Tech.co logo

Australia Proposes Using Facial Recognition on Porn Users

October 29, 2019

1:24 pm

The suggested uses for facial recognition technology keep getting weirder and more troubling, as the Australian government has proposed using the tech to verify the age of pornography users throughout the country.

Facial recognition has seen its fair share of backlash across the tech industry and beyond. From controversial implementation in schools to condemnation from police body cam manufacturers, the technology is up to its ears in bad press. The prospect of using it for age verification certainly isn't going to quell any concerns.

So, what exactly is the Australian government proposing? We take a look at what they have in store for facial recognition, plus examine how age verification efforts have failed in the past for other countries looking to control access to online porn.

What is the Australian government proposing?

A submission by the Australian Department of Home Affairs suggested that the country's Document Verification Service and Face Verification Service should be used not only to fight cybercrime and identity theft, but also in age verification situations. This includes the login process for pornographic and gambling sites.

“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,” reads the submission. “This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent’s driver license to circumvent age verification controls.”

This submission is a progression from an announcement last month from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. It announced it had launched an inquiry into whether age verification measures were adequate when it comes to preventing children from accessing adult sites. The committee is attempting address the concern that nearly 44 percent of children age 9-16 claim to have seen sexual content on the internet.

The problems with the Australian government porn proposal

Oh, where to start. For one, Australia's Face Verification Service – creepily nicknamed “The Capability” – isn't even operational yet. The Australian parliament hasn't passed the Identity-matching Services Bill 2019, which will make the tech legal, and that's far from in the bag. One committee has already rejected it, calling for it to be completely redrafted, and the decidedly adamant backlash against facial recognition certainly won't help the bill to gain popularity.

Additionally, this kind of proposal hinges on the fact that users are giving up their biometric data – a matter which you increasingly can't opt out of – to the government. Not just any government, the Australian government, which was critically hacked just a few months ago. Handing over every gambler and porn-user's biometric data to a government that is vulnerable to breaches has little chance of garnering much public support, let alone the approval it needs to even be considered legal.

To make matters worse, Australia isn't the only country to try something like this. And, given the failed efforts of other nations, Australia may not have a good chance of pulling it off, either.

UK government porn access plans

In late 2017, the UK developed a similar plan to crack down on underage users accessing porn sites online, dubbed the Digital Economy Act 2017. Rather than using facial recognition technology, the UK “porn pass” sought to put users through a number of other age checks, such as passport verification and credit data. As an alternative, it also recommended users get an access card for online pornography, which would need to be purchased in person in the real world – at your local corner store, for example.

Following widespread complaints, ridicule, and an unbelievable amount of delays, the plan was scrapped earlier this month.

“The government has concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography,” said Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in a statement.

This UK government statement came just after the Australian proposal had been submitted – embarrassing timing, given it had cited the UK example as a reason to move forward. The UK parliament has some expertise on the matter, arguably – a report found that between June and October 2017 alone, some 24,000 attempts to access pornographic websites had been made from within the Houses of Parliament itself.

Australia is attempting to launch a similarly problematic system without addressing any of the underlying distrust of facial recognition tech and government storage of biometric data – let alone under these most personal of circumstances. It would appear no one is on board for letting it pass.

Read more of the latest tech news on Tech.co

Did you like this article?

Get more delivered to your inbox just like it!

Sorry about that. Try these articles instead!

Conor is the Senior Writer for Tech.co. For the last four years, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His extensive background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host tech-centric events like Startup Night at SXSW and the Timmy Awards for Tech in Motion. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.