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Concern Over Age Verification Delay

by | Wed, Oct 18 2023

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The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is urging the federal government to implement age verification laws which would prevent children from accessing adult sites and other inappropriate material on the internet.

Earlier this year, the Albanese government shied away from a trial of the verification technology, despite polls showing three quarters of Australians in support of such a move. The government opted not to force adult websites to bring in age verification following concerns about privacy and the lack of maturity of the technology, preferring to let the industry police itself. That’s put hopes of a trial on hold for what could be several years.

ACL CEO Michelle Pearse told Vision Radio the government had failed to act on the findings of a parliamentary inquiry: “Back in February 2020, the House of Representatives launched an inquiry and put out a report called Protecting the Age of Innocence. The strong recommendation was to implement age verification technology. Now, three years later, that still hasn’t happened. And we know that children are just one click away from accessing this really harmful kind of material that’s addictive, that affects the way that they approach their sexuality, that they view the opposite sex.”

“In the UK when they were pushing were pushing for age verification, they cited evidence of the dramatic increase in child-on-child sex abuse that coincides with the access of online pornography. So this is a huge issue. Nothing has been done to stop kids from accessing this stuff. There are simple measures to verify their age so that they’re not able to access these more harmful types of pornographic material.”

Ms. Pearse is discussing the issue with the Communications Minister. “I know that Minister Michelle Rowland is concerned that the government has not yet introduced age verification legislation. I know that she’s on board with having it implemented. So we’re there to say, well, when is the government going to put this on the agenda? We’re really hoping our meeting will again show the seriousness of of our desire to have this on the government agenda, but also continue to alert our supporters to support these efforts as well.”

Earlier this year, the government tasked eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, to work with the industry to develop a new code to educate parents on how to access filtering software and limit children’s access to such material or sites that are not appropriate.

The eSafety Commission was asked to develop an Age Verification Roadmap by the previous government. Over two years, it consulted everyone from the adult industry to educators, examined the privacy issue and looked at potential technological fixes. It found that a third of 16 to 18-year-olds had been able to access an adult site before they turned 13 and that more than three quarters of Australians supported age assurance technology such as digital IDs, voice scans and facial recognition software.

The Albanese government wasn’t convinced of the need to act quickly, saying: “It is clear from the Roadmap at present, each type of age verification or age assurance technology comes with its own privacy, security, effectiveness or implementation issues. A decision to mandate age assurance is not yet ready to be taken.”

Children’s advocates were disappointed a trial would be years away. “In view of the risks to the most vulnerable children in this country, I would have liked like to see a greater sense of urgency for reform,” said Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds, adding: “I was disappointed that the eSafety commissioner’s recommendation for a pilot has not been accepted.”

Collective Shout, an organisation focused on challenging the objectification of women and sexualisation of children, accused the government of prioritising the profits of the adult industry over the safety of children, reported news.com.au.

Director Melinda Tankard Reist said: “It’s time to stop calling this process a Roadmap. There is no Roadmap. There are only delays and obstacles to doing anything that would bring this predatory industry into line. The government has caved in to the vested interests of that industry. If France, Germany, the UK, Louisiana and Utah can roll out age verification systems, why can’t we? Vested interests should not be put before the well-being of children.”