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Why Peter Dutton Will Not Win His War On Porn

Porn and tech experts have rubbished a suggestion that facial recognition should be required to watch adult videos, saying the "horrendous" and "idiotic" idea could lead to blackmail opportunities.

In a submission to the federal's Senate's inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography, the Department of Home Affairs -- presided over by Peter Dutton -- suggested its controversial proposed facial recognition technology could be used to make sure under-18s aren't accessing porn.

The department floated the idea that the technology "could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent’s drivers licence to circumvent age verification controls."

Geoff Quattromani

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With the recent news that the Australian government could impose legislation to restrict access to adult websites without age verification, many are quietly nervous.

"Whilst they are primarily designed to prevent identity crime, Home Affairs would support the increased use of the Document and Face Verification Services across the Australian economy to strengthen age verification processes," the submission read.

The idea came to light just days after the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) issued a rare slapdown of government legislation, saying the Identity-Matching Services Bill and Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill should be redrafted.

This is notable, as the PJCIS has traditionally accepted government proposals, on the grounds that they represent important and urgent national security reforms.

The latest decision is the first in nearly 20 years where the committee has taken such an action.

But even with the facial recognition system itself sent back to the drawing board, porn and tech experts believe there's no way any redrafted framework could make it appropriate for use in verifying ages of people accessing adult material online.

Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton's department has suggested facial recognition be used to access porn. Image: AAP

"It's a stupid idea. They canned it in the United Kingdom because it would never work," Justin Warren, chief analyst at tech consultancy firm PivotNine, told 10 daily.

"You're trying to pit government technology against the collective sex drive of every teenager in Australia? Good luck."

The British government has long pursued a form of age verification for online porn, with a controversial system ditched just two weeks ago.

"There's so many things wrong with this idea, it's hard to comprehend how it got out into the public," Warren said.

Home Affairs has proposed stricter age verification for people viewing adult content. Image: Getty

In 2018, Australia contributed the ninth-highest amount of traffic in the world to popular adult video site PornHub, with the average Aussie spending 10 minutes on the site last year.

Dr Zahra Stardust, also an adult entertainer, wrote her PhD on the regulation of queer and feminist pornography in Australia at the University of NSW.

She said she had concerns about data collection potentially involved in the face recognition concept.

"The key risk is that governments or private companies could build databases of porn consumers based on their profiles and sexual tastes and that this data will be open to sale, tracking and misuse," she told 10 daily.

"An extensive database of people's sexual preferences is susceptible to be leaked, hacked, sold or potentially shared with law enforcement agencies.

"Information on a person's browsing history could lead to discrimination, pathologisation and stigmatisation when accessing other goods and services."

The plan would target under 18s trying to access pornography on their phones or computers. Image: Getty

Stardust said she feared it would become a "mass-surveillance tool".

Bryony Cole, a leading 'sextech' expert and founder of the Future Of Sex podcast, echoed similar thoughts.

"We are looking for a technological solution to a systemic human problem," she said.

"The problem? Sex education is broken and so porn has become the default sex education for the majority of young people."

Cole said the proposed restrictions would do little to actually stop young people accessing pornography, and felt that governments were trying to tackle the wrong problem.

She said the debate should not be about how to stop children seeing adult content, but addressing why people seek out such content.

Your phone could look like this in future. Image: Getty.

"People are remarkably clever in accessing things they shouldn’t and finding new ways to circumvent systems and technology designed to keep them out. Such can be seen in private VPNs, the dark web ... Instead of focusing on technology, we should invest in better sex education," Cole told 10 daily.

"It’s the discerning mind with which someone watches it that really matters, more than the fact that with smartphones we are essentially all carrying porn in our pocket."

"Porn is not going away anytime soon and gates to access it aren’t that difficult to open."

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Australia's domestic security agency has suggested using face scans to confirm people's age before they watch online pornography.

In its own submission to the Senate inquiry, the Eros Association -- an adult industry lobby group -- said it did not support children accessing adult material.

However it felt a 'porn filter' wasn't appropriate. Instead, the association backed an "opt-in" model of parental controls, and said it would like to work with internet service providers to strengthen such protections.

"Consuming adult media is a healthy and normal part of human sexuality, and does not deserve the moral condemnation it has received from uninformed critics of the industry," Eros said in a statement.

Experts say Australia should be doing more to address the issue through bettering sex education for young people. Image: Getty

Warren also feared what might happen if a database of faces and porn consumption fell into the wrong hands.

He also questioned how that sort of system would be monitored.

"So you're going to require people to take a photo of their face just before viewing porn. Does this mean a government-sanctioned list of porn sites you're officially allowed to visit?" he asked.

"This would represent a massive honeypot of stuff, showing people who have viewed the sites. The potential for this information to be used as blackmail is horrendous, and it's none of the government's business.

"Why are they so interested in putting cameras in people's bedrooms?"