January 17, 2022

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UK Child Safety Campaigners Urge ICO To Enforce AADC Against Porn Websites

UK Child Safety Campaigners Urge ICO To Enforce AADC Against Porn Websites

They say by using the recently introduced ‘Age Appropriate Design Code’ could prevent children viewing pornography

UK child safety campaigner urge ICO to enforce AADC against porn websites to prevent children from viewing pornography online.

UK Child Safety Campaigners Urge ICO To Enforce AADC Against Porn WebsitesThe UK data watchdog must introduce age verification for commercial porn sites or face a high court challenge over any failure to act, children’s safety groups have warned.

This demand was written in a letter to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and states that the Government’s failure to stop children seeing porn is causing lifelong trauma and putting children at risk of abuse and exploitation.

It urges the ICO to use the powers they have under the recently introduced AADC to introduce rigorous age-checking procedures for publicly accessible porn websites.

CODE’S INTENDED PURPOSE

However, the ICO has hit back, saying that the code is not intended to impose age assurance measures on porn sites.

The author of the letter, John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, has written the to the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, urging her to reconsider.

John Carr’s Children’s Charities’ Commission represents 11 major children’s charities, including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society.

‘You remain the only person in the country with the power to act to protect another generation of children from the distorting impact of open access to pornography, with all the dreadful and now well-documented effects we knew that has on society, particularly in respect to violence towards women and girls.

‘I ask you to reconsider your decision not to act against pornography websites.’

SURVEYS

It comes after a survey of Barnardo’s frontline workers found high levels of concern among staff about the impact of porn on children, particularly those who are already vulnerable.

Barnardo’s child exploitation experts told the Guardian they are seeing growing numbers of children acting in highly sexualised ways or being vulnerable to abuse because they have been watching porn.

‘it is everywhere; on the school bus, in the corridors, in their social media feds.

‘Children should not be seeing this material, it is a form of trauma and abuse to let them see it,’ one case worker said to the Guardian.

A number of recent studies have shown the increasingly detrimental ways that porn affects young people, including that children as young as seven are unintentionally stumbling across it online.

A PHSE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) study found that when children viewed porn, 70% frequently saw men portrayed as dominant, (compared with 17% frequently seeing women as dominant).

It sowed that 35% frequently saw ‘consensual’ violence towards women, (compared with 9% frequently seeing this towards men.’

JUDICIAL REVIEW

In an interview with the Guardian, Carr said that the coalition was prepared to seek a judicial review if the ICO declines to act.

‘We are asking the Information Commissioner to act now, using the powers she has under the AADC, to ensure porn companies don’t let children on their sites.

‘If she doesn’t, we will look at a judicial review of her decision not to act.’

Carr added that ‘this is really about age verification – a form of age assurance where users are asked to provide formal proof of their identity through passports, credit cards or other forms of identification known as hard identifiers.

The AADC applies to websites and apps likely to be accessed by children, which include TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.

Their aim is to prevent the misuse of children’s data, such as use of ‘nudge’ techniques aimed at encouraging children to give up more of their privacy, or to spend more time online.

In some cases, it recommends use of age assurance measures – such as age verification – if a service is deemed to pose a risk to children.

Companies that breach the code face fines of up to 4% of their annual global turnover.

ONLINE SAFETY BILL

The ICO challenge comes as the Government is still preparing to put landmark internet safety legislation through Parliament.

The Online Safety Bill charges social media and tech companies with a ‘duty of care’ to protect children from harmful content.

However, campaigners have warned that in its draft form, it doesn’t go far enough to protect minors.

The bill does not make overt references to age assurance – the umbrella term for measures that check an app or website user’s age – but a private member’s bill introduced by crossbench peer Beeban Kidron, the architect of the AADC, which could provide a pathway.

Age Assurance (minimum standards) Bill sets out the framework for introducing standard age-checking online and could effectively be included in the Online Safety Bill if, for instance, Ofcom – the regulator charged with implementing the bill – is given powers within the legislation to introduce new standards.

Kidron said age assurance has been promised since 2017, when it was part of the Digital Economy Act expressly for porn but was never implemented.

‘Parents, parliament and the press want a solution for the pornography issue, and in that sense tomorrow is not soon enough.

‘But pornography is only one of many issues children face online.

‘I brought the bill forward to put a stop to the commercial exploitation of kids – it is absolutely urgent.

‘My bill will do what John [Carr} wants and more.’

ORIGINAL PLANS ABANDONED IN 2019

Plans to introduce an age verification system in the UK for online porn were abandoned in 2019, when the then Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan told Parliament that the Government would instead focus on including child protection in the Online Safety Bill.

Vanessa Morse, CEO of the Centre to End All Sexual exploitation, said: ‘It is unconscionable that the Government is delaying age verification until the Online Safety Bill comes into force when it could be brought in now.

‘Make no mistake, porn sites are not neutral or naïve.

‘They are actively engaging all users, including children, through data surveillance, SEO and algorithms, to get them to stay on their sites and return more often because this makes them money.

‘This is exploitative, and an unlawful misuse of children’s data and it must be stopped.

‘We want the ICO to investigate this.’

AGE ASSURANCE TO PREVENT PROFITEERING

Kidron added that age assurance is not just needed to monitor the use of commercial porn sites but also to prevent social media sites from profiteering from children under the age of 13 – the age barrier for most platforms.

‘Let’s face it, if they know a kid is 12 then they have to answer the question, why are they recommending [content about] extreme diets, self-harm or suicide?’

The ICO’s Executive Director for Tech and Innovation, Stephen Bonner, said the AADC is intended for sites that are used by children or likely to be used by children.

Therefore, it doesn’t apply to general adult content sites.

‘The goal of the code is to make [relevant] sites child-friendly.

‘There are some sites that we do not expect children to use.

‘In those cases, the code does not apply.

‘it would be ridiculous to make adult sites child-friendly.’

DATA PROTECTION CAN’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM

Bonner said that data protection alone ‘can’t solve the problem.’

He added: ‘It is already illegal to sell age-restricted products to children in the offline world and it’s going to take working together with Government, other regulators and civil society to effectively take action on these complex online issues.’

The threat of action against the ICO comes after a judge last week gave campaigners permission to bring a judicial review against the Government over the failure to enact the Digital Economy Act.

That case, which will be heard in the new year, centres on the argument that children are being harmed and their human rights affected by the failure to introduce age verification.

It is brought by two campaigners.

One is 20-year-old Ava Vakil, a student and activist involved in raising the issue of sexual violence among teenagers.

And the other is Ioannis Dekas, a father of four who is giving evidence about the impact of porn on his own children, despite his efforts to stop them watching it.

CAMPAIGNERS BRINGING THE JUDICIAL REVIEW

Vakil said: ‘It is incredibly important that we prevent access to pornography for young children, particularly given that so much of pornographic content online includes sexual violence and objectification of women.

‘Most children encounter porn before they talk about sexual consent in PHSE or at home, creating a culture in which sex becomes deviant and pornographic, and not based on shared trust and intimacy.

‘It is simply unbelievable that children are prevented from seeing a rated-18 film in the cinema, and yet can easily access sexually violent and explicit content with a few taps of their fingers.’

In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 111, and adults concerned about a child can contact them on 0808 800 5000.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) offer support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331.

In the US, call or text the Childhelp Abuse Hotline on (800) 422-4453.

Australia’s children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Alternatively, there is Bravehearts on 1800 272 831.

And adult survivors can contact the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380.

Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International.

UK Child Safety Campaigners Urge ICO To Enforce AADC Against Porn Websites

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