Laura Laplaud 16:23 pm, March 28, 2023

2023, the end of access to pornographic sites for our children? This was stated by the Minister Delegate for Digital Affairs, Jean-Noël Barrot, in the columns of "Parisien/Aujourd'hui en France" last February. The government wants to create a system to prevent under-18s from accessing pornographic content on the internet from September. For this, he relies on a solution: age verification in "double anonymity", tested at the end of March. What about it?

Today, it is enough to go to the home page of a pornographic site and promise by a simple click, or by a manual entry of the date of birth, to be of age to access pornographic content. In the end, this is the method of self-declaration which cannot constitute a reliable system on such sites.

Bercy, CNIL and Arcom worked for several months with companies specializing in digital technology to develop solutions capable of certifying the majority of a person without revealing his identity. Exit the bank card, deliverable before 18 years. ID verification is effective but seems burdensome or intrusive. And the issuance of a unique code by a tobacconist depends on the reliability of tobacconists' controls.

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The Digital Regulation Expertise Centre (PEReN) is then considering a third-party or even double-tier mechanism that would act as an age checker for its users. Pornographic sites would have the obligation to demand proof of majority provided by this third party which could be "a telecom operator, a digital identity provider or any other organization likely to attest to the majority of a person," said Minister Jean-Noël Barrot. "The site on which the certificate is used does not know the identity of the person. This is the principle of double anonymity."

How does it work?

In fact, if a user wishes to access a pornographic site, he will have to register beforehand with a third-party service and justify his majority with an official identity document. "A second third party will be responsible for transferring information between the restricted site and the verifying site, so that the latter does not know which site is actually visited," the PEReN report said. In this respect, this mechanism respects the principle of double anonymity.

A reliable system?

According to Pierre Emmanuel Frogé, a lawyer at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) in Paris, this system seems reliable but must be put into practice to confirm its proper functioning. Because in reality, we risk "coming up against the reality of the market and the good or bad will of the actors, whether checks or pornographic sites".

"This system, as its name suggests, aims to guarantee the anonymity of the person to access the site in question. Of all the systems envisaged, this one, which involves a third-party verifier, guarantees the double anonymity of the individual. Neither the third-party verifier nor the website has knowledge of the identity of the individual. It is the one that poses the least risk in terms of personal data," he explains.

A system that could work very well and keep the anonymity of users according to Pierre-Emmanuel Frogé if it is extended to other sites since today, this system is only implemented for pornographic sites.

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What are the limits?

"When we analyze a little parliamentary and legislative debates, we realize that we will move towards a real age verification but on all sites. What for? Because it is not only pornographic sites that disseminate pornographic content, "says the lawyer referring to the social network Twitter on which pornography is allowed. "Pornography and other forms of consensually produced adult content are allowed on Twitter, provided that the media concerned are marked as sensitive," the platform said.

The government's approach should be quite different, according to Ludivine Demol Defe, a doctoral researcher in information and communication sciences. "The link between adults and young people is further damaged by exercising such control. From a pedagogical point of view, from the point of view of accompanying young people, it is a disaster. [This system] is not going to work, it won't protect young people, we're going to make things worse," she said.

Especially since this system will not "fulfill the objectives requested". "They will still manage to get pornography in another way. As long as they have access to social networks like Snapchat or TikTok, maybe we will see, a little more, because it already exists, amateur content," she adds.

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Towards a digital identity?

Earlier this month, the National Assembly voted to require minors under the age of 15 to obtain their parents' consent to create an account on social networks. In this case, user identification stops at age, one of the characteristics of a person's identity, but this could lead to a broader process, says Pierre-Emmanuel Frogé, probably a true digital identity.