Tackling porn web sites? Yes please but there’s a better way

The Conservatives took to the presses and the air waves over the weekend with an election pledge to  “ban porn web sites”  that did not implement age verification.

Obviously, I like this idea a great deal. It is something the children’s organizations have been arguing for for a long time, most recently in our Digital Manifesto, published last week.

However, the system the Tories appear to be proposing seems to me to be excessively complicated and may well fail to achieve its stated objective.

None of the porn  sites are philanthropic. They exist to make money and they only get their hands on it because the credit card companies and banks provide them with online payments facilities.

The onus should be on these financial institutions to determine whether the sites have age verification in place. If they don’t then they should not provide them with the means to collect or process any cash. That should pretty much do it, more or less overnight and would avoid the necessity to “fine” ISPs or anyone else. Incidentally the legality of that may be open to question as it appears to create a form of intermediary liability, which would be contrary to EU law (unfortunately).

Tackling this via the credit card companies and banks would also solve the problem of the sites being based overseas. A similar system already works extremely well in respect of gambling web sites and the banks and credit card companies have said they are sympathetic to the idea, as long as they are held harmless of any potential liability. That would require legislation to put the matter beyond doubt although arguably they would be in the clear anyway.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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