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The Government’s Face Scan Plan For Porn Is A Privacy Nightmare

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

Be it online pornography or gambling, the government could force these sites to require you to prove you’re over the age of 18 before proceeding. 

Australia is not the first to suggest such measures. The UK planned to implement but subsequently removed age verification rules and the United States is looking to add measures that protect children from adult material online. 

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In the UK, internet service providers (ISP) would have been forced to completely block access to adult websites if they did not comply with the government's new rules. Fortunately, the owners of the world's largest pornography websites, Mindgeek, as well as other companies, developed age verification tools to support the UK proposal.

Users of Mindgeek's AgeID system would need to set up an account, provide their personal details and their drivers license,  credit card or passport information to a third-party verifier, who would then send an "age pass or fail" message back to AgeID. If they passed, users could access any website utilising the AgeID service. Users of other services, such as Yoti, could opt to have their faces scanned by their device's cameras, and Yoti's "age estimation technology" would then determine if a person was of legal age to view adult content. 

There is a long list of reasons why the age verification proposal failed in the UK, and it would also have the same problems, if implemented, in Australia.

Multiple age verification tools were developed to support the UK proposal, but they raised red flags with privacy advocates.
THE HONEYPOT

This is a common term used for a hacker's dream: a stockpile of personal information housed in a database. Imagine providing all of your personal details to a database (government owned or private) so that you could access pornographic materials. Now imagine if it was hacked.

Personal histories on these websites exposed to the public in the event of a data breach could ruin lives. You don’t need to or want to know what your local member, school teacher or priest browses on adult websites, nor do you really want your family members knowing about your habits either. If all of this information is housed online, you can guarantee it’s the honeypot hackers will work tirelessly to penetrate (sorry). 

Age verification requirements could be a hacker's dream. (Image: Getty)
THE WORKAROUND

Remember when Netflix was only available in the United States and we couldn’t access it in Australia? Remember how quickly “kids” were able to find a workaround?

The use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows you to locate yourself in a country of your choosing. So if Australia implements these age verification restrictions and they haven’t done so in the US, one click to VPN into the land of the free and you’re accessing any website without restrictions again.

The problem with the world wide web is that it is all connected -- there are no oceans that limit where you can go and no need to fly anywhere to virtually visit another country. Some VPNs are free and some cost a few dollars per month. If you’re a teenager with access to Google, you’ll be bypassing these age restrictions in minutes. 

Jarryd Bartle

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From April 2019, all internet access to pornography in the UK will be blocked unless users can confirm they are over the age of 18.

THE ALTERNATIVES

When the UK implemented these new rules, it applied to websites that held more than 30 percent of their content as “adult” related. So the large names such as PornHub, YouPorn and RedTube were obvious, but what about social media websites?

A quick search for adult terms on Twitter, SnapChat, Tumblr or even Instagram could provide various levels of pornographic materials and if age restrictions on major websites are put in place, this would only increase. Young adolescents see one door close and will quickly find a new one. Implementing these rules would create a false sense of security while teens would go underground for their fix. 

Young adolescents see one door close and will quickly find a new one. (Image: Getty)
THE CURRENT OPTIONS

While parenting your children to keep them safe is not commonly the job of the government, there are options available today that could be used to try and restrict access to adult material. On phones/tablets/laptops, software is available from Internet security companies such as Norton and Kaspersky that will allow parental controls to be put in place, and they’re relatively strong.

On your home network, regardless of the device using the Wi-Fi, parental controls can be established including blanket blocking of particular websites or website categories (drugs, gambling, pornography etc). Taking it one level up, your ISP can also add parental controls with Telstra for example providing this service to their customers at no extra cost. Further, communicating with your children and educating them on issues like this could yield positive results. All of this, without the government sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong (sorry). 

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As a parent, it scares me to think that someone might be watching my kids at school. Waiting. Scanning. 

While we all want to work towards making the Internet a safer place to be and keep our children away from harm, we must consider how different the Internet is compared to sneaking into a bar or casino. You can’t just put security at the front door, because the Internet will quickly find a back door, and another, and another.