Digital Economy

Part of Uk-EU Negotiations – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 17th December 2018.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham 8:08 pm, 17th December 2018

That is absolutely right, and that becomes more apparent as we go forward. This legislation is very UK-based; pornography, of course, is international.

Minister, I am very concerned about the ability of the BBFC to compel ancillary service providers and payment-service providers to block access to non-compliant pornography services, as described under sections 21 and 23 of the Digital Economy Act. What power does the BBFC have to force companies to comply with its enforcement measures? What happens if credit card companies, banks or advertising agencies refuse to comply? I know of pornographic sites that accept supermarket points instead of cash to get around such legislation from other countries. What assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood of opportunistic websites being established to circumvent UK legislation and the child protection risks that follow? It is unclear how the BBFC will appraise sites and what review mechanisms it will put in place to judge whether the scheme is effective in practice.

Under part 1, paragraph 10 of the guidance,

“The BBFC will report annually to the Secretary of State”.

Will the Minister commit to an interim review after six months from the implementation date, so that we can see whether this is working? Under part 1, paragraph 11 of the guidance,

“the BBFC will…carry out research…
into the effectiveness of the regime” with a view to child protection “from time to time”. As that is the very purpose of the legislation, does the Minister agree that this should occur at least every two years? Under part 2, paragraph 7 of the guidance,

“the BBFC will…specify a prompt timeframe for compliance”.

However, there is no detail on what this timeframe is. It could be a week—it might be a year. Will the Minister please explain the timetable for enforcement?

The guidance also details the enforcement measures available to the BBFC in the case of a non-compliant provider. I broadly welcome those enforcement measures, but I am concerned about the ability of the BBFC to take action. Will the Minister tell us which body will be effectively enforcing these punishments? Will it be the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport or the Home Office? Will the Minister put on the record the additional resources being committed both to the BBFC and whichever Government agent is meant to enforce the legislation?

Turning to the BBFC guidance on age-verification arrangements, I want to register my concerns about the standards laid out on what constitutes sufficient age verification from providers. Section 3, paragraph 5 mentions

“an effective control mechanism at the point of registration or access by the end user which verifies that the user is aged 18 or over at the point of registration or access”.

That is very vague and could in practice mean any number of methods, many of which are yet to be effectively put to the test and some of which may jeopardise the security of personal data. That raises concerns about the robustness of the whole scheme, so will the Minister detail how she plans to ensure that the qualifying criteria are not so lax as to be useless?

Part 4, paragraph 3a states that

“age-verification systems must be designed with data protection in mind—ensuring users’
privacy is protected by default”.

Has the Minister also made an assessment of the safeguarding implications for the personal data of children, some of whom may attempt to falsify their age to access pornographic imagery? Following the data hack of Ashley Madison, that has concerning implications for adults and children alike. While age verification certainly is not a silver bullet, as an idea it does have a place in a regulatory child protection framework. However, we need to ensure that that framework is as robust as it can be. Guidelines for websites that host pornographic material must be clear, so that the policy can be rigorously applied and potential loopholes are closed.

I also want to say that this has to work across Government. At the moment, we are still waiting for the Department for Education to bring forward the guidance on relationship and sex education. Unless we prevent, we cannot—