Australia plans facial recognition to access online porn

Surveillance and security system concept in Australia.

When it comes to online regulations, Australia is moving pretty swiftly towards becoming the China of the free world.

Its anti-encryption legislation has proved hugely controversial and is already having a seriously negative impact on the country’s economy as well as eroding the online rights of citizens.

Then there is the new powers handed to the police to monitor public Wi-Fi networks and a whole array of knee-jerk proposals put forward in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack earlier this year.

But if you thoughts these draconian measures were scary enough, the Australian government’s plans for users of online porn will have you hiding under the bedclothes in terror.

The porn dilemma

Online porn has become a bone of contention for many developed countries. The fear that young people are having their childhoods cut short by the ease with which they can access explicit material online has any number of intrusive policy suggestions.

Here in the UK, we have reported extensively on the government’s plan to introduce an age verification system to access online porn.

These plans were permanently shelved earlier this month but with the rather ominous suggestion that they could be beefed up and then brought back at a later date.

Australia, it seems, is way ahead of the UK on this one.

Two major government bodies, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the main domestic security agency have both made the staggering proposal that facial recognition should be used to confirm people’s age before they can access online porn.

The plans would include photographing an internet user and then matching that photo to an existing facial record, such as a driving license image.

“This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent's driver licence to circumvent age verification controls,” the DHA wrote in a letter to a Parliamentary Committee looking into the matter.

A massive overreaction and a deeply flawed concept

It is a jaw-dropping proposal and one which raises so many objections it is difficult to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the huge privacy implications involved in accessing someone’s computer to photograph them, compare this with other data held in government records and tallying all of this together with their online porn habits.

Then there is the moral question of whether it can ever be possible to use this technology at all, never mind to police access to content that is, for the majority of Australian people, completely legal.

How about the question of how hopelessly ineffective these proposals would be in practice?

Most young people access porn on things like social media which will most likely be omitted from the requirements. Those that don’t will be able to get around the restrictions quite simply with a VPN.

Empirical data shows that this type of age verification simply doesn’t work, as The University of New South Wales' Law Society among others has shown in their submission to the enquiry. Given that data, it is impossible to justify such an extreme overreaction to try and tackle what is a fairly niche issue.

What is the answer? 

The concerns being raised in the UK, Australia and beyond about the impact that online pornographic content has on young people are all perfectly legitimate. But the solutions that are being proposed go much too far and have far too great an impact on privacy and law-abiding adult porn users.

The Australian Parliamentary enquiry has however received one submission from sex industry lobby group Eros Association which might have the answer.

They suggest Australian ISPs should strengthen their parental controls to give parents and guardians the tools to prevent young people from accessing this sort of material if they choose to.

This solution gets to the nub of an issue. Trying to ban and block young people out of doing something governments think is bad for them never works. They will always find a way around things and, in the case of online issues, this is often all too easy for the internet-savvy youth of today.

The solution invariably lies in two-things. The first is education. If young people receive effective sex education at the right age, any risk of harm from online porn they do come across should be negated.

The second is parental responsibility. Empowering and educating parents to take an interest in their children’s online life and setting responsible boundaries for them is far more effective than state-led blanket bans.

The tools to do this are already available and, in this instance, a little enhancement around the edges to make them more effective is unlikely to generate much opposition.

The concept of using facial recognition technology to decide who can and cannot look at online porn is a staggering and terrifying proposal that must never be given any serious credence at all.

Let’s hope that Australia’s DHA is just getting in the Halloween spirit with this one. But given their track record,  all online porn fans in Australia will be fearing the worst.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest privacy news, expert VPN guides & TV unblocking how-to’s sent straight to your inbox.