Plans underway to make it harder for Aussie kids to access porn

The Australian Government has announced its support for the development of an age-verification system that will make it harder for children to access online pornography in Australia.

The announcement came in response to recommendations made in a report titled ‘Protecting the age of innocence’ by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. The report was first tabled in February 2020.

The key recommendation of the report was to introduce mandatory age verification for online pornography platforms, as well as for gambling websites.

In writing the report, the committee drew on research from many expert organisations, as well as submissions from thousands of members of the public – with 3000 contributions received in total.

“In Australia the average age of first exposure [to pornography] is being reported at between 8 and 10 years of age” – WA Child Safety Services

One of the main issues discussed is the prevalence of pornography access among young people under under 18. In fact, 44 per cent of children between 9 and 16 reported that they have encountered sexual images online, according to a media release announcing the committee’s inquiry.

“In Australia the average age of first exposure [to pornography] is being reported at between 8 and 10 years of age,” said another source used in the report – WA Child Safety Services (WACSS), a not-for-profit provider of child safety education.

The increasing accessibility of pornography “due to the proliferation of handheld devices” was noted by many sources, including WACSS and anti-pornography activist group Collective Shout.

Many submissions expressed concern about the possible negative effects of increased exposure to porn among children and young people. These impacts include the possibility of poor mental health, sexual aggression and violence, and unhealthy and sexist views of women and sex.

‘The evidence was clear that exposure to online pornography is associated with terrible harms to young people’s health, education, relationships, and wellbeing. The Committee also heard that exposure to internet wagering at a young age can lead to problem gambling later in life,”  said chair of the committee, Liberal MP Andrew Wallace.

“While age verification is not a silver bullet, it can create a significant barrier to prevent young people– and particularly young children – from exposure to harmful online content. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

“There are currently no barriers to prevent child from entering rape, sadism, torture porn and incest sites.” – Collective Shout

Collective Shout welcomed the Federal Government’s support for “the development of a roadmap for the roll out of an age verification system.”

“Collective Shout had pressured the Government to respond to the 16-month-old recommendation,” said a Collective Shout media release. “We have been documenting the harms of pornography to children for a decade.

“There are currently no barriers to prevent child from entering rape, sadism, torture porn and incest sites. As a result of this harmful experiment on the sexual development of children, many are acting out in sexually inappropriate ways, becoming copycat predators.”

The release continued: “An age verification system would complement other strategies the Government, educational, and community groups are undertaking to help limit harms of explicit content. While not a ‘fix-all’, proof-of-age requirements would provide a much needed layer of protection for children vulnerable to the predatory porn industry.

“We thank the Committee for its vital work on the issue and hope the plan will not be derailed by vested interests.

“The vested interests of a multi-billion industry – whose business model relies on building the next generation of consumers – can no longer be put before the wellbeing of children and the community.”

While the report called for the e-Safety Commissioner to develop this “roadmap” for mandatory age verification within the next 12 months, there are no details yet about how this will happen.

The committee considered evidence on how online age-verification works in practice, noting in its report, “while the concept of online age verification is not new, initial methods involved simply displaying an adults-only warning, requiring a user to input their date of birth, or requiring a user to scan or mail a copy of an identity document.

“The Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) explained that these initial methods were easily evaded, and were not adequate in circumstances where legislation imposed age restrictions.”

In outlining the “attributes of an effective online age-verification model”, the committee noted that it needs to have “strong controls for the safety, security, and privacy of users” and that needs to be distinct from identity verification. These issues could be resolved by using a third-party provider it found.

“The Committee heard that disclosure of personal information could be minimised through the use of third-party age verification, which involves verification being carried out by an entity that is separate from the age-restricted service,” said the report.

In relation to the accuracy and effectiveness of online age verification – such as software that can estimate age based on photos or videos – the report noted it was a deterrent for under-age viewers, rather than a “silver bullet” solution.

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