Regulation

Pornography age verification threatens user privacy, says new report


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In the Media

Len Shackleton quoted in The Telegraph

https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/Epicenter_Internet-Freedom_web.pdf
Puritanical campaigns against pornography risk online freedom and innovation

  • The adult entertainment industry pioneered internet innovations like online payment systems, fraud prevention, copyright protection, and content moderation.

  • Internet regulation targeted at adult content risks undermining foundational internet principles like free speech, privacy and innovation.

  • Overregulation risks pushing users to less controlled and secure environments.

  • A more collaborative approach involving governments, industry, civil society and technical experts is needed to clamp down on illicit activity while protecting internet freedom.


The UK’s Online Safety Act will mandate age verification to prevent children from accessing pornography, requiring users to enter their driver’s licences, passports or providing biometric information.

But a new report from the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER), in conjunction with the free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, says age verification seriously threatens user privacy. It warns that “mandatory age verification could significantly increase the amount of sensitive data held by third parties and the frequency at which it is collected, exposing users to privacy breaches and abuse.”

The report also says that effective age verification is “practically impossible” due to the many tools that will enable users to circumvent controls. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) usage in Britain surged after internet service providers began introducing adult content filters in 2013. This bypassing of controls could inadvertently direct “traffic towards less regulated and less secure platforms, thereby exacerbating risks”.

Giacomo Lev Mannheimer, report author and Research Fellow at the Bruno Leoni Institute, warns of “politicians’ tendency to promise the impossible without fully understanding the dynamics of what they are trying to regulate and without giving sufficient consideration to the side-effects of the proposed solutions.”

This comes amid harsh new regulation of pornography across individual European countries and the European Union’s Digital Services Act. Mannheimer stresses that while regulation is needed to tackle illegal content, it should minimise the risk of compromising user privacy and freedom of expression.

“Pornography, as long as it is consensual, is a phenomenal form of entertainment and should not receive different treatment from other forms of entertainment,” Mannheimer writes.

The report also highlights the positive role of the adult entertainment industry in developing internet innovations, including online payment, fraud prevention, copyright protection, and content moderation systems.

It recommends a collaborative approach among governments, industry, and civil society to regulate pornography and crack down on illegal content without stifling innovation or violating privacy.

Report author and Research Fellow at the Bruno Leoni Institute, Giacomo Lev Mannheimer, said:

“The age verification mandate within the Online Safety Act poses a significant threat to privacy and user freedom by creating a database linking individual identities with adult content consumption. Hopefully, Ofcom’s code of conduct about age verification will take into account these concerns.

“Improper regulation of adult content undermines the internet as a hub of unparalleled freedom and innovation. Policymakers must strike a balance by tackling illicit activities while safeguarding user privacy, free expression, and digital innovation.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Contact: [email protected] / 07763 365520

About the author

Giacomo Lev Mannheimer is a Research Fellow at the Bruno Leoni Institute. Born in 1989, he holds a law degree from the University of Milan and a master’s in international political economy from the University of Kent. Giacomo has experience in technology, politics, and consulting — including as the former Head of Government Affairs for TikTok in Southern Europe.  He’s also a board member at Forum Economia Innovazione, and serves as the scientific director of the Metropolitan Observatory of Milan.

About EPICENTER

EPICENTER, the European Policy Information Center, is an independent initiative of ten leading think tanks from across Europe. It seeks to inform the European policy debate and promote the principles of a free society by bringing together the expertise of its members.

EPICENTER is formed by the Center for Political Studies (Denmark), Civil Development Forum (Poland), the Institut Economique Molinari (France), the Institute of Economic Affairs (UK), Institute of Economic and Social Studies (Slovakia), Instituto Bruno Leoni (Italy), KEFiM (Greece), the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, Prometheus (Germany), and Timbro (Sweden). Like its members, EPICENTER is politically independent and does not accept taxpayer funding.

About Istituto Bruno Leoni

The Bruno Leoni Institute, established in 2003, aims to enrich Italian political culture by emphasizing the significance of freedom and private enterprise, essential for a truly prosperous and open society.

Inspired by Anglo-Saxon think tanks, the IBL operates as a non-profit research centre independent of political affiliations, seeking to contribute to public discourse.

IBL’s policy proposals strive to empower civil society, enhance individual autonomy, allocate resources back into the economy, promote competition and trade, ultimately fostering increased prosperity and wealth for all.

About the Institute of Economic Affairs

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.



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