Denham Sadler
October 28, 2019

Face recognition for accessing porn?

Policy

Face recognition for accessing porn?

Restrictions: Could facial recognition technology be used to regulate access to porn

The federal government has floated an idea to use its facial recognition technology to verify the age of Australians trying to access pornography online.

In a submission to a House of Representatives Committee inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography, the Home Affairs department flagged the potential to use its Face Verification Service, which matches a person’s photo against images used on one of their identity documents, to prevent underage individuals from accessing porn.

The department also offered up its Document Verification Service, which checks whether the personal information on an identity document matches the original record, for similar purposes.

“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 submission said.

“Whilst they are primarily designed to prevent identity crime, Home Affairs would support the increased use of the Document and Face Verification Services across the Australian economy to strengthen age verification processes.”

The offer comes as the Face Verification Service is “not yet fully operational”, and is reliant on legislation that was last week rejected by the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security because it lacked detail and privacy safeguards.

The service currently just includes citizenship images that are used by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Federal Police, and would be of no use for age verification until the potential legislation is passed by Parliament.

The Coalition initiated the inquiry in September to examine the age verification techniques used by gambling platforms and whether these could be applied to porn.

Committee chair and Liberal MP Andrew Wallace said he was “concerned” that people under the age of 18 are accessing this material without having to verify their age.

“This is concerning, as research shows that accessing pornography negatively influences young peoples’ attitudes to sex, sexuality and relationships,” Mr Wallace said.

The inquiry will also be looking at whether such a move would push adults into unregulated markets, if it could lead to privacy breaches and how it would impact freedom of expression.

The Home Affairs submission was released just weeks after the UK government abandoned its own controversial plan to require age verification to access online porn.

The nationwide age verification system would have required all listed porn websites to verify the age of its users, either by checking their credit cards or through the purchase of a “porn pass” from a newsagent.

The UK ditched these plans earlier this month after years of technical difficulties and concerns from privacy and digital rights advocates.

At a senate estimates hearing last week, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant was asked how the UK government’s decision to not go ahead with the plan would impact Australia’s consideration of the issue.

“Our intention is to look at what we can learn from that process and what can be done here, but to be realistic about the need to balance a range of factors and make sure that the right ecosystem is in place, if that’s something the government decides to pursue to move this forward and protect children from exposure to harmful content online” Ms Inman Grant said.

“We can learn quite a bit from the things they did well. We can also learn from their mistakes. I think we need to be realistic upfront about what an age verification system or scheme could achieve and what would be the potential drawbacks.”

The eSafety Commissioner, who is preparing her own submission to the House committee, said the UK government’s decision to use credit cards as a form of verification led to some of the issues.

“Credit cards weren’t really developed for that purpose, and there was a concern that there would be a honeypot of personal information which would create a different set of risks for children,” she said.

“We would need to look at the technical aspects and the environmental aspects, and make sure that the policies are right. There is a broad spectrum of issues.

“I think we learn when we look at what’s in the realm of the possible and we provide to the inquiry our best assessment of what can and can’t be done.”

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