Australian House committee recommends age verification for porn and loot box access

The Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has recommended the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) be tasked with creating standards that could be used to implement age verification for pornographic content in Australia, and extend its Digital Identify solution as a verification exchange.

In its list of recommendations, the committee said the DTA should work with the Australian Cyber Security Centre to produce standards that “specify minimum requirements for privacy, safety, security, data handling, usability, accessibility, and auditing of age-verification providers” and take overseas standards into consideration.

“The committee recommends that 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 committee’s report said.

In its submission to the committee, the DTA said its digital identity play would be a “convenient alternative for users to verify their age”.

“Digital Identity does not involve a unique identifier, nor does it allow tracking of online activities. Instead, it provides a means for a person to authenticate their identity online,” the DTA said.

The committee also recommended that the eSafety Commissioner create a roadmap for implementation.

The report noted that the committee believed the technology exists to enact an age verification regime.

The committee was also tasked with looking at underage gambling, and said those under 18 should not be able to use online gambling sites without age verifications.

Read more: More privacy conscious and not Australia Card 2.0: DTA defends digital identity play

The report also set its sights on loot boxes.

“The committee recommends that the Office of the eSafety Commissioner or other relevant government department report to the Australian government on options for restricting access to loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in computer and video games to adults aged 18 years or over, including through the use of mandatory age verification,” it said.

The committee added that loot boxes “act as a gateway to problem gambling and associated harms later in life”.

“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,” LNP Member for Fisher and committee chair Andrew Wallace said.

Shadow Assistant Minister for Cybersecurity, Tim Watts, said Labor “strongly supports” work to protect children from the harms of online pornography.

“We need to make sure we are using all available measures to keep kids safe online,” Watts said. “We also know that other jurisdictions, like the UK, have tried to implement age verification for online pornography but decided not to proceed.

“Labor will look closely at what the eSafety Commissioner can come up with to address this difficult but very important issue.”

In October, the UK dumped its plans for an online porn block which would have forced sites that monetise pornography to introduce proof-of-age checks — such as the submission of credit card details, or scanned copies of ID cards and passports — or be at risk if having their payment services withdrawn or blocked for UK users.

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