Australian ​eSafety Office keeping tabs on UK-style age verification for pornography

With the UK recently passing legislation requiring age verification before accessing pornography, the Australian eSafety Commissioner is looking into a local solution to protect those underage from being exposed to such material.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has assembled an Online Safety Consultative Working Group to determine the best approach to protecting those under the age of 18 from accessing adult or pornographic material online.

The newly appointed Inman Grant said addressing the challenge Australia is faced with as a result of graphic pornography, technology, and young Australians colliding requires the collaboration and expertise of government, industry, academics, educators, advocacy groups, and law enforcement agencies.

"While Australian children are some of the most fortunate in the world in terms of their access to technology, this comes with both benefit and risks. One of those risks is exposure to extreme pornography -- graphic, violent, and sometimes degrading video content -- whether deliberate or incidental," she wrote in a blog post.

The UK Parliament recently passed new legislation that will mean porn consumers in Britain will need to be age-verified to gain access from April next year.

"While there is no clear way forward on how this legislation will be implemented or the technical solutions needed to do so, we will watch the UK closely and will learn where we can," Inman Grant explained.

However, protecting those underage from accessing content they are perhaps not mentally developed enough to understand by way of some sort of internet filter might merely serve as a band-aid solution.

Following a roundtable Inman Grant held last week, she said it was clear there was a need for more local research into the effectiveness of interventions, not only to limit young people's access and exposure to pornography but also around how to minimise pornography's harmful effects.

"While it is apparent there is much work to be done, there was consensus that no single measure is likely to be a catch-all solution. Unfortunately, despite a range of interesting efforts being undertaken around the world, there is no silver bullet," the commissioner explained.

"We also believe that we can come up with novel approaches that are fit for the Australian populace. The eSafety Office will continue to work with our expert committee, and others, to critically analyse all possible solutions, and following deliberations will present policy recommendations to the government."

In a blog post from May, Inman Grant said that while education and engagement with children may serve as the initial frontline defence, parents need to be vigilant in employing a range of protective strategies to prevent and minimise the risks and effects.

"A multi-pronged approach may also include deploying parental controls to help limit the types of content and apps children can access, but technology tools, in isolation, will not serve as a total panacea," she said previously.

"The 'set and forget' mentality can lead to parental complacency and determined tech savvy kids can find ways to circumvent technological protections. In short, there is no substitution for adult engagement and oversight in children's online lives."

In November 2012, the then Labor government dropped its plans to introduce a mandatory internet filtering scheme for websites that the Classifications Board labelled as Refused Classification, meaning a rating beyond X-rated content.

The plan was binned almost three years after originally announcing the formal scheme, and five years after the idea of a filter was first floated by the government.

Instead, the government issued notices to Australian ISPs that compelled them at the time to implement the Interpol internet filter.

The Australian Christian Lobby called for a mandatory internet filter for all pornography in late 2012.

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