Canberra considers its digital ID for use in verifying age before accessing porn

The Australian government has said the Digital Transformation Agency is well placed to explore extending the digital identity program to online age verification to access things such as pornography.

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The federal government has responded to a report on age verification for online wagering and online pornography, saying it is considering, at least in principle, if the nation's digital identity system could be extended to help with protecting children from online harms.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs closed its inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography last year, tabling a report in February 2020.

Making a total of six recommendations, the committee asked the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to extend its digital identity program to include an age-verification exchange for the purpose of third-party online age verification. This was despite the eSafety Commissioner saying on many occasions there are no "out-of-the-box technology solutions" that would solve this issue and it is her opinion that age verification should not be seen as a panacea.

In response [PDF] to the recommendation, the government said it supports it in principle.

"Initially, the government's priority will be to complete work underway that explores the potential for changes to the policy and accreditation framework … depending upon the findings of this work, further technical interventions may be required," it wrote.

"If so, the government agrees that the Digital Transformation Agency is well placed to explore extending the digital identity program."

The DTA, in November 2019, declared its digital identity play would be a valuable tool in verifying an individual's age before allowing access to online pornographic material.

Must read: Researchers want Australia's digital ID system thrown out and redesigned from scratch

The committee also recommended the DTA, in consultation with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), develop standards for online age verification for age-restricted products and services.

It said these standards should specify minimum requirements for privacy, safety, security, data handling, usability, accessibility, and auditing of age-verification providers.

The government said it supports this recommendation in principle.

"The government is committed to protecting young people while safeguarding the privacy and security of people of all ages in an increasingly digital environment," it said.

Such commitments include work from eSafety on the development of a roadmap for the implementation of a mandatory age verification regime for online pornographic material, as well as work underway by the Department of Social Services which is completing a review of customer verification requirements for online wagering services.

"Subject to the findings of the work outlined above, further technical standards-based work may be required which could include requirements for privacy, safety, security, data handling, usability, accessibility, and auditing of age-verification providers," it said, noting it considers the DTA and the ACSC "well-placed" to provide assistance or advice.

In its response to the remaining recommendations, the government pointed to the yet-to-be-passed Online Safety Act, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's work on app marketplace practices, and work from eSafety including its Safety By Design initiative as helping address the concerns raised by the committee.

"While there are no simple solutions to any online safety issue, technologies, such as age verification, age assurance, and age prediction, are developing at pace," the government wrote. "If used in conjunction with filtering and other proactive user safety settings, they can play a role in limiting exposure to harmful content for children."

It said it also recognises that technological solutions alone would not stop all children from accessing online pornography or other age-inappropriate services.

"A multifaceted approach that includes parental engagement and education is vital to reduce the adverse effects of online pornography and other harmful content. Online safety requires long-term, sustained social and cultural change, through the coordinated efforts of the global community, and greater collaboration and consultation between industry, government, and the general public," it said.

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