Data Protection Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:00 pm, 13th November 2017

My Lords, as we have heard, Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 requires online providers of pornographic material on a commercial basis to institute appropriate age verification controls. My noble friend’s Amendment 71ZA seeks to allow the age verification regulator to publish regulations relating to the protection of personal data processed for that purpose. The amendment aims to provide protection, choice and trust in respect of personal data processed for the purpose of compliance with Part 3 of the 2017 Act.

I think that I understand my noble friend’s aim. It is a concern I remember well from this House’s extensive deliberations on what became the Digital Economy Act, as referred to earlier. We now have before us a Bill for a new legal framework which is designed to ensure that protection, choice and trust are embedded in all data-processing practices, with stronger sanctions for malpractice. This partly answers my noble friend Lord Elton, who asked what we would produce to deal with this problem.

Personal data, particularly those concerning a data subject’s sex life or sexual orientation, as may be the case here, will be subject to rigorous new protections. For the reasons I have just mentioned, the Government do not consider it necessary to provide for separate standards relating exclusively and narrowly to age verification in the context of accessing online pornography. That is not to say that there will be a lack of guidance to firms subject to Part 3 of the 2017 Act on how best to implement their obligations. In particular, the age verification regulator is required to publish guidance about the types of arrangements for making pornographic material available that the regulator will treat as compliant.

As noble Lords will be aware, the British Board of Film Classification is the intended age verification regulator. I reassure noble Lords that in its preparations for taking on the role of age verification regulator, the BBFC has indicated that it will ensure that the guidance it issues promotes the highest data protection standards. As part of this, it has held regular discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office and it will flag up any potential data protection concerns to that office. It will then be for the Information Commissioner to determine whether action or further investigation is needed, as is her role.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talked about anonymisation and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked for an update of where we actually were. I remember the discussions on anonymisation, which is an important issue. I do not have the details of exactly where we have got to on that subject—so, if it is okay, I will write to the noble Lord on that.

I can update the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to a certain extent. As I just said, the BBFC is in discussion with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that best practice is observed. Age verification controls are already in place in other areas of internet content access; for example, licensed gambling sites are required to have them in place. They are also in place for UK-based video-on-demand services. The BBFC will be able to learn from how these operate, to ensure that effective systems are created—but the age verification regulator will not be endorsing a list of age verification technology providers. Rather, the regulator will be responsible for setting guidance and standards on robust age verification checks.

We continue to work with the BBFC in its engagement with the industry to establish the best technological solutions, which must be compliant with data protection law. We are aware that such solutions exist, focusing rightly on verification rather than identification—which I think was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. If I can provide any more detail in the follow-up letter that I send after each day of Committee, I will do so—but that is the general background.

Online age verification is a rapidly growing area and there will be much innovation and development in this field. Industry is rightly putting data privacy and security at the forefront of its design, and this will be underscored by the new requirements under the GDPR. In view of that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.