The Age Appropriate Design Code has been written by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to inform websites what they must do to keep ICO internet censors at bay with regards to the government's interpretations of GDPR provisions. Perhaps in the
same way that the Crown Prosecution Service provides prosecution guidance as to how it interprets criminal law.
The Age Appropriate Design Code dictates how websites, and in particular social media, make sure that they are not exploiting children's
personal data. Perhaps the most immediate effect is that social media will have to allow a level of usages that simply does not require children to hand over personal data. Requiring more extensive personal data, say in the way that Facebook does,
requires users to provide 'age assurance' that they are old enough to take such decisions wisely.
However adult users may not be so willing to age verify, and may in fact also appreciate an option to use such websites without handing over data
into the exploitative hands of social media companies.
So one suspects that US internet social media giants may not see Age Appropriate Design and the government's Online Harms model for internet censorship as commercially very desirable for their
best interests. And one suspects that maybe US internet industry pushback may be something that is exerting pressure on UK negotiators seeking a free trade agreement with the US.
Pure conjecture of course, but the government does seem very cagey
about its timetable for both the Age Appropriate Design Code and the Online Harms bill. Here is the latest parliamentary debate in the House of Lords very much on the subject of the government's timetable.
House of Lords
Hansard: Age-appropriate Design Code, 18 May 2020
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:
To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to lay the regulation giving effect to the age- appropriate
design code required under section 123 of the Data Protection Act 2018 before Parliament.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Barran) (Con)
The age-appropriate design code will play an important role in protecting children's personal data online. The Government notified the final draft of the age-appropriate design code to the European Commission as part of
our obligations under the technical standards and regulations directive. The standstill period required under the directive has concluded. The Data Protection Act requires that the code is laid in Parliament as soon as is practicably possible.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:
I am delighted to hear that, my Lords, although no date has been given. The Government have a bit of ground to make up here, so perhaps it will not be
delayed too long. Does the Minister agree that the Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect storm for children and for young people's digital experience? More children are online for more time and are more reliant on digital technology. In light of that, more
action needs to be taken. Can she give us some information about when the Government will publish their final response to the consultation on the online harms White Paper, for example, and a date for when we are likely to see the draft Bill for
I spent some time this morning with a group of young people, in part discussing their experience online. The noble Lord is right that the
pandemic presents significant challenges, and they were clear that they wanted a safe space online as well as physical safe spaces. The Government share that aspiration. We expect to publish our response to the online harms consultation this autumn and
to introduce the legislation this Session.
Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
My Lords, I was very disappointed to see in the final version of the code that the section dealing with
age-appropriate application has been watered down to leave out reference to age-verification mechanisms. Is this because the age-verification provisions of the Digital Economy Act have been kicked into the long grass at the behest of the pornography
industry so that we will not have officially sanctioned age-verification tools available any time soon?
There is no intention to water down the code. Its content is
the responsibility of the Information Commissioner, who has engaged widely to develop the code, with a call for evidence and a full public consultation.
Lord Moynihan (Con)
Lords, is my noble friend the Minister able to tell the House the results of the consultation process with the industry on possible ways to implement age verification online?
We believe that our online harms proposals will deliver a much higher level of protection for children, as is absolutely appropriate. We expect companies to use a proportionate range of tools, including age-assurance and
age-verification technologies, to prevent children accessing inappropriate behaviour, whether that be via a website or social media.
The Earl of Erroll (CB)
May I too push the
Government to use the design code to cover the content of publicly accessible parts of pornographic websites, since the Government are not implementing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act to protect children? Any online harms Act will be a long time in
becoming effective, and such sites are highly attractive to young teenagers.
We agree absolutely about the importance of protecting young children online and that is
why we are aiming to have the most ambitious online harms legislation in the world. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for Digital and Culture meet representatives of the industry regularly to urge them to improve their
actions in this area.
Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the code represents a negotiation vis-Ã -vis the tech companies and thus there is
no reason for any delay in laying it before Parliament? Does she further agree that it should be laid before Parliament before 10 June to enable it to pass before the summer break? This would enable the Government to deliver on the claim that the UK is
the safest place on the planet to be online. Share The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned: This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.
The negotiation is not just with the tech companies. We have ambitions to be not only a commercially attractive place for tech companies but a very safe place to be online, while ensuring that freedom of speech is upheld. The timing
of the laying of the code is dependent on discussions with the House authorities. As my noble friend is aware, there is a backlog of work which needs to be processed because of the impact of Covid-19.
The DCMS minister for censorship, Caroline Dinenage and the Home Office minister in the House of Lords, Susan Williams were quizzed by Parliament's home affairs committee on the progress of the Online Harms Bill.
Caroline Dinenage in particular gave
the impression that the massive scope of the bill includes several issues that have not yet been fully thought through. The government does not yet seem able to provide a finalised timetable.
Dinenage told the home affairs committee that she could
not commit to introducing the new laws in Parliament in the current session. She said it was an aspiration or intention rather than a commitment as pledged by her predecessor.
She said the government's final consultation response outlining its plans
would not be published until probably in the Autumn, more than 18 months after the White Paper in 2019 and more than two and a half years since the green paper.
Julian Knight, Conservative chair of the culture committee, said:
If you don't do it it 2021, then it would have to go through the whole process and it could be 2023 before it is on the statute book with implementation in 2024. Given we have been working on this through the last Parliament, that is
not good enough.
The disinformation online about coronavirus underlines why we need this legislation. Unless we can get the architecture in place, we will see further instances of serious erosion of public trust and even damage to
the fabric of society.
Dinenage disclosed that the new internet censor, probably Ofcom, would initially be paid for by the taxpayer before shifting all funding to the tech industry.