What does Paytm have in common with porn in the UK? A lot more than you think.

The British government is planning to deputize convenience store owners throughout the country to accept KYC-style age verification for people who want to opt out of the country’s porn-blocking mandate. The system would work like this: to be authorised to watch pornography on their internet connections, British citizens would have to prove that they are adults, and present ID proof to a nearby shopkeeper who has been authorized to hand out passes with codes to allow online porn access.

This has already raised privacy concerns since shopkeepers would have to keep records of IDs they’re given and send them to the government. In response to these concerns, the British government said that upcoming data protection legislation would keep this information safe. The passes will reportedly also allow people to buy knives and alcohol online, sales of which are age-restricted too.

Why?

Ironically, this has been announced to improve privacy — the sixteen-digit codes are supposed to be anonymous so that when users browse porn, they will not have to enter personal details when encountering an age-verification firewall.

But While age restrictions on porn access haven’t been implemented yet — they have been delayed till the end of this year — private players like MindGeek, which runs several of the highest-ranking porn sites on the internet, have already started working on private-sector age verification solutions like AgeID. These solutions may most likely involve verifying users’ age through their credit cards, which British citizens need to be at least 18 to have. The sixteen-digit pass system, which may cost around £10, seeks to include millions of Britons who don’t have a credit card or any banking access at all.

The British film censor board, BBFC, will oversee the implementation of age verification systems on porn sites. The sixteen-digit pass system is being created by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In the UK, a large cross-section of websites are blocked by default since 2013, which includes pornography, drugs, self-harm, gambling, and some social networking sites. Users have to opt out of this “filtering” to be able to access websites that are included in these categories by ISPs. With the passing of the Digital Economy Act of 2017, these changes will supersede EU law (which the UK will be completely exempt from after Brexit) and build age restrictions on top of opting out.

India and porn

This kind of system is scarily easy to implement in India — the UIDAI’s Virtual ID, in addition to being sixteen digits long just like the proposed UK counterpart, is also similarly anonymous to everyone but UIDAI, and can enable a similar age-verification system for browsing online porn.

But looking at the history of online porn restrictions in India, officials have been less interested with porn being accessible to minors, and more concerned with porn being accessible, period. From the ban on the webcomic Savita Bhabhi in 2009 to a misfired communique by the Attorney General that led to over 500 porn sites being blocked in 2015, most concrete action has focused on blocking webpages, rather than requiring age validation. There has been little indication that this will change.