By Victoria Craw
The UK government will introduce compulsory identification checks by April next year to ensure those viewing pornography online are over age 18.
UK Digital Minister Matt Hancock signed the commencement of the Digital Economy Act on Monday which will eventually ensure those who cannot "normally" access porn are unable to do so online.
It will mean ID checks for viewers and includes provisions for fines of more than $400,000 or five per cent of their turnover for providers. The act will also punish bots used to snap up and resell concert tickets and raise the penalty for online piracy from two to 10 years.
However it's not yet known how the scheme will work in practice. One suggestion includes making users input credit card details before granting access. Another earlier suggestion included screening users via the electoral roll.
The move is designed to stop children accessing pornography inadvertently. A Net Children Go Mobile report said nearly 20 per cent of 9-16 year olds in the UK had been exposed to sexual images online.
Critics said the timescale is "unrealistic" and raises potential privacy issues for users, while leaving pornography on sites such as Tumblr and social media unfiltered.
Childnet CEO Will Gardner - who works to make the internet safer for children - said the aim is to replicate the conditions in the real world.
"It's bringing the same steps we take in the offline world to the online world," he told news.com.au.
"Different countries are taking different responses and if people can learn lessons from what we're going here that would be great," he said.
In February last year, Executive Officer of advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia, Jon Lawrence, told news.com.au there was "potential for real damage" if porn consumption sites were linked to electoral data and made public.
"There will always be readily available porn on the internet no matter what you do," he said. "These sorts of top down approaches simply don't work, they're trivial to circumvent. Any 13-year-old could do so ... without much difficulty."