The French government is preparing to unveil an age certification system to block access to pornographic websites for minors.
The French minister for digital affairs said in an interview with the Le Parisien outlet this weekend (Sunday February 5) that this “digital certificate” project will be specified during the next week and will be implemented “from September”.
“2023 is the end of access to pornographic sites for our children,” Jean-Noël Barrot, minister for digital affairs, told the newspaper.
“Children are on average 11 years old when they first access a pornography site. Yet in France it is forbidden to expose children under the age of 18 to this type of content. But in reality it is enough to click on the home page of these sites, promising to be of age, to discover videos whose content can shock or, worse, traumatize. I intend to put an end to this scandal,” Barrot announced.
All adult websites “will have to respect it, otherwise broadcasting on the national territory will be prohibited”, said the delegate minister.
“France will be the first country in the world to propose such a solution.”
A digital certificate
The certification of age must be obtained through a “digital certificate”.
“This technical solution we are working on could be used to enforce age limits that exist in our law, but are not sufficiently respected online,” Barrot stressed.
Currently, porn sites ask users to certify their age by entering a date of birth or simply clicking an “I’m of legal age” box.
The technical details have not yet been defined and the implementation may encounter complications related to the issue of personal data protection.
Indeed, the aim will be to preserve user anonymity from the point of view of websites and any legislation requiring adult websites to verify the age of their users faces technical and legal obstacles. This is currently resulting in a legal tug of war between audiovisual and platform regulator Arcom and pornographic websites.
France’s push for child safety online
This news comes on the heels of several shocking deaths from online harassment and repeated calls for the government to redouble its efforts to fight cyberbullying and strengthen online safety.
Lucas, a 13-year-old boy who was subjected to school bullying and homophobic slurs, died on January 7, 2023.
Four thirteen-year-old minors are awaiting a hearing.
“My thoughts go to Lucas, a student at Louis Armand College in Golbey, his family and friends. I think of all pupils like him who have been harassed: their desperation is the basis of my determination to prevent any form of molestation. No child should consider suicide as the ultimate solution,” Education Minister Pap Ndiaye said on Twitter.
The push for more online safeguards is also a direct continuation of the Children Online Protection Laboratory launched in November 2022 by French President Emmanuel Macron, who made protecting children online one of his top priorities during his re-election campaign.
The Elysee Palace had announced the creation of the initiative to improve the safety of children online worldwide, with the aim of bringing together governments, activists, NGOs, researchers and tech giants to evaluate and develop concrete protocols and solutions that allow children to use digital tools safely, and “benefit from their full potential, without being exposed to abuse and harmful content”.
Meta Platforms, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, TikTok and French platform Dailymotion have agreed to sign a charter, modeled on the Christchurch Call, a non-binding initiative spearheaded by Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern following the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks It aims to curb the spread of terrorist material on the Internet.
It includes the protection of privacy, the fight against cyberbullying, the proliferation of child pornography, age verification on adult websites and social networks.
During the 2022 Paris Peace Forum, the global governance summit focused on tech and digital policy, Amazon said it invested more than $900 million in 2021 and employed more than 12,000 people “dedicated to protecting customers and advancing addressing online misconduct”
“This ongoing focus on customer obsession with a safe and reliable shopping experience extends to all areas of Amazon, including child safety. That’s why Amazon became a founding member of the Children Online Protection Lab at this year’s Paris Peace Forum.”
Age verification in the UK and the USA
While the goal of making it more difficult for minors to access pornography and harmful images is widely shared, the various plans to introduce age verification around the world have also collided with the issue of personal data protection .
The UK is currently debating the Online Safety Bill in Parliament as the government wants to make it mandatory for websites to use trusted age verification technology.
In the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, a law since January 1, 2023 requires you to present a copy of an ID before accessing websites with at least a third of the content “harmful to minors”.