15 months after Committee Recommendations for Age Verification, the Australian Government finally responds in support
The Australian Federal Government has finally responded to calls to protect children from online pornography. The response is encouraging but there is still much to be done.
On March 5, 2020, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs presented six recommendations to the Australian Government in its report Protecting the age of innocence. Three recommendations specifically related to children and young people’s access to online pornography. In short, these are:
1- Develop standards for online age verification for age-restricted products and services that specify minimum requirements for privacy, safety, security, data handling, usability, accessibility, and auditing of age verification providers.
The Government supports this recommendation in principle. Essentially, the Government is relying on the eSafety Commissioner to lead the development of a roadmap to implement Age Verification. The response states that “Subject to the findings [of eSafety], 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.
2- The Digital Transformation Agency extend the Digital Identity program to include an age-verification exchange for the purpose of third-party online age verification.
The Government supports this recommendation in principle. Again, based on the roadmap put forward by the eSafety Commissioner, the Government recognises that further technical interventions may be required. If so, the Government agrees that the Digital Transformation Agency is well placed to explore extending the Digital Identity program.
3- The Australian Government direct and adequately resource the eSafety Commissioner to expeditiously develop and publish a road map for the implementation of a regime of mandatory age verification for online pornographic material.
The Government supports this recommendation. Among other things, the response states:
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety) is leading the development of this roadmap, in collaboration with community, industry, state and territory governments, and Commonwealth agencies including the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications (DITRDC); Department of Social Services; Department of Home Affairs; Digital Transformation Agency; and the Australian Cyber Security Centre. The roadmap will be based on detailed research as to if and how a mandatory age verification mechanism or similar could practically be achieved in Australia. The roadmap, including a recommended way forward, will be provided to Government for consideration.
The Government also mentions the proposed new Online Safety Act as an avenue to address children’s access to age-inappropriate content and states that it is considering the risks and harms posed by the exposure of children and young people to online pornography through its work on developing a National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (National Strategy).
A multifaceted approach required
Aside from the technical details of which we hope that Safety, Security and Privacy are upheld in equal measures of importance, the need for a multifaceted approach cannot be underestimated. The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, has repeatedly reinforced the message that age verification should not be seen as a silver bullet because when it comes to the internet, there is no such thing. That said, the Commissioner confirms that technically, age verification has shown promising advancements.
The Committee Inquiry Chair, Andrew Wallace, confirms this viewpoint and stated back in March 2020:
‘While age verification is not a silver bullet, it can create a significant barrier to prevent young people—and particularly young children—from exposure to harmful online content. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’
Managing Director of Youth Wellbeing Project, Liz Walker, has been one among many others involved in long-term advocacy for Age Verification. Historic work includes co-founding eChildhood, advancing inquiry submissions and acting in an advisory capacity to various stakeholders. Age Verification is an essential Digital Child Protection Buffer and it is something that child safety advocates are calling for around the world. For further insight, see the diagram below about how Age Verification could provide Online Child Protection.
Age Verification is a crucial front line defence for our children’s online safety–so too is education. Simply put, Porn & Online Safety Education doesn’t stand a hope of catching up and keeping up while ever the deluge of porn is readily delivered to our kids through mobile phones and every other digital device in their world. It’s too hard a task to expect parents to protect their kids from a multi-billion dollar porn industry on their own, and thankfully, the Australian Government agrees.
From our perspective, there are several things to keep in mind as we wait for Age Verification to be implemented.
- We need to ensure that safety, security and privacy are being upheld in equal measure. Given the obvious overreach of Big Tech of late, it would be prudent to expect a transparent process that stands up to the toughest of digital rights critics. A robust consultation process would ensure this occurs.
- Expect and be ready for the onslaught of pro-porn lobbyists who have been relentless in their attempts to derail age verification efforts elsewhere. There is no debate about whether porn harms kids (as they would like us to believe), so those who are in a position to do so, must be ready to stand in the gap for our children and demand that our kids are protected.
- Education is the best defence our kids have–even after Age Verification is implemented. If you are yet to start educating your child or young person, visit our Essential Resources page for suggestions on where to start.
The wellbeing and safety of children is dependant upon robust digital child protection measures such as Age Verification–let’s hope that in 15 months from now, Australia’s kids are a whole lot safer. In the meantime, keep let’s keep educating.