The internet has brought along with it a whole host of freedoms. There is the freedom to access an array of information and websites that provide entertainment. Of course, many websites are for adult eyes only, and with the freedoms that exist, there are also responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is keeping children safe by shielding them from certain content.
While no one will dispute that our children need to be kept safe, how this is achieved is up for debate. Louisiana has recently passed Bill HB142, which is the state’s solution to online safety. So, what does this bill include, and what effect will it have? That’s what we’re going to take a look at now.
What sites are covered by the legislation?
Bill HB142 states that sites with significant pornographic material must verify the ages of their users. Regarding what “significant” means, PIA’s report helps us. According to this report, the need to verify a user’s age kicks in when a site has at least 33.3% of adult material.
The first problem relates to how the percentage of any porn content is reached. While there will be clear examples of sites that are purely pornographic, this isn’t always the case. The other problem, when it comes to protecting children, is what makes the 33% threshold so magical. Are we content for children to have unlimited access to sites containing only 32.9% of adult content? Of course not, and that’s what makes this legislation baffling.
PIA points out that this system seems to be an attempt to replicate the Digital Economy Act from the UK. While it’s always great to take inspiration from a law that has already been successfully implemented, it’s worth knowing what actually happened in the UK, where the legislation was binned after privacy concerns were raised.
Age verification means an end to online privacy.
Louisiana has pushed ahead with the legislation despite failures elsewhere. As we have already seen, the UK abandoned its legislation, and countries such as Australia and Germany have also seen failures when trying to implement age verification.
The problem is that when you verify your age with government-issued documents, you’re giving away much more than just your date of birth. As well as your personal details, you’re also sharing information about each authentication that’s taken place. Why does this matter? Well, this allows systems to know when you watch porn. It lets them know when you gamble online. It lets them know every time you engage in an activity classed as an adult one.
Even when users are happy to share this kind of information, there is still another major concern: data breaches. There needs to be confidence in the fact that any data stored is safe, as any disclosures could have a significant impact on both businesses and individuals.
Keeping children safe
There is no escaping from the fact that there is a need to protect children online. However, age verification is not the answer. There are alternatives to explore, such as:
• Parents controls
• Frank conversations
The last of these is perhaps the most powerful, as we must educate our children to keep them safe. Bill HB142 is a law that proves ineffective in doing this, and so this is something that we must take responsibility for ourselves.
All this legislation achieves is a breach of adult users’ privacy. That is something that can never be supported.