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Senator Mullen bill aims to protect children from pornography

In an era where digital content is accessible at the click of a button, the exposure of children to inappropriate material, particularly pornography, has become a pressing issue. In response to these concerns, Senator Rónán Mullen, along with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, has introduced the “Protection of Children (Online Age Verification) Bill [1]” in Seanad Éireann. This Bill, which will be debated on Thursday, mandates strict age verification measures for accessing pornographic content online, aiming to safeguard children aged under-18 from exposure to such material.

Key elements of the Bill [1] include:

  1. Age Verification Mandate: Website controllers and app store service providers must ensure that users undergo an age verification process before accessing pornographic content. This can be outsourced to approved third-party organisations, but the ultimate responsibility remains with the service providers.
  2. Liability and Legal Defences: Providers will be held liable for any failure to implement age verification measures. However, a legal defence is available if it can be proven that circumvention of the age verification was facilitated by another party.
  3. Data Security: The Bill mandates secure storage of age verification data for five years, accessible only for legal proceedings.
  4. Focus on Child Protection: Senator Mullen emphasised that the Bill solely focuses on protecting children and does not aim to restrict adult access to pornography.

The concern about children’s access to pornography is not confined to Ireland.

Various European countries have implemented or proposed similar measures, highlighting the need for a concerted effort to address this public health concern.

Spain has recently launched an innovative solution known as the “Porn Passport [2]”. This mobile application aims to verify the age of users before granting access to online pornography. The application, developed to protect minors, requires users to verify their age through a secure and anonymous process. This initiative is part of Spain’s broader efforts to regulate access to adult content and ensure the safety of younger internet users.

Italy mandates age verification systems on websites distributing pornography and includes fines and potential site blockage for non-compliance.

In France [3] age verification laws have been strengthened, and recently the Court of Cassation ruled that “a child protection can ask the courts to order internet service providers to block access to pornographic sites likely to be viewed by a minor without first having to take action against the host, publisher or author of the content.”

The French government is also testing a “double anonymity” verification solution to enhance protection.

In Germany [3], providers must implement age verification mechanisms, and regulatory authorities can block non-compliant sites.

Research underscores the detrimental effects of pornography on young people, including the development of addictive behaviours, distorted perceptions of sexuality, and emotional and relational issues. Statistics reveal alarming rates of pornography consumption among minors across Europe, necessitating urgent policy interventions. (More information can be found in the European Child Shield Platform advocacy paper: https://www.fafce.org/european-child-shield-platform-launches-awareness-campaign/ [4] )

The “Protection of Children (Online Age Verification) Bill” represents a critical step towards defending children from the harmful effects of online pornography. By enforcing stringent age verification measures, Ireland aims to join other European nations in addressing this pervasive issue.

As Senator Mullen aptly stated [1], “Everything must give way to the protection of children”. The successful implementation of this Bill could serve as a model for other countries, fostering international cooperation in the fight against the exposure of minors to pornographic material.